is a 1938 Nazi propaganda film
The term propaganda can be defined as the ability to produce and spread fertile messages that, once sown, will germinate in large human cultures.” However, in the 20th century, a “new” propaganda emerged, which revolved around political organizations and their need to communicate messages that...
by Leni Riefenstahl
Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl was a German film director, actress and dancer widely noted for her aesthetics and innovations as a filmmaker. Her most famous film was Triumph des Willens , a propaganda film made at the 1934 Nuremberg congress of the Nazi Party...
documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics
The 1936 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was held in 1936 in Berlin, Germany. Berlin won the bid to host the Games over Barcelona, Spain on April 26, 1931, at the 29th IOC Session in Barcelona...
, held in the Olympic Stadium
The Olympiastadion is a sports stadium in Berlin, Germany. There have been two stadiums on the site: the present facility, and one that is called the Deutsches Stadion which was built for the aborted 1916 Summer Olympics. Both were designed by members of the same family, the first by Otto March...
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
. The film was released in two parts: Olympia 1. Teil — Fest der Völker
(Festival of Nations) and Olympia 2. Teil — Fest der Schönheit
(Festival of Beauty). It was the first documentary feature film
In the film industry, a feature film is a film production made for initial distribution in theaters and being the main attraction of the screening, rather than a short film screened before it; a full length movie...
of the Olympic Games ever made. Many advanced motion picture techniques, which later became industry standards but which were groundbreaking at the time, were employed —including unusual camera angles, smash cut
A smash cut is a technique in film and other moving visual media where one scene abruptly cuts to another without transition, usually meant to startle the audience. To this end, the smash cut usually occurs at a crucial moment in a scene where a cut would not be expected...
s, extreme close-up
In filmmaking, television production, still photography and the comic strip medium a close-up tightly frames a person or an object. Close-ups are one of the standard shots used regularly with medium shots and long shots . Close-ups display the most detail, but they do not include the broader scene...
s, placing tracking shot
In motion picture terminology, a tracking shot is a segment in which the camera is mounted on a camera dolly, a wheeled platform that is pushed on rails while the picture is being taken...
rails within the bleachers, and the like. The techniques employed are almost universally admired, but the film is controversial due to its political context. Nevertheless, the film appears on many lists of the greatest films of all-time, including Time
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...
magazine's "All-Time 100 Movies."
set the precedent for future films documenting and glorifying the Olympic Games, particularly the Summer Games. The "Olympic Torch Run
The Olympic Flame or Olympic Torch is a symbol of the Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was reintroduced at the 1928...
" was devised by the German sports official Dr. Carl Diem
Carl Diem was a German sports administrator, and as Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Berlin Olympic Games, the chief organizer of the 1936 Olympic Summer Games .He created the tradition of the Olympic torch relay, and was an influential historian of...
for these 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Riefenstahl later staged the torch relay for this film, as with competitive events of the Games.
was made in three versions: German
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...
. There are slight differences between each version, extending to which portions were included and their sequence within the entire film.
It appeared to be Riefenstahl's habit to re-edit the film upon re-release, so that there are multiple versions of each language version of the film. For example, as originally released, the famous diving sequence (the penultimate sequence of the entire film) ran about four minutes. Riefenstahl subsequently reduced it by about 50 seconds. (The entire sequence could be seen in prints of the film circulated by the collector Raymond Rohauer
Raymond Rohauer was an American film collector and distributor.Rohauer moved to California in 1942 and was educated at Los Angeles City College. Rohauer made a five-reel 16mm experimental film Whirlpool which was not successful. He subsequently became active in film exhibition at the Coronet...
The film had an immensely strong reaction in Germany and was received with acclaim and accolades around the world. In 1960, her peers voted the film as one of the 10 best films of all time. The Daily Telegraph
recognised the film as "even more technically dazzling" than Triumph of the Will
Triumph of the Will is a propaganda 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 various Nazi leaders at the Congress, including portions of...
. The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...
described the film as "visually ravishing...A number of sequences in the supposedly documentary Olympia, notably that devoted to the high-diving competition, become less and less concerned with record and more and more abstract: some of the divers never hit the water, as the visual interest of patterns of movement takes over."
Noted American film critic Richard Corliss
Richard Nelson Corliss is a writer for Time magazine who focuses on movies, with the occasional article on music or sports. Corliss is the former editor-in-chief of Film Comment...
observed in Time
that "The matter of Riefenstahl 'the Nazi director' is worth raising so it can be dismissed. [I]n the hallucinatory documentary Triumph of the Will
... [she] painted Adolf Hitler as a Wagnerian
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...
deity... But that was in 1934–35. In [Olympia
] Riefenstahl gave the same heroic treatment to Jesse Owens
James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens was an American track and field athlete who specialized in the sprints and the long jump. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the...
The film won a number of prestigious film awards but fell from grace, particularly in the United States when, in November 1938, the world learned of the pogrom against the Jews. Riefenstahl was touring the U.S. to promote the film at that time and was immediately asked to leave the country.
The film won several awards;
- National Film Prize (1937–1938)
- Venice International Film Festival
The Venice International Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world. Founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi in 1932 as the "Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica", the festival has since taken place every year in late August or early September on the island of the...
(1938) — Coppa Mussolini (Best Film)
- Swedish Polar Prize (1938)
- Greek Sports Prize (1938)
- Olympic Gold Medal of the Comité International Olympique (1939)
- Lausanne International Film Festival (1948) — Olympic Diploma
There had been few screenings of Olympia
in English-speaking countries upon its original release. In 1955 Riefenstahl agreed to remove three minutes of Hitler footage for screening at the Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...
in New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...
. The same version was also screened on West German television and in cinemas around the world.
- Rossol, Nadine. "Performing the Nation: Sports, Spectacles, and Aesthetics in Germany, 1926-1936," Central European History Dec 2010, Vol. 43 Issue 4, pp 616-638
- McFee, Graham and Alan Tomlinson. "Riefenstahl'S 'Olympia:' Ideology and Aesthetics in the Shaping of the Aryan Athletic Body," International Journal of the History of Sport, Feb 1999, Vol. 16 Issue 2, pp 86-106
- Mackenzie, Michael, “From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia,” in: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 29 (Winter 2003)
- Rippon, Anton. Hitler's Olympics: The Story of the 1936 Nazi Games 2006