Triumph of the Will  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) is a 1935 film made by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by Nazi leaders at the Congress, including portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and Julius Streicher, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung and Schutzstaffel troops, and public reaction. Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The film's overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation. Because the film was made after the 1934 Night of the Long Knives, many prominent SA members are absent, having been murdered in the purge.

Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and became a prominent example of propaganda in film history. Riefenstahl's techniques—such as moving cameras, aerial photography, the use of long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective, and the revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography—have earned Triumph of the Will recognition as one of the greatest films in history. Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries. The film was popular in the Third Reich, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day. However, it is banned from showing in Germany owing to its support for Nazism and its numerous portrayals of the swastika.

An earlier film by Riefenstahl—Der Sieg des Glaubens—showed Hitler and SA leader Ernst Röhm together at the 1933 Nazi party congress. After Röhm's murder, the party attempted the destruction of all copies, leaving only one known to have survived in Britain. This can be viewed at the Internet Archive. The direction and sequencing of images is almost the same as that Riefenstahl used in Triumph of the Will a year later.

Frank Capra's seven-film series Why We Fight is said to have been directly inspired by, and the United States' response to, Triumph of the Will.

Synopsis

The film begins with a prologue, the only commentary in the film. It consists of the following text, shown sequentially, against a grey background:

Am 5. September 1934

[On 5 September 1934]

20 Jahre nach dem Ausbruch des Weltkrieges

[20 years after the outbreak of the World War]

16 Jahre nach dem Anfang deutschen Leidens

[16 years after the beginning of German suffering]

19 Monate nach dem Beginn der deutschen Wiedergeburt

[19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth]

flog Adolf Hitler wiederum nach Nürnberg, um Heerschau abzuhalten über seine Getreuen

[Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers]

Day 1: The film opens with shots of the clouds above the city, and then moves through the clouds to float above the assembling masses below, with the intention of portraying beauty and majesty of the scene. The cruciform shadow of Hitler's plane is visible as it passes over the tiny figures marching below, accompanied by an orchestral arrangement of the Horst-Wessel-Lied. Upon arriving at the Nuremberg airport, Hitler and other Nazi leaders emerge from his plane to thunderous applause and a cheering crowd. He is then driven into Nuremberg, through equally enthusiastic people, to his hotel where a night rally is later held.

Day 2: The second day begins with images of Nuremberg at dawn, accompanied by an extract from the Act III Prelude (Wach Auf!) of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Following this is a montage of the attendees preparing for the opening of the Reich Party Congress, and footage of the top Nazi officials arriving at the Luitpold Arena. The film then cuts to the opening ceremony, where Rudolf Hess announces the start of the Congress. The camera then introduces much of the Nazi hierarchy and covers their opening speeches, including Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Fritz Todt, Robert Ley, and Julius Streicher. Then the film cuts to an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Labor Service), which is primarily a series of pseudo-military drills by men carrying spades. This is also where Hitler gives his first speech on the merits of the Labor Service and praising them for their work in rebuilding Germany. The day then ends with a torchlight SA parade in which Viktor Lutze speaks to the crowds.

Day 3: The third day starts with a Hitler Youth rally on the parade ground. Again the camera covers the Nazi dignitaries arriving and the introduction of Hitler by Baldur von Schirach. Hitler then addresses the Youth, describing in militaristic terms how they must harden themselves and prepare for sacrifice. Everyone present, including General Werner von Blomberg, then assemble for a military pass and review, featuring Wehrmacht cavalry and various armored vehicles. That night Hitler delivers another speech to low-ranking party officials by torchlight, commemorating the first year since the Nazis took power and declaring that the party and state are one entity.

Day 4: The fourth day is the climax of the film, where the most memorable of the imagery is presented. Hitler, flanked by Heinrich Himmler and Viktor Lutze, walks through a long wide expanse with over 150,000 SA and SS troops standing at attention, to lay a wreath at a World War I Memorial. Hitler then reviews the parading SA and SS men, following which Hitler and Lutze deliver a speech where they discuss the Night of the Long Knives purge of the SA several months prior. Lutze reaffirms the SA's loyalty to the regime, and Hitler absolves the SA of any crimes committed by Ernst Röhm. New party flags are consecrated by letting them touch the Blutfahne (the same cloth flag said to have been carried by the fallen Nazis during the Beer Hall Putsch) and, following a final parade in front of the Nuremberg Frauenkirche, Hitler delivers his closing speech. In it he reaffirms the primacy of the Nazi Party in Germany, declaring, "All loyal Germans will become National Socialists. Only the best National Socialists are party comrades!" Hess then leads the assembled crowd in a final Sieg Heil salute for Hitler, marking the close of the party congress. The entire crowd sings the Horst-Wessel-Lied as the camera focuses on the giant Swastika banner, which fades into a line of silhouetted men in Nazi party uniforms, marching in formation as the lyrics "Comrades shot by the Red Front and the Reactionaries march in spirit together in our columns" are sung.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Triumph of the Will" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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