Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Art in the Service of Evil


Leni Riefenstahl died this week.

Riefenstahl was Hitler's filmmaker, an enormous talent whose propaganda masterpieces, especially "Triumph of the Will," were shockingly innovative. She denied being a Nazi or anti-Semite and, to the end, claimed to be an innocent artist striving only for excellence in her work. The New York Times' obituary put it this way:

Ms. Riefenstahl never denied her early conviction that Hitler could "save" Germany. She also said that her idealized image of him fell apart "far too late," near the end of World War II. But, amid widespread skepticism, she insisted that she was never a Nazi and that "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" were apolitical, inspired only by her desire to create works of art.

Omaha's Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind posted on "Triumph of the Will" a couple months ago. There's some interesting give-and-take in his post and in subsequent comments about how the over-the-top diefication of Nazi leaders, which now seems almost cartoonish, could have been effective at the time.

Leni Riefenstahl was an artist, and a brilliant one. But, to my eyes, her art had very specific intentions, and they were far from honorable. (Michael over at 2Blowhards had a different take on the occasion of Riefenstahl's 100th birdthday last year.) Over the centuries, artists have worked for patrons who were responsible for oppression, destruction, and other despicable deeds. But are there any other artists whose works are tied so closely to the actual execution of evil?



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