Thursday, May 07, 2009

Leni: The life and work of Leni Riefenstahl, by Steven Bach

This audio book was read by Henrietta Tiefenthaler, and was 14 hours and 26 minutes long.

I was already aware of who Leni Riefenstahl was because I had seen a story about her on television when I was a teenager. She was famous for being the Third Reich's film maker. She was a talented director who made what has been called the best documentary ever by her harshest critic. And until 2003, she was still alive, and still unrepentant about her work for Hitler.

Born in 1902, she was the daughter of a successful plumber and a woman who encouraged her dreams of being a dancer. She began her career in the middle of the silent film era, and she gradually evolved from dancer to romantic adventure to an interest in directing her own films. After reading Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf on a train, she decided she had to meet him. Since she was a minor film starlet that Hitler admired, she got her wish.

Leni Riefenstahl leveraged her relationship with Hitler, her talent and ambition, and the vacuum left by the German film industry's expulsion of the Jews, into an opportunity to be the Reich's official filmographer. Her documentaries of Nazi rallies and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin made her internationally famous, and after the WW2, almost universally despised.

If this book were only about her work for Hitler, it would probably be interesting enough. But hers was the story that refused to die. After avoiding prison, and being labeled as only a "fellow traveler" in the spectrum of guilt, she thought she was off the hook and could continue with her career. But multitudes had been witnesses to her work, so there was always someone to remind the world that she was an unrepentant Nazi who brazenly lied about her past.

This book gets 4 stars, but Leni herself rates one flashbulb.

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