Monday, November 08, 2010

Triumph before the Fall

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.

5 comments:

samsonsjawbone said...

Triumph of the Will is on my to-watch list. Don't know if you've ever been to Germany, but I have, and visited a lot of ex-Nazi sites, including rally venues. It's incredible to think about a time when all of this stuff was really really impressive because there had never been anything like it before owing to technological restrictions. Imagine the surreal euphoria of attending one of these rallies as someone who'd barely ever been out of his hometown.

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.

Of course not, and this is one thing that makes me sad to be a prisoner of our age. (On homosexual revisionism, see also: David and Jonathan, Frodo and Sam, et al.)

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.

It's pretty hard to do. (Give it a try!)

ironrailsironweights said...

German orderliness might not have been the only reason why crowd control was easy when Hitler's motorcade passed. People knew what would happen if they dared approach his vehicle.

Peter

Default User said...

It was interesting to see how stage-managed some of the rallies were. Not unlike modern nominating conventions etc.

Φ said...

Give it a try!

Samson: hell no! My knees hurt just watching it.

Peter: On a second viewing with historical commentary, I saw that in many places there were rope lines, and at the "serenade" (gag me!) outside Hitler's hotel, the security supposedly had to push to hold the crowd back.

DU: Exactly. Our political conventions today have more in common with Nuremburg than they do with the conventions of, say, 50 years ago, back when they usually involved, you know, politics, rather than a big wet sloppy kiss to the nominee.

Robert said...

Hitler could move safely through crowds because he was loved. Even at the end of the war he mingled with crowds of heavily armed soldiers; any one of whom could have done him harm - as long as he was willing to be torn to pieces.