The Puzzle of Leni Riefenstahl
At 100, Leni Riefenstahl--"Hitler's filmmaker"--is indeed her own monument, the diva who won't go away.
Leni Riefenstahl—“Hitler’s filmmaker”—must have hoped that her 100th birthday this past August would bring that final rehabilitation of reputation for which she has worked with awe-inspiring tenacity since the Thousand-Year Reich collapsed and took her career with it. But the birthday changed nothing: Riefenstahl remains the most important female film director in history, and the most controversial. In Germany, she’s a reminder of the unrepentant bad old days—not those of the Reich, for which a simple mea culpa might earn her some measure of the rehabilitation she craves, but of the postwar period, in which confronting issues of guilt and complicity, however imperfectly or painfully, became for Germans a process that was genuinely searching rather than merely defensive.
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Steven Bach is writing a biography of Leni Riefenstahl. He teaches film and literature at Bennington College and Columbia University and is the author of Final Cut: Dreams and Disasters in the Making of Heaven’s Gate (1985), Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend (1992), and Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart (2001).more from this author >>