Triumph of the Will

Triumph of the Will (German: Triumph des Willens) is a 1935 Nazi propaganda film directed, produced, edited, and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters.[1] The film contains excerpts from speeches given by Nazi leaders at the Congress, including Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess and Julius Streicher, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung (SA) and Schutzstaffel (SS) troops and public reaction. Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The film's overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation. Because the film was made after the 1934 Night of the Long Knives (on 30 June), many prominent Sturmabteilung (SA) members are absent—they were murdered in that Party purge, organised and orchestrated by Hitler to replace the SA with the Schutzstaffel (SS) as his main paramilitary force.

Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and became a major example of film used as propaganda. Riefenstahl's techniques—such as moving cameras, aerial photography, the use of long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective, and the revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography—have earned Triumph of the Will recognition as one of the greatest propaganda films in history. Riefenstahl helped to stage the scenes, directing and rehearsing some of them at least fifty times. Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden and other countries. The film was popular in the Third Reich, and has continued to influence films, documentaries and commercials to this day.[2] In Germany, the film is not censored but the courts commonly classify it as Nazi propaganda which requires an educational context to public screenings.[3]

An earlier film by Riefenstahl—The Victory of Faith (Der Sieg des Glaubens)—showed Hitler and SA leader Ernst Röhm together at the 1933 Nazi party congress. After Röhm's murder, the party attempted the destruction of all copies, leaving only one known to have survived in Britain. The direction and sequencing of images is almost the same as that Riefenstahl used in Triumph of the Will a year later.

Frank Capra's seven-film series Why We Fight is said to have been directly inspired by, and the United States' response to, Triumph of the Will.[4]

Triumph of the Will
Triumph des Willens poster
German theatrical poster
Directed byLeni Riefenstahl
Produced byLeni Riefenstahl
Written by
Music by
Edited byLeni Riefenstahl (uncredited)
Distributed byUniversum Film AG
Release date
  • 28 March 1935
Running time
114 minutes / 110 min. (US)


The film begins with a prologue, the only commentary in the film. It consists of the following text, shown sequentially, against a grey background:

Am 5. September 1934

[On 5 September 1934]

20 Jahre nach dem Ausbruch des Weltkrieges

[20 years after the outbreak of the World War]

16 Jahre nach dem Anfang deutschen Leidens

[16 years after the beginning of German suffering]

19 Monate nach dem Beginn der deutschen Wiedergeburt

[19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth]

flog Adolf Hitler wiederum nach Nürnberg, um Heerschau abzuhalten über seine Getreuen

[Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers]

Day 1: The film opens with shots of the clouds above the city, and then moves through the clouds to float above the assembling masses below, with the intention of portraying beauty and majesty of the scene. The cruciform shadow of Hitler's plane is visible as it passes over the tiny figures marching below, accompanied by an orchestral arrangement of the Horst-Wessel-Lied. Upon arriving at the Nuremberg airport, Hitler and other Nazi leaders emerge from his plane to thunderous applause and a cheering crowd. He is then driven into Nuremberg, through equally enthusiastic people, to his hotel where a night rally is later held.

Day 2: The second day begins with images of Nuremberg at dawn, accompanied by an extract from the Act III Prelude (Wach Auf!) of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Following this is a montage of the attendees preparing for the opening of the Reich Party Congress, and footage of the top Nazi officials arriving at the Luitpold Arena. The film then cuts to the opening ceremony, where Rudolf Hess announces the start of the Congress. The camera then introduces much of the Nazi hierarchy and covers their opening speeches, including Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Fritz Todt, Robert Ley and Julius Streicher. Then the film cuts to an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Labor Service), which is primarily a series of quasi-military drills by men carrying spades. This is also where Hitler gives his first speech on the merits of the Labour Service and praising them for their work in rebuilding Germany. The day then ends with a torchlight SA parade in which Viktor Lutze speaks to the crowds.

Day 3: The third day starts with a Hitler Youth rally on the parade ground. Again the camera covers the Nazi dignitaries arriving and the introduction of Hitler by Baldur von Schirach. Hitler then addresses the Youth, describing in militaristic terms how they must harden themselves and prepare for sacrifice. Everyone present, including General Werner von Blomberg, then assemble for a military pass and review, featuring Wehrmacht cavalry and various armored vehicles. That night Hitler delivers another speech to low-ranking party officials by torchlight, commemorating the first year since the Nazis took power and declaring that the party and state are one entity.

