A decade ago, the publication of the memoirs of Leni Riefenstahl (1902-) sparked controversy and criticism. Kirkus Review described the book as “a sad and stupendously flat reminiscence by the doyenne of the German cinema, who even now seems unwilling to admit that she backed the wrong horse in 1933.”
Why the fuss? Because her 1935 film, Triumph of the Will, “was considered an overwhelming propaganda success, rallying many to the Hitler cause,” as film historian Erik Barnouw has written. Barnouw goes on to say that “some critics have felt that the role of Riefenstahl in this success was unforgivable.”
Apparently, many contemporary readers disagree. The words below were taken from the customer comments page for Riefenstahl’s memories on Amazon.com. These comments are not eccentric exceptions; rather, they are typical of what Amazon’s customers are posting about this filmmaker. Miraculously, in the minds of many contemporary readers, she has been cleaned of her dubious past.
With the exception of the final entry, these are authentic reviews that appeared online as of February 2001. I have added nothing (except scorn), and let the words stand naked, alone, and grammar-free.
MEERTIAN VAN REENAN
WILLIAM P. URBAN
AN ANONYMOUS READER FROM KEY WEST
LENI FROM BERLIN
A READER FROM KEY WEST: “What an amazing woman—her life is truly a triumph of the will. Whether one believes her stand on Nazism wholly or only partially, one still has little option ultimately but to admire her.”
ANDRE HUNT (writing from the privacy of his bath): “Leni, You are the Uber Noodnik of All Time! I’m floating by you, Leni, with my snorkel bubbling, and my heart pounding. Lets hit the shore and lean back on our hands and shake the sands of time out of our minds, and face the unknown with our own unknown.”
A READER FROM NEW YORK CITY: “What a neat, neat book…She is not anywhere close to being the monster she is constantly portrayed as. her argument that she was simply an artist creating documentaries with no political interest at all seems pretty reasonable after reading this book & If the celebration of beauty (even physical beauty) is an exclusively Nazi ideal, call me a Nazi too.”
MEERTIAN VAN REENEN FROM AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: “Leni Riefenstahl is a monument! & If only people would stop condemning her and look at the timeless aesthetics she created through the years! Monsters are rare and Riefenstahl is one of them. Cherish them because they show the essence of life.”
CANDACE SCOTT FROM GLENDORA, CA: “Excellent, especially the early years & Leni Riefenstahl is a genius, but her life (tragically) was ruined by some poor choices & Here she sets the record straight and includes some marvelous never-before-seen vignettes on Hitler…”
“SAUERKRAUT”: “She has led such a full and varied existence. She tells the reader all about the different pursuits she had taken: everything from being a dancer to being an actress. Those are just a couple of examples. It’s ashamed that she has had to put up with the prejudices of so many people almost all of her life through. It was very interesting reading about what she had to say about Hitler and that period of time that The Third Reich was in power too & Leni Riefenstahl is truly someone that has lived life to the fullest and has done what she has wanted. It’s great to read about a person that has taken so many chances and don so many things.
WILLIAM P. URBAN FROM PRESQUE ISLE, MAINE: “I wrote a review for this book on January 11. You did not print my review in its entirety. At the very end I defended Leni Riefenstahl by saying that “She should tell all her negative critics to go to hell!” & People forget that in those days very few people said “no” to Hitler.”
LENI FROM BERLIN: “Dear Amazon.com book buyers, I thank you for your gracious comments. Your wisdom has impressed me with its depth and sincerity. As I head into my second century of robust and womanly life, I will take your kind words to heart. At last, I am understood as I would like to be understood, not as so-called “witnesses” and “Scholars” would have it. Their truth is dead, yet mine lives on…The people have spoken.”
Postscript: I submitted the final, obviously fake entry to Amazon.com on February 5, 2001. It was posted in the comment section of Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir and, according to an online survey, three out of three readers found it helpful.”