Review Date: April 2, 2007
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 3/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
In my mind, neither the first nor the second world wars have fully and completely ended yet. The guns may be silent, but as long as the direct consequences of the conflicts continue to impact our lives, then neither of them will be fully and truly finished.
The final act World War I is almost upon us. In 2006, Serbia and Montengero parted ways, splitting apart the final link that formed the old Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Iraq, another artificial creation originating from that conflict, continues its unstoppable slide towards disintegration as a political entity.
But what of World War II? That conflict seems destined to keep playing itself out for a few more decades. Europe is now reunified and fully westernized, but the United States still maintains the vast, unofficial overseas empire that it inherited at the end of 1945, while the northern and southern halves of Korea continue to bicker. With that in mind, we shall today revisit Triumph of the Will
, a pre-World War II propaganda film from a newly Natzified Germany, and a production that still continues to have relevance to our society even today.
September, 1934 - A month earlier, following the death of German president Otto von Hindenburg, a man named Adolf Hitler became head of the German state through succession, bringing his National Socialist German Worker's Party (or, as we better know it, the Nazi Party) into power with him. As Hitler began to consolidate power and become the supreme leader of the German state, his party met for it's 11th annual rally in the city of Nuremberg. Triumph of the Will
begins with Hitler's arrival by plane and his trip through city streets crowded with his cheering, loyal supporters.
Following a night rally outside Hitler's hotel, we are then introduced to a camp outside the city full of Hitler Youth recruits who are just rising from bed. They shave, eat breakfast, wash up, play games and generally appear cheerful as inside the city, Hitler's first activity is to receive an honorary harvest from German farmers dressed in their traditional clothes. After that, Hitler and Dr. Robert Ley inspect some of the men of the German Labor Front (DAF), a labor organization headed by Ley that was set up as the Reich's answer to unions.
Moving on, we are introduced to the party's Congress Hall in Nuremberg, where Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Führer, makes a brief speech extolling Hitler and the National Socialist movement, and makes overtures to foreign dignitaries visiting the event and senior commanders in the German military, who have only just now come under the control of Hitler. Hess' speech is followed by remarks from Robert Ley, propaganda minister Dr. Josef Goebbels, justice minister Dr. Hans Frank, press chief Dr. Otto Dietrich, and other Reich officials such as Adolf Wagner, Fritz Reinhardt, Dr. Walter Darre, Alfred Rosenberg, Dr. Fritz Todt and Julius Streicher.
Next, Hitler inspects a 52,000 man force of the Reich Labor Service (RAD), a paramilitary labor organization whose job it is to work on German building projects such as the Autobahn highway. Various members of the group introduce themselves, telling what region of Germany they come from. They sing their official anthem and then memorialize the fallen German veterans of World War I. Hitler follows this with a speech congratulating the men, and declaring that in he new German state, physical labor is no longer looked upon as unrespectable, and that soon all youth will have to pass through their ranks.
Yet another night rally is held, this time with a speech by Victor Lutze, the head of the Storm Troopers (SA) to his men. This is followed by a massive daytime rally with thousands of members of the Hitler Youth participating, and with another speech by Hitler. Afterwards, Hitler and army chief General Walter von Blomberg watch German infantry and cavalry performing training maneuvers. This is followed by one final night rally, featuring thousands of people parading with Nazi flags by torchlight. The next day, a memorial service is held for the deceased President von Hindenburg.
Victor Lutze gives a speech to reassure members of the SS and SA that all is well within their ranks, a reassurance that they badly needed since Hitler had purged (murdered) their former commander, Ernst Rohm, and other members several months earlier because they were considered too leftist. Hitler then gives another speech to personally reassure them that their groups won't be destroyed or purged again. The film climaxes with a massive parade through the streets of Nuremberg, with various members of German paramilitary organizations and Hitler's own personal SS bodyguard regiment making appearances. Finally, Hitler concludes the event with a passionate speech at the Congress Hall.
Having come of age in the 1990's, I have discovered that, in the post-September 11th world, there is a certain handful of films that I grew up with which now seem a lot different in the context of the last five and a half years. Edward Zwick's The Siege
and Tony Scott's Enemy of the State
are still mediocre movies, but their visions of American martial law and out of control spy agencies no longer seem so far fetched. The humor of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers
, which makes fun of fascism, militarism and the media, isn't quite as amusing any longer, while the ending of David Fincher's Fight Club
, which features an entire city skyline being blown up, isn't nearly cool as it once was.
Although it pre-dates those films by a good sixty years, I find that Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will
is another film which feels very different now. When I began to first conceive this review, my original intention was to simply copy and paste the plot description and analysis from my old review of the first Synapse disc from 2001, and spend my efforts on comparing the audio and visual quality of the new release. Initially this approach made sense. My opinions on given movies, while not set in stone, don't tend to evolve much over time. When I reviewed the Shriek Show disc of Eaten Alive
in 2005, I discovered that I still felt the same way about the movie as I had when I reviewed the EC releases four years earlier. But this time it was different, and I had to approach this review differently. My opinion as to the qualities of Triumph of the Will
hasn't changed that much. What has changed is the world we live in, and as such the film itself now appears very differently. My earlier comments on the film still stand, but they now must be expanded.
I wrote that initial review in July of 2001, when the United States truly was a different country. At the time, only the most extreme leftist elements in the nation were comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, and the GOP to the Nazi party. Barely six months in office, Bush's presidency was already faltering, and the early months of his administration were characterized by political blunders over things like arsenic in the public water supply, and his uneven handling of the incident where an American spy plane was forced to land in China. The biggest story in Washington that summer was the speculation that Congressman Gary Condit had been involved in the disappearance of a woman named Chandra Levy. On the national security front, the Bush team was focusing on a top-to-bottom review of military policy, and on the construction of a viable missile defense system. A few men inside the national security establishment were sounding alarm bells about al Qaeda, but nobody was taking them seriously. Then the terrorist attacks came, and the world turned upside down.