Day 4: The fourth day is the climax of the film, where the most memorable of the imagery is presented. Hitler, flanked by Heinrich Himmler and Viktor Lutze, walks through a long wide expanse with over 150,000 SA and SS troops standing at attention, to lay a wreath at a First World War memorial. Hitler then reviews the parading SA and SS men, following which Hitler and Lutze deliver a speech where they discuss the Night of the Long Knives purge of the SA several months prior. Lutze reaffirms the SA's loyalty to the regime, and Hitler absolves the SA of any crimes committed by Ernst Röhm. New party flags are consecrated by letting them touch the Blutfahne (the same cloth flag said to have been carried by the fallen Nazis during the Beer Hall Putsch) and, following a final parade in front of the Nuremberg Frauenkirche, Hitler delivers his closing speech. In it he reaffirms the primacy of the Nazi Party in Germany, declaring, "All loyal Germans will become National Socialists. Only the best National Socialists are party comrades!" Hess then leads the assembled crowd in a final Sieg Heil salute for Hitler, marking the close of the party congress. The entire crowd sings the Horst-Wessel-Lied as the camera focuses on the giant Swastika banner, which fades into a line of silhouetted men in Nazi party uniforms, marching in formation as the lyrics "Comrades shot by the Red Front and the Reactionaries march in spirit together in our columns" are sung.


Shortly after he came to power Hitler called me to see him and explained that he wanted a film about a Party Congress, and wanted me to make it. My first reaction was to say that I did not know anything about the way such a thing worked or the organisation of the Party, so that I would obviously photograph all the wrong things and please nobody—even supposing that I could make a documentary, which I had never yet done. Hitler said that this was exactly why he wanted me to do it: because anyone who knew all about the relative importance of the various people and groups and so on might make a film that would be pedantically accurate, but this was not what he wanted. He wanted a film showing the Congress through a non-expert eye, selecting just what was most artistically satisfying—in terms of spectacle, I suppose you might say. He wanted a film which would move, appeal to, impress an audience which was not necessarily interested in politics.

— Leni Riefenstahl

Riefenstahl, a popular German actress, had directed her first film called Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light) in 1932. Around the same time she first heard Hitler speak at a Nazi rally and, by her own admission, was impressed. She later began a correspondence with him that would last for years. Hitler, by turn, was equally impressed with Das blaue Licht, and in 1933 asked her to direct a film about the Nazis' annual Nuremberg Rally. The Nazis had only recently taken power amid a period of political instability (Hitler was the fourth Chancellor of Germany in less than a year) and were considered an unknown quantity by many Germans, to say nothing of the world.

In Mein Kampf,[5] Hitler talks of the success of British propaganda in World War I, believing people's ignorance meant simple repetition and an appeal to feelings over reason would suffice.[6] Hitler chose Riefenstahl as he wanted the film as "artistically satisfying"[7] as possible to appeal to a non-political audience, but he also believed that propaganda must admit no element of doubt.[5] As such, Triumph of the Will may be seen as a continuation of the unambiguous World War I-style propaganda, though heightened by the film's artistic or poetic nature.

Riefenstahl was initially reluctant to make any documentaries at all for Hitler. This was not because of any moral qualms, but because Riefenstahl had never made a documentary and did not feel that she truly understood the NSDAP.[8] Hitler persisted and Riefenstahl eventually agreed to make a film at the 1933 Nuremberg Rally called Der Sieg des Glaubens (Victory of Faith). However the film had numerous technical problems, including a lack of preparation (Riefenstahl reported having just a few days) and Hitler's apparent unease at being filmed. To make matters worse, Riefenstahl had to deal with infighting by party officials, in particular Joseph Goebbels who tried to have the film released by the Propaganda Ministry. Though Der Sieg des Glaubens apparently did well at the box office, it later became a serious embarrassment to the Nazis after SA Leader Ernst Röhm, who had a prominent role in the film, was executed during the Night of the Long Knives. All references to Röhm were ordered to be erased from German history, which included the destruction of all copies of Der Sieg des Glaubens. It was considered lost until a copy turned up in the 1990s in the United Kingdom.

In 1934, Riefenstahl had no wish to repeat the fiasco of Der Sieg des Glaubens and initially recommended fellow director Walter Ruttmann. Ruttmann's film, which would have covered the rise of the Nazi Party from 1923 to 1934 and been more overtly propagandistic (the opening text of Triumph of the Will was his), did not appeal to Hitler. He again asked Riefenstahl, who finally relented (there is still debate over how willing she was) after Hitler guaranteed his personal support and promised to keep other Nazi organizations, specifically the Propaganda Ministry, from meddling with her film.


The film follows a script similar to Der Sieg des Glaubens, which is evident when one sees both films side by side. For example, the city of Nuremberg scenes—even to the shot of a cat included in the city driving sequence in both films. Furthermore, Herbert Windt reused much of his musical score for that film in Triumph des Willens, which he also scored. Riefenstahl shot Triumph of the Will on a budget of roughly 280,000RM (approx. $110K USD 1934, $1.54M 2015).[9] With that said, there were extensive preparations facilitated by the cooperation of party members, the military, and vital help from high-ranking Nazis like Goebbels. As Susan Sontag observed, "The Rally was planned not only as a spectacular mass meeting, but as a spectacular propaganda film."[10] Albert Speer, Hitler's personal architect, designed the set in Nuremberg and did most of the coordination for the event. Pits were dug in front of the speakers' platform so Riefenstahl could get the camera angles she wanted, and tracks were laid so that her cameramen could get traveling shots of the crowd. When rough cuts weren't up to par, major party leaders and high-ranking public officials reenacted their speeches in a studio for her.[11] Riefenstahl also used a film crew that was extravagant by the standards of the day. Her crew consisted of 172 people, including 10 technical staff, 36 cameramen and assistants (operating in 16 teams with 30 cameras), nine aerial photographers, 17 newsreel men, 12 newsreel crew, 17 lighting men, two photographers, 26 drivers, 37 security personnel, four labor service workers, and two office assistants. Many of her cameramen also dressed in SA uniforms so they could blend into the crowds.

