Yesterday, Bryan Ferry apologised for praising the "iconography" of the Nazi party. "I'm talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl and the buildings of Albert Speer..." he explained. It is sad that a cultured man must apologize for admiring the artistry of Leni Riefenstahl. That he described the Nazi rallies as "beautiful" was a gaffe. "Menacing" would have been a better choice of word, because we now know what those rallies would lead to: World War II, blizkrieg, slavery, concentration camps, extermination.
Leni Riefenstahl was never forgiven for making Hitler's propaganda film Triumph of the Will, but this was in 1934, before the world could begin to imagine the horrors Hitler would unleash, and that movie won the gold medal in Venice in 1935 and the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937. Her magnificent film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which begins with a panning shot round a naked discus thrower, also won golds at Paris (1937) and Venice (1938) and in 1956 it was recognized as one of the world's ten best films. Ironically, this was the Olympic Games in which that great Afro-American athlete Jesse Owens got right up the Führer's nose by showing the Master Race how to win four gold medals and break 11 Olympic records!
Leni Riefenstahl was cleared of war crimes, but the stigma remained. Before you condemn anyone for admiring her multi-faceted talent - artist, dancer, actress, movie director, photographer - examine this charming, ennobling photo of a pretty girl bearing tribal scars. Leni lived with and befriended the Nuba people, hardly the behaviour of a Fascist. To read a concise illustrated biography, which includes a surprising photo of her with Mick Jagger, CLICK.