In the almost six years since that time, America has changed very much. On the surface, those changes may not be readily apparent, and a hundred years from now someone going over memorabilia from the time period probably would get the two years easily confused. After all, we still have computers, SUVs and DVD players. Then, as now, George Bush is the president and Dick Cheney is the vice president. But underneath those obvious similarities there has been an almost monumental shift in the social fabric of the United States. The citizens of this country go about their lives as usual, but something has changed. There is this deep, melancholy sadness to all of our lives, and a deep feeling of despair and pessimism that is reflected in opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and wishes that the Bush presidency was over with already. The wound caused by September 11th is no longer as raw as it once was, but it can never fully heal as long as the tragedy is thrown in all our faces, and used as an excuse to continue what an ever growing number of people see as needless killing.
Triumph of the Will
is an exercise in brilliantly manipulative political propaganda, and is even more relevent now than it was in 2001 because of the changes in the American political landscape, and the way that the media has dealt with them. Up until recently, my own father was extremely conservative on issues of economics and national security, and before he finally jumped ship during the last election cycle him and I would engage in heated debates over the Iraq war. One of the most acrimonious came in 2004 when Michael Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11
. My father, who is a devoted film buff in his own right, compared Moore to Leni Riefenstahl, and Moore's film to Triumph of the Will
. I just couldn't make him see that his comparison was completely off the mark. In truth, Michael Moore was little more than a muckraker when he made that documentary. Fahrenheit 9/11
is full of cheap shots. Moore throws in a hilarious clip of John Ashcroft singing, a shot of Paul Wolfowitz spitting in his hand and combing it into his hair, and other images. He interviews disgruntled government insiders, as well as disgruntled Democratic congressman. As anyone who has seen any of his work can attest, Moore can be a major nuisance when he's out to get you, but he's basically an outsider working to attack those in positions of authority. In contrast, Leni Riefenstahl was an insider, operating with the full funding and support of the Third Reich. She didn't just document the Nuremberg rally - she used her cameras to manipulate reality to create a film that is essentially a work of fiction.
In May of 2003, President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and gave a speech prematurely declaring the Iraq war to be over. The event, which was clearly meant for the TV cameras, showed the president in a combat flight suit, and to many people, the staging of the event seemed like a deliberate attempt to glorify him as a military hero. Writing of the event in his book The Great Unraveling
, economist Paul Krugman describes how some of his older European friends called it a "Leni Riefenstahl moment". And it was. What makes Leni Riefenstahl's work so distinctive is how brilliantly she combined the power of the state with the power of the mass media.
Of course, things are very different now than they were in the 1930's. The modern GOP, while deeply corrupt in both a moral and financial sense, is not becoming a new Nazi movement. Despite the hysteria, people forget that the Republican Party has not actually militarized itself, something the National Socialists did when they created the SS and the SA. The German government that existed before World War I was only marginally democratic, and most of the power was concentrated in the hands of the monarchy. The Weimar Republic that followed was too weakly designed to handle the postwar chaos. In contrast, the American system of government has continued to successfully function for over two hundred years, even when faced with enormous internal and external challenges. George W. Bush is not Adolf Hitler, and two men have little in common (although there are some disturbing similarities between Bush and an earlier German wartime leader - Kaiser Wilhelm II). Triumph of the Will
is not an exact fit to the situation we find ourselves in today, but it is still a priceless example of how moving images can be manipulated into brilliant propaganda.
Like that of the 2001 release, this new transfer is windowboxed, preserving the full 1.37:1 frame. Below are some comparison shots.2006 Edition2001 Edition
Overall, the new transfer is an improvement over the old release, but not by a huge margin. The new transfer has a slight edge over the old disc in terms of clarity and sharpness, and a slightly better grayscale. It appears that the main area of improvement has been in terms of print quality. The old release suffered from lots of specks, scratches, blemishes and other debris. This new one still has all these problems, but they are not as noticeable and occur with a little less frequency. All in all, it's a noticeable but not dramatic improvement over the original.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and sounds about as good as one would expect - in other words, not too great. To be fair, it does sound somewhat better than the 2001 release (there's a little bit less background noise and distortion), but like the video transfer, the difference is hardly dramatic.
This release contains optional English subtitles which not only translate the dialogue, but also identify participants in the action that may not be familiar to American viewers, and provide other information to put what we're seeing in context. The subtitles on the new release are white, and look much better than the yellow subtitles on the old release.
There are no new extras on this release. All we get are the supplementts from the 2001 edition. There's an excellent commentary track with Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, a professor of history at Christopher Newport University, as well as the Leni Riefenstahl short Day of Freedom
, which focuses on the German armed forces (the military felt shortchanged by their lack of screen time in Triumph of the Will
, resulting in their own and much inferior Riefenstahl production).
There's also liner notes by Roy Frumkes.
Triumph of the Will
is a film that every responsible citizen should see. That being said, I can only recommend this new release to those who don't already have the 2001 disc. The improvement in sound and image quality is not dramatic, nor are there any new and intriguing special features to sweeten the deal. On top of that, the Criterion-style MSRP of $34.95 is excessive. My eagerness to recommend the movie far surpasses my eagerness to recommend this specific release of it.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B
Sound - C
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 50 minutes
- German 2.0 Mono
- Not rated
- English subtitles
- Chapter stops
- 1 Disc
- Audio commentary with Dr. Anthony R. Santoro
- Short film Day of Freedom
- Liner notes