Riefenstahl had the difficult task of condensing an estimated 61 hours of film into two hours.[6] She labored to complete the film as fast as she could, going so far as to sleep in the editing room filled with hundreds of thousands of feet of film footage.[8]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R99035, Adolf Hitler und Leni Riefenstahl crop
Hitler congratulates Riefenstahl in 1934
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2004-0312-503, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, Marsch der Wehrmacht
Riefenstahl and her film crew in front of Hitler's car during a parade in Nuremberg



This morning's opening meeting... was more than a gorgeous show, it also had something of the mysticism and religious fervor of an Easter or Christmas Mass in a great Gothic cathedral.

— Reporter William Shirer

Triumph of the Will is sometimes seen as an example of Nazi political religion. The primary religion in Germany before the Second World War was Christianity. With the primary sects being Roman Catholic and Protestant, the Christian views in this movie are clearly meant to allow the movie to better connect with the intended audience.

Religion is a major theme in Triumph of the Will. The film opens with Hitler descending god-like out of the skies past twin cathedral spires. It contains many scenes of church bells ringing, and individuals in a state of near-religious fervor, as well as a prominent shot of Reich Protestant Bishop Ludwig Müller standing in his vestments among high-ranking Nazis. It is probably not a coincidence that the final parade of the film was held in front of the Nuremberg Frauenkirche. In his final speech in the film, Hitler also directly compares the Nazi party to a holy order, and the consecration of new party flags by having Hitler touch them to the "blood banner" has obvious religious overtones. Hitler himself is portrayed in a messianic manner, from the opening where he descends from the clouds in a plane, to his drive through Nuremberg where even a cat stops what it is doing to watch him, to the many scenes where the camera films from below and looks up at him: Hitler, standing on his podium, will issue a command to hundreds of thousands of followers. The audience happily complies in unison.[12] As Frank P. Tomasulo comments, "Hitler is cast as a veritable German Messiah who will save the nation, if only the citizenry will put its destiny in his hands."[13]


It is our will that this state and this Reich shall endure through the coming millennia.

— Hitler

Germany had not seen images of military power and strength since the end of World War I, and the huge formations of men would remind the audience that Germany was becoming a great power once again. Though the Labor Service men carried spades, they handled them as if they were rifles. The Eagles and Swastikas could be seen as a reference to the Roman Legions of antiquity. The large mass of well-drilled party members could be seen in a more ominous light, as a warning to dissidents thinking of challenging the regime.

Hitler's arrival in an airplane should also be viewed in this context. According to Kenneth Poferl, "Flying in an airplane was a luxury known only to a select few in the 1930s, but Hitler had made himself widely associated with the practice, having been the first politician to campaign via air travel. Victory reinforced this image and defined him as the top man in the movement, by showing him as the only one to arrive in a plane and receive an individual welcome from the crowd. Hitler's speech to the SA also contained an implied threat: if he could have Röhm, the commander of the hundreds of thousands of troops on the screen, shot, it was only logical to assume that Hitler could get away with having anyone executed."


As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid.

— Hitler

It was very important to Adolf Hitler that his propaganda messages carry a unified theme. If a country isn't unified in saying the enemy is bad, the audience starts to have doubts. Unity is seen throughout this film, even in the camps where soldiers live. The camp outside of Nuremberg is very uniform and clean; the tents are aligned in perfect rows, each one the same as the next. The men there also make a point not to wear their shirts, because their shirts display their rankings and status. Shirtless they are all equals, unified. When they march, it is in unison and they all carry their weapons identically, one to another.

Hitler's message to the workers also includes the notion of unity:

The concept of labor will no longer be a dividing one but a uniting one, and no longer will there be anybody in Germany who will regard manual labor any less highly than any other form of labor.

— Hitler

Children were also used to convey unity:

We want to be a united nation, and you, my youth, are to become this nation. In the future, we do not wish to see classes and castes, and you must not allow them to develop among you. One day, we want to see one nation.

— Hitler

Triumph of the Will has many scenes that blur the distinction between the Nazi Party, the German state, and the German people. Germans in peasant farmers' costumes and other traditional clothing greet Hitler in some scenes. The torchlight processions, though now associated by many with the Nazis, would remind the viewer of the medieval Karneval celebration. The old flag of Imperial Germany is also shown several times flying alongside the Swastika, and there is a ceremony where Hitler pays his respects to soldiers who died in World War I (as well as to President Paul von Hindenburg, who had died a month before the convention). There is also a scene where the Labor Servicemen individually call out which town or area in Germany they are from, reminding the viewers that the Nazi Party had expanded from its stronghold in Bavaria to become a pan-German movement.

