Analysis of a Primary Source Olympia

10 October 2016

The prologue is set in Greece, displaying the columns of the Parthenon and the Diskobolos of Myron. The use of this Greek heritage implies a connection between the ancient roots of the Olympic Games to that of the German nation. When further researching my topic I found an interesting statement, that Hitler himself took a likening to the artworks of the Ancient Greeks as he found their artwork void from any Jewish influence. This perhaps explains the homage to the roots of the Olympics at the start of Olympia. The film’s name Olympia itself refers to the ancient site of the Olympic Games.

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Some historians have suggested that in ancient Greece Olympia was seen as a place ‘peopled by heroes and ruled by the Gods’. Does the fact that a German film titled ‘Olympia’ imply that German athletes are the hero’s and Hitler and his authorities the Gods? Further, connections to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Ancient Greece are scene when the sculpture of an athlete dissolves into a real-life moving athlete. This scene creates an image for the viewer that the athlete is a representation of a real-life idealized human. A central theme to Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia is the way in which the athletes are portrayed.

The athletes, already party of an elite group acting as role models representing for their nations are portrayed as almost super-human. Riefenstahl is successful in the way that she highlights the poise and grace of the athletes. Riefenstahl often features perfectly sculptured body parts. Personally I noted many shots where the director would zoom in on the athletes stretching their limbs before winning medals. Olympia glorifies the strong, healthy and young and celebrates elite physical fitness and perfection. Another visual theme of Olympia that I noted whilst watching is the concept of freedom.

Riefenstahl includes a scene in the film where birds take flight in the Olympic ceremony at the stadium. Throughout the film such images of birds in flight appear. In drawing connections it can only be assumed that the use of birds flying free is an underlying subtle motif used to convey the feeling of freedom to its viewers. Thus drawing a connection to freedom to the German nation. This I can only assume would be a connection Hitler and his Government would have sought to create, and Riefenstahl’s film proves to be an efficient vehicle for this.

A harrowing scene is of the mass crowds with their hands extended in the Nazi salute presenting them selves as one unified mass. Ironically, in this salute the spectators and athletes are represented as one unified mass, promoting the peaceful unity of the Games. This is a far reach from later years where the same salute developed a much more sinister meaning. Leni Riefenstahl’s film techniques themselves are particularly interesting; they come across as rather meticulous and innovative.

With further investigation I discovered that Riefenstahl’s shooting methods were rather revolutionary in sports filming, and set the standards in later years. The camera movement of Olympia is motivated exclusively by the movements of the athletes, which are controlled and choreographed by Riefenstahl. Perhaps the most interesting is Riefenstahl’s skillful editing of the film, as it is the editing of Olympia that the subtle messages can be perceived. Within the film Olympia there are many shots that insinuate that the film may have characteristics of propaganda.

However, if the film does display fascist characteristics they are often subtle, as the film does not contain explicit pro-Nazi material. Perhaps the greatest indication to Olympia as propaganda is within the pre-production. The Nazi party financed the film and was also heavily involved within the production. There are many conflicting theories to this statement. Interestingly enough others argue that Riefenstahl had complete artistic freedom. Leni Riefenstahl herself claims that Olympia is not a work of Nazi propaganda. However, when considering her close relationship with Hitler this ultimately seems unlikely.

Although I think it is important to note that if it is true that the Nazi party had a great hand in the film, which I find highly likely, that Olympia does serve in some aspects as propaganda. However, there are a few aspects of Olympia that seem to discredit that the film is a vehicle for propaganda. The fact that there are many retakes within the film suggests that the film is less of an official historical documentary, but rather more artistic than anything. Also the fact Black and Asian athletes are featured throughout the film seems contradictory to a propagandistic nature as many suggest.

The film also gives no sense that the Germany was the winning team, and it even includes some of the nation’s defeats as well, this seems An interesting feature of Olympia is that for a controversial film that is often regarded as an example of propaganda commissioned by Hitler himself, is that the man himself is not prominent within the film. His appearance is rather brief and does not hold any emotional and physical depth. Although, interestingly enough when Hitler is featured he is portrayed as a down-to-earth sports fan. Furthermore, many of the most dramatic moments are of German athletes, and ome events featured disproportionately more footage of Germany and her allies Japan and Italy. Additionally, the German version contained more shots of Hitler and swastikas and placed a greater emphasis on the games as a nationwide battle. In my judgment I don’t see Olympia as overly propagandistic and it does not directly promote Nazi ideologies’ instead it is the way that Germany creates an image for its nation, that of a joyful, peaceful society. I believe that it is this image, that of a peaceful Germany during a time of building conflict and change that is perhaps the most propagandistic of all.

This functions as propaganda anyway as it promotes Germany in a kind and positive light. However, it is important to note an interesting feature, that after these scenes the shots are intercut with the segments of Germany winning, making the connection between Hitler and the success of the nation. In conclusion I see Olympia as having political aspects due to the fact that the film was made for a political event, therefore ultimately politics are likely to be involved. Overall, Olympia did not just document the games, instead it focuses on the beauty of the athletes as seen in the diving sequence.

This is achieved through Riefenstahl’s skillful use of imagery and camera movement. After viewing Olympia I believe there is a fine line in determining whether or not Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia is in fact an example of Nazi propaganda or alternatively the artistic vision of Riefenstahl herself. The analysis of Olympia has helped in understanding my topic as it has allowed me to further explore into more aspects than I ever imagines. I now understand that it is not as easy to just ‘deem’ something as propaganda, you must further explore into the subject itself and disallows any bias. I look forward to continuing in researching my paper.

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