{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and Some Stray Thoughts

Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's film about the Nuremberg Rally of Nazi party is widely known for two reasons - the sheer artistic mastery and the propagandist intentions behind it. It was made in 1935 and with most modern technical skills, it tries to capture the "greatness" and "majesty" of the event and force behind it. The film starts with the aerial shots of clouds and then hovers over the city of Nuremberg, follows the Führer and the cheering crowd and the gallant speeches, all with a soaring musical score. For a viewer, its foremost importance is as a film document to show that how the effective use of film making techniques can makes one soar, even if there is nothing up there. The series of virile speeches look like the audition for the part of Hitler in some future film. The various shots of Hitler, larger-than-life messiah, are lofty as the zeal and number of the crowd cheering him and the men at his service. Its all about the promise of a nice near future, provided you be good. Its all about the smug hypothesis that we are better than others, and we have some mission in life. All is big and beautiful. All is about power and being powerful. In a way, its all what we usually like. But before turning into one of the following - Riefenstahl's apologists or Riefenstahl's detractors - we must think that in Führer-times, is anyone left with any choices other than his, can there be political innocents in such time, can there be any independent film making possible to make a purely historical film in such times and if it can, what cost and courage it required. And in addition to it, we must always have deep faith in the human soul which is by nature, essentially corruptible especially with the charm of power and the powerful.

While watching this film I began to think on some line which are not exactly related to the film but closely brush by (beware, incoherent rant follows!). And that is partly related to what Tarkovsky said about cinema, he said "Cinema is a sad art because it requires lot of money." In present times, where we say and hear all the time that we are free and we are not living under any dictatorship, how should we see studio films? Is it a freedom that we get as a resultant vector of artistic urge, commercialization, cultural conservatism, and current political ambiance or just a more wholesome form of dictatorship? How far a director has gained any freedom from the system, and more importantly, as an artist of his times, with the urge to create, is an artist justified in fulfilling his epic dreams. Imagine Michael Cimino making his epic Heaven's Gate with Nazi backing, as preposterous this thought may seem, but it looks that the artistic urge to create grandeur might let one suck money from any source and accept patronage from anybody. Is it justified to work like a court-artist (rather a corporate artist), even if one is able to save ones art (Leni’s work is almost flawless too, especially for her times), or in present times, is it the way to save art and give back some ideas to the society, as Altman confesses in the commentary track of The Player, “we all are just 'players' in this big game” and something at the end of documentary, The Corporation, also points to that. How far can an artist go? Does this artistic urge, can overpower ones morality, or obscure ones sense of judgment, as long as it fills the art-shaped-hole. Are these film makers not Little-Eichmanns? Is artist answerable to his/her art and nothing else? Is ambition of such pricey perfection, in films and its execution, equivalent to artistic Nazism, and does it come natural to an artist to achieve and communicate a particular thought or idea. Do we have to accept it as a demand of the medium? As you can see, such stray thoughts go no where, toggling between extremes, fading to acceptance. But these “art-sans-morality” and “big-ticket-art” thoughts do make us, as a viewer, realize that all artistic triumphs are not true and all art is not divine.

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