The Party is Hitler—and Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler!

— Rudolf Hess

Hitler's speeches

Among the themes presented, the desire for pride in Germany and the purification of the German people is well exemplified through the speeches and ideals of the Third Reich in Triumph of the Will.

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-04062A, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell
The Totenehrung (honouring of dead) at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. SS leader Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, and SA leader Viktor Lutze (from L to R) on the stone terrace in front of the Ehrenhalle (Hall of Honour) in the Luitpoldarena. In the background is the crescent-shaped Ehrentribüne (literally: tribune of honour).

In every speech given and shown in Triumph of the Will, pride is one of the major focuses. Hitler advocates to the people that they should not be satisfied with their current state and they should not be satisfied with the descent from power and greatness Germany has endured since World War I. The German people should believe in themselves and the movement that is occurring in Germany. Hitler promotes pride in Germany through the unification of it. Unifying Germany would force the elimination of what does not amount to the standards of the Nazi regime.

To unify Germany, Hitler believes purification would have to take place. This meant not only eliminating the citizens of Germany who are not of the Aryan race, but the sick, weak, handicapped, or any other citizens deemed unhealthy or impure. In Triumph of the Will, Hitler preaches to the people that Germany must take a look at itself and seek out that which does not belong: "[T]he elements that have become bad, and therefore do not belong with us!" Though within the context, he seems to be referring to the corrupt elements of the power structure, it later could seem in hindsight to imply that the elimination of the "inferior" people of Germany would, in theory, return Germany to its once prideful and powerful former self. Julius Streicher stresses the importance of purification in his speech, a direct reference to his own virulent anti-semitism. Hundreds of thousands of mentally ill and disabled people would be murdered in the Action T4, a programme run directly from Hitler's Chancellery (Kanzlei des Führers).

Hitler preaches to the people in his speeches that they should believe in their country and themselves. The German people are better than what they have become because of the impurities in society. Hitler wants them to believe in him and believe what he wants to do for his people, and what he is doing is for the country's and people's benefit. Hess says in the last scene of Triumph of the Will, "Heil Hitler, hail victory, hail victory!" Everyone in attendance cheers in support. This verbal sign represents their faith to their leader and his most trusted advisors that they believe in the Nazi cause. This is directly following Hitler's finale, "Long live the National Socialist Movement! Long live Germany!" and the crowd erupts with cheering and the fulfillment of pride for themselves and their political party.

In the closing speech of Triumph of the Will, Hitler enters the room from the back, appearing to emerge from the people. After a one sentence introduction, he tells his faithful Nazis how the German nation has subordinated itself to the Nazi Party because its leaders are mostly of Germans. He promises that the new state that the Nazis have created will endure for thousands of years. Hitler says that the youth will carry on after the old have weakened. They close with a chant, "Hitler is the Party, Hitler." The camera focuses on the large Swastika above Hitler and the film ends with the images of this Swastika imposed on Nazis marching in a few columns. His speech brought attention to the rally and created a huge turnout in the following years. He attracted many people in the way that he addressed the issues and his people. He spoke to them as if it were a sermon and engaged the people. In 1934, over a million Germans participated in the Nuremberg Rally.


Triumph of the Will premiered on 28 March 1935 at the Berlin Ufa Palace Theater and was an instant success. Within two months the film had earned 815,000 Reichsmark (equivalent to 3 million 2009 euros), and Ufa considered it one of the three most profitable films of that year. Hitler praised the film as being an "incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our Movement." For her efforts, Riefenstahl was rewarded with the German Film Prize (Deutscher Filmpreis), a gold medal at the 1935 Venice Biennale, and the Grand Prix at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. However, there were few claims that the film would result in a mass influx of "converts" to fascism and the Nazis apparently did not make a serious effort to promote the film outside of Germany. Film historian Richard Taylor also said that Triumph of the Will was not generally used for propaganda purposes inside the Third Reich. The Independent wrote in 2003: "Triumph of the Will seduced many wise men and women, persuaded them to admire rather than to despise, and undoubtedly won the Nazis friends and allies all over the world."[14]

The reception in other countries was not always as enthusiastic. British documentarian Paul Rotha called it tedious, while others were repelled by its pro-Nazi sentiments. During World War II, Frank Capra helped to create a direct response, through the film series called Why We Fight, a series of newsreels commissioned by the United States government that spliced in footage from Triumph of the Will, but recontextualized it so that it promoted the cause of the Allies instead. Capra later remarked that Triumph of the Will "fired no gun, dropped no bombs. But as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal."[15] Clips from Triumph of the Will were also used in an Allied propaganda short called General Adolph Takes Over,[16] set to the British dance tune "The Lambeth Walk". The legions of marching soldiers, as well as Hitler giving his Nazi salute, were made to look like wind-up dolls, dancing to the music. The Danish resistance used to take over cinemas and force the projectionist to show Swinging the Lambeth Walk (as it was also known); Erik Barrow has said: "The extraordinary risks were apparently felt justified by a moment of savage anti-Hitler ridicule."[17] Also during World War II, the poet Dylan Thomas wrote a screenplay for and narrated These Are The Men, a propaganda piece using Triumph of the Will footage to discredit Nazi leadership.

