I watched Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will on DVD.
I remember watching the preparations for a parade at the Magic Kingdom a few years back. D!sney runs several of these per day, I think, and carefully preps the parade route by inserting metal posts into prepared holes and stringing chains along them as fencing to keep people off the route. The last car in the parade collects the posts and chains. It’s actually a pretty well-run operation.
I thought about this as I watched Hitler’s motorcade drive through the center of Nuremberg. The sidewalks were packed with apparently adoring fans, yet only a handful of uniformed men were necessary to keep everyone lining the streets instead of obstructing traffic.
Very orderly people, those Germans.
I was surprised to the extent that Riefenstahl’s movie focuses on not German nationalism or the National Socialist political program – although there are elements of these – but Hitler personally. But perhaps I should not have been: the extent to which the Nazis would remain true to their socialist roots was one of the major issues driving the “Night of the Long Knives” and the purge of Ernst Röhm. By the Nuremberg Rally (the subject of the movie) late in 1934, Nazism had degenerated (if that’s the word) into a personality suffused with pagan religiosity, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the U. S. since . . . well, since the 2008 election I suppose, but it really hasn’t been that common in my political observation.
Hitler Youth corps had a significant campout at Nuremberg for the rally. The movie shows shirtless young boys teeming about, wrestling for sport, bathing from a trough and washing each other’s backs. The whole aesthetic looks a little . . . gay, but I wondered if 1930s audiences would have perceived it that way.
Even into my own boyhood during the 1970s, depictions of Hitler on television continued the war-era practice of speeding up the film to make his mannerisms look more psychotic than they actually were. By the History Channel era, we had largely outgrown this practice, possibly because of the better availability of footage that wasn’t Allied propaganda news reels. But even in Riefenstahl’s film, most of the Nazi leaders sound like they’re on a screeching rant. I’m not sure how much of this is a function of the sound reproduction systems of the day, but Josef Goebbels stands out as the exception to this rule; his voice comes over quite mellifluously.
One thing I hadn’t quite realized was that the trademark Nazi marching style, the “goosestep”, was only a feature of SS parades, and even then, the height of the step could vary. I don’t think I saw anything like the NORK marches of today. Most of it seemed pretty ordinary compared to its portrayals in the American popular representation.