One of the best ways to gauge the response to Triumph of the Will was the instant and lasting international fame it gave Riefenstahl. The Economist said it "sealed her reputation as the greatest female filmmaker of the 20th century."[18] For a director who made eight films, only two of which received significant coverage outside of Germany, Riefenstahl had unusually high name recognition for the remainder of her life, most of it stemming from Triumph of the Will. However, her career was also permanently damaged by this association. After the war, Riefenstahl was imprisoned by the Allies for four years for allegedly being a Nazi sympathizer and was permanently blacklisted by the film industry. When she died in 2003 – sixty-eight years after the film's premiere – her obituary received significant coverage in many major publications, including the Associated Press,[19] The Wall Street Journal,[20] The New York Times,[21] and The Guardian,[22] most of which reaffirmed the importance of Triumph of the Will.


Julius Streicher 72-920 crop
Julius Streicher in custody in 1945

Like American filmmaker D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, Triumph of the Will has been criticized as a use of spectacular filmmaking to promote a profoundly unethical system. In her defense, Riefenstahl claimed that she was naïve about the Nazis when she made it and had no knowledge of Hitler's genocidal or anti-semitic policies. She also pointed out that Triumph of the Will contains "not one single anti-semitic word", although it does contain a veiled comment by Julius Streicher, the notorious Jew-baiter (who was hanged after the Nuremberg trials), that "a people that does not protect its racial purity will perish".

However, Roger Ebert has observed that for some, "the very absence of anti-semitism in Triumph of the Will looks like a calculation; excluding the central motif of almost all of Hitler's public speeches must have been a deliberate decision to make the film more efficient as propaganda."[23]

Riefenstahl also repeatedly defended herself against the charge that she was a Nazi propagandist, saying that Triumph of the Will focuses on images over ideas, and should therefore be viewed as a Gesamtkunstwerk (holistic work of art). In 1964, she returned to this topic, saying:

If you see this film again today you ascertain that it doesn't contain a single reconstructed scene. Everything in it is true. And it contains no tendentious commentary at all. It is history. A pure historical film ... it is film-vérité. It reflects the truth that was then in 1934, history. It is therefore a documentary. Not a propaganda film. Oh! I know very well what propaganda is. That consists of recreating events in order to illustrate a thesis, or, in the face of certain events, to let one thing go in order to accentuate another. I found myself, me, at the heart of an event which was the reality of a certain time and a certain place. My film is composed of what stemmed from that.[24]

However, Riefenstahl was an active participant in the rally, though in later years she downplayed her influence significantly, claiming, "I just observed and tried to film it well. The idea that I helped to plan it is downright absurd." Ebert states that Triumph of the Will is "by general consent [one] of the best documentaries ever made", but added that because it reflects the ideology of a movement regarded by many as evil, it poses "a classic question of the contest between art and morality: Is there such a thing as pure art, or does all art make a political statement?"[23] When reviewing the film for his "Great Movies" collection, Ebert reversed his opinion, characterizing his earlier conclusion as "the received opinion that the film is great but evil" and calling it "a terrible film, paralyzingly dull, simpleminded, overlong and not even 'manipulative', because it is too clumsy to manipulate anyone but a true believer".[25]

Susan Sontag considers Triumph of the Will the "most successful, most purely propagandistic film ever made, whose very conception negates the possibility of the filmmaker's having an aesthetic or visual conception independent of propaganda." Sontag points to Riefenstahl's involvement in the planning and design of the Nuremberg ceremonies as evidence that Riefenstahl was working as a propagandist, rather than as an artist in any sense of the word. With some 30 cameras and a crew of 150, the marches, parades, speeches, and processions were orchestrated like a movie set for Riefenstahl's film. Further, this was not the first political film made by Riefenstahl for the Third Reich (there was Victory of Faith, 1933), nor was it the last (Day of Freedom, 1935, and Olympia, 1938). "Anyone who defends Riefenstahl's films as documentary", Sontag states, "if documentary is to be distinguished from propaganda, is being disingenuous. In Triumph of Will, the document (the image) is no longer simply the record of reality; 'reality' has been constructed to serve the image."[10]

Brian Winston's essay on the film in The Movies as History is largely a critique of Sontag's analysis. Winston argues that any filmmaker could have made the film look impressive because the Nazis' mise en scène was impressive, particularly when they were offering it for camera re-stagings. In form, the film alternates repetitively between marches and speeches. Winston asks the viewers to consider if such a film should be seen as anything more than a pedestrian effort. Like Rotha, he finds the film tedious, and believes anyone who takes the time to analyze its structure will quickly agree.

Wehrmacht objections

The first controversy over Triumph of the Will occurred even before its release, when several generals in the Wehrmacht protested over the minimal army presence in the film. Only one scene—the review of the German cavalry—actually involved the German military. The other formations were party organizations that were not part of the military.

The opposition of the generals was not simply out of personalized pique or vanity. As produced by Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will posits Germany as a leaderless mass of lost souls without any organizing institutions, or antecedent institutional leaders. And that the "new order" embodied by the Nazi Party and Hitler provides both a new and a singular/saving leader and institutional framework for the whole of the German nation.

However, the Army had been, and had seen itself as being, an institution that held shared responsibility for the leadership of the nation and state since at least the time of Fredrick the Great. The leaders of that Army had also been viewed throughout the history of the German-speaking peoples as an integral part of the leadership cadre. By omitting the Army (along with other institutions, e.g., the nobility, the Church, academia, business), the film demonstrated that the Army, as well as its leaders, had "disappeared" from what the Army considered to be its shared leadership role in the state, National Socialist or otherwise. The Army's leaders vehemently disagreed with this implied assertion of the film.

Hitler proposed his own "artistic" compromise where Triumph of the Will would open with a camera slowly tracking down a row of all the "overlooked" generals (and placate each general's ego). According to her own testimony, Riefenstahl refused his suggestion and insisted on keeping artistic control over Triumph of the Will. She did agree to return to the 1935 rally to make a film exclusively about the Wehrmacht, which became Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht (Day of Freedom: Our Armed Forces).

Influences and legacy

Dictator charlie2
Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel in The Great Dictator

Triumph of the Will remains well known for its striking visuals. As one historian notes, "many of the most enduring images of the [Nazi] regime and its leader derive from Riefenstahl's film."[26]

Extensive excerpts of the film were used in Erwin Leiser's documentary Mein Kampf, produced in Sweden in 1960. Riefenstahl unsuccessfully sued the Swedish production company Minerva-Film for copyright violation, although she did receive forty thousand marks in compensation from German and Austrian distributors of the film.[27]

In 1942, Charles A. Ridley of the British Ministry of Information made a short propaganda film, Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style, which edited footage of Hitler and German soldiers from the film to make it appear they were marching and dancing to the song "The Lambeth Walk".[note 1] The targeted-at-Nazis parody of "The Lambeth Walk" (a British dance that had been popular in swing clubs in Germany which the Nazis denounced as "Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping"[28]) so enraged Joseph Goebbels that reportedly he ran out of the screening room kicking chairs and screaming profanities.[29] The propaganda film was distributed uncredited to newsreel companies, who would supply their own narration.[29]

Charlie Chaplin's satire The Great Dictator (1940) was inspired in large part by Triumph of the Will.[30] Frank Capra used significant footage, with a mocking narration in the first installment of the propagandistic film produced by the United States Army Why We Fight as an exposure of Nazi militarism and totalitarianism to American soldiers and sailors.[31] The film has been studied by many contemporary artists, including film directors Peter Jackson, George Lucas and Ridley Scott. The opening sequence of Starship Troopers is a direct reference to the film.


The Federal Court of Justice of Germany has addressed the matter of the film Triumph of the Will (see BGH UFITA 55 (1970), 313, 320/321). It ascertained that the film was a NSDAP production, where the NSDAP was granted unlimited rights of use for exploitation. According to the March 17, 1965 law regarding the regulation of liabilities of national socialist institutions and the legal relationships concerning their assets, all rights and assets of the NSDAP were transferred to the Federal Republic of Germany, and anything relating to film business was to be managed by Transit Film GmbH.

In 1996, the film was restored to copyright under the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act.[32]

Since the death of Leni Riefenstahl the federally owned Transit Film GmbH holds the exclusive right of use to all rights of the film. The respective contractual agreements had previously provided, to a certain extent, for the joint management of rights.

See also


  1. ^ See § External links for video


  1. ^ Barsam, Richard M (1975). Filmguide to Triumph of the Will. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 21.
  2. ^ Hinton, David B. (1975). "Triumph of the Will: Document or Artifice?". Cinema Journal. University of Texas Press. 15 (1): 48–57. doi:10.2307/1225104. JSTOR 1225104.
  3. ^ Julia Jacobs, Philipp Schepp: "Triumph des Willens". In: Thomas Hoeren, Lena Meyer: Verbotene Filme. Berlin 2007, p. 177. (In German.)
  4. ^ Hagopian, Kevin Jack. "Triumph of the Will – Film Notes". New York Writers Institute. University of Albany."When director Frank Capra was commissioned by the U.S. government to make what became the Why We Fight series of propaganda films in World War II, he screened a copy of Triumph of the Will which had been seized by the U.S. Customs office."
  5. ^ a b Hitler, Adolph (2000). "War Propaganda". In Marwick, A; Simpson, W (eds.). Primary Sources 2: Interwar and World War II. Milton Keynes, The Open University. pp. 79–82. ISBN 0-7492-8559-1.
  6. ^ Kula, S (1985). "Theatres of War:Propaganda 1918–45". Archivaria. 20: 172.
  7. ^ Starkman, R (1998). "Mother of All Spectacles: Ray Müller's "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl"". Film Quarterly. University of California. 51 (2 Winter, 1997–1998): 23. doi:10.2307/3697138. JSTOR 3697138.(subscription required)
  8. ^ Bjorkman, James, "Leni Riefenstahl, Enigmatic Auteur,", Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Barsam, Richard. "Filmguide to Triumph of the Will" (PDF). Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  10. ^ a b Sontag, Susan (6 February 1975). "Fascinating Fascism". The New York Review of Books.
  11. ^ Berenbaum, Michael (2007). The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Washington, D.C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. pp. 24–25. ISBN 0-316-09134-0.
  12. ^ Carl Rollyson (7 March 2007). "Leni Riefenstahl on Trial". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2 November 2008.
  13. ^ Tomasulo, Frank P. "The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema: Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will". In Grant, Barry Keith; Sloniowski, Jeannette (eds.). Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Wayne State University Press. p. 104. ISBN 9780814326398.
  14. ^ Williams, Val (10 September 2003). "Leni Riefenstahl". Obituaries. The Independent. p. xx. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009.
  15. ^ Capra, Frank (1977). The Name above the Title: An Autobiography. Da Capo Press. p. 328. ISBN 0-306-80771-8. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  16. ^ "Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style (1942)". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  17. ^ Barrow, Erik (1993). Documentary: A History of Non-fiction Films. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-19-507898-5.
  18. ^ "Leni Riefenstahl: Hand-held history". The Economist. 11 September 2003.
  19. ^ Rising, David (9 September 2003). "Hitler's filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, revered and reviled for her work, dies at 101". Associated Press.
  20. ^ Petropolous, Jonathan (11 September 2003). "Leni Riefenstahl, Coy Propagandist of the Nazi Era". Wall Street Journal.
  21. ^ Riding, Alan (9 September 2003). "Leni Riefenstahl, Filmmaker and Nazi Propagandist, Dies at 101". New York Times.
  22. ^ Harding, Luke (10 September 2003). "Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favourite film propagandist, dies at 101". The Guardian.
  23. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (24 June 1994). "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl". Chicago Sun-Times.
  24. ^ Thomson, David (2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fifth Edition. New York: Knopf. p. 822. ISBN 978-0-307-27174-7.
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (26 June 2008). "Triumph of the Will (1935)". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  26. ^ Reeves, Nicholas (2003) [1999]. The Power of Film Propaganda: Myth or Reality?. London; New York: Continuum. p. 107. ISBN 0-82647-390-3.
  27. ^ Trimborn, Jürgen (2007). Leni Riefenstahl: A Life. New York: Faber and Faber. p. 240. ISBN 9780374184933.
  28. ^ "Nazis Hold Lambeth Walk is 'Animalistic Hopping'", New York Times January 8, 1939, p. 26
  29. ^ a b "The Goofy, Anti-Nazi Parody Video That Enraged Goebbels". Slate magazine. 9 February 2016.
  30. ^ Trimborn, pp. 123–124.
  31. ^ Rollins, Peter C (ed.). (2003) “Indoctrination and Propaganda, 1942–1945” The Columbia companion to American history on film: How the movies have portrayed the American past. Columbia University Press. pp. 118.
  32. ^ "U.S. Copyright Office". 30 August 1996. Retrieved 16 October 2018.

Further reading

External links

Action (Canadian TV channel)

Action was a Canadian discretionary service owned by Corus Entertainment which ran from 2001 to 2019. Originally established as a spin-off of Showcase, the channel primarily aired action-adventure-oriented films and television series, though later channel drift due to changes with the action-adventure genre overall saw it carry reality television content with little relation to the intended format.

The channel was launched on September 7, 2001 and relaunched under its final name on August 31, 2009. The channel was then shut down and replaced by Adult Swim on April 1, 2019 at midnight Eastern Time.

Censorship in Nazi Germany

Censorship in Nazi Germany was extreme and strictly enforced by the governing Nazi Party, but specifically by Joseph Goebbels and his Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Censorship within Nazi Germany included control of all forms of mass communication, which included newspaper, music, literature, radio, and film. The same body also produced and disseminated their own literature which were solely devoted to furthering Nazi ideas and myths. Anti-semitism lay at the core of their works, including 1940 films such as Jud Süß and The Eternal Jew. The ministry promoted the cult of Adolf Hitler by sponsoring early films such as Triumph of the Will of the 1934 rally and The Victory of Faith made in 1933, and which survives now as a single copy recently discovered in the UK. It was banned by the Nazis owing to the prominent role of Ernst Roehm, who was murdered by Hitler on the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

First Order (Star Wars)

The First Order is an autocratic military dictatorship in the Star Wars franchise, introduced in the 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Formed following the fall of the Galactic Empire after the events of Return of the Jedi (1983), the organization has amassed its power in secret over three decades. In The Force Awakens, the First Order is commanded by Supreme Leader Snoke and has begun executing its plan to depose the New Republic and reclaim control of the galaxy. Snoke's apprentice Kylo Ren is the master of the Knights of Ren, a mysterious group of elite warriors who work with the First Order.

Critics and fans have noted the use of imagery highly reminiscent of Nazi Germany for the First Order in The Force Awakens, including a sequence mimicking the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. According to The Force Awakens writer/director J. J. Abrams, the First Order is inspired by the theory of Nazis fleeing to Argentina and other countries following the aftermath of World War II.

Franz Weihmayr

Franz Weihmayr (30 December 1903 – 26 May 1969) was a German cinematographer who worked on over eighty films between 1924 and 1964. He was one of the leading German cinematographers of the Nazi era, working on a number of Zarah Leander films and the 1935 propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will. After the Second World War Weihmayr worked in West German cinema including rubble films such as Love '47.

Herbert Windt

Herbert Windt (15 September 1894, Senftenberg, Brandenburg – 2 November 1965, Deisenhofen, now a part of Oberhaching, Bavaria) was a German composer who became one of the most significant film score composers of the Third Reich. He was best known for his collaborations with the director Leni Riefenstahl on films such as Triumph of the Will and Olympia.

Karl Attenberger

Karl Attenberger (28 October 1885 – 19 November 1951) was a German cinematographer. He worked with Leni Riefenstahl on the 1935 propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will.

Kenny Hotz

Kenneth Joel Hotz (born May 3, 1967) is a Canadian producer and entertainer. Hotz is a former South Park staff writer, "Kenny" of the Comedy Central television series Kenny vs. Spenny, creator of the FX series Testees, and Kenny Hotz's Triumph of the Will. He has received numerous international awards for his film, television, and digital content. Hotz is an award-winning Vice personality. He began his career as a photographer and Gulf War photo-journalist

Kenny Hotz's Triumph of the Will

Kenny Hotz's Triumph of the Will is a Canadian television series, which debuted on July 22, 2011, on Action.

Leni Riefenstahl

Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl (German: [ˈʁiːfn̩ʃtaːl]; 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director and actress.Born in 1902, Leni Riefenstahl grew up in Germany with her brother Heinz (1905–1944), who was killed on the Eastern Front in World War II. A talented swimmer and artist, she also became interested in dancing during her childhood, taking dancing lessons and performing across Europe.

After seeing a promotional poster for the 1924 film Der Berg des Schicksals ("The Mountain of Destiny"), Riefenstahl was inspired to move into acting. Between 1925 and 1929, she starred in five successful motion pictures. Riefenstahl became one of the few women in Germany to direct a film during the Weimar Period when, in 1932, she decided to try directing with her own film called Das Blaue Licht ("The Blue Light").

In the 1930s, she directed Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will") and Olympia, resulting in worldwide attention and acclaim. The movies are widely considered two of the most effective, and technically innovative, propaganda films ever made. Her involvement in Triumph des Willens, however, significantly damaged her career and reputation after the war. The exact nature of her relationship with Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler remains a matter of debate. However, Hitler was in close collaboration with Riefenstahl during the production of at least three important Nazi films, and a closer friendship is claimed to have existed. When in 2000 Jodie Foster was planning a biographical drama on Riefenstahl, war-crime documenters warned against a revisionist view that glorified the director. They stated that publicly Riefenstahl seemed "quite infatuated" with Hitler and was in fact the last surviving member of his "inner circle". Others go further, arguing that Riefenstahl's visions were essential to the success of the Holocaust. After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested, but classified as being a "fellow traveler" or "Nazi sympathiser" only and was not associated with war crimes. Throughout her life, she denied having known about the Holocaust. Besides directing, Riefenstahl released an autobiography and wrote several books on the Nuba people.

Riefenstahl died of cancer on 8 September 2003 at the age of 101 and was buried at Munich Waldfriedhof.

List of films using the music of Richard Wagner

The following is a sortable list of cinema films which utilize music of Richard Wagner in their soundtracks (other than films of Wagner's operas themselves). Casual references (and use of the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin) are not included.

National Socialist League (United States)

The National Socialist League was a neo-Nazi political party in the United States that existed from 1974 until the late-1980s. It was founded by Russell Veh in Los Angeles, United States. Veh financed the party using the profits from his printing business. He also financed the party with a film distribution unit that specialized in Nazi propaganda films, including Triumph of the Will. The National Socialist League had chapters in various parts of California, and implied in their mass mailing on July 4th, 1978 that they had established an offshoot organization in Manhattan.

Nuremberg Rally

The Nuremberg Rally (officially Reichsparteitag , meaning Realm Party Convention) was the annual rally of the Nazi Party in Germany, held from 1923 to 1938. They were large Nazi propaganda events, especially after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933. These events were held at the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg from 1933 to 1938 and are usually referred to in English as the "Nuremberg Rallies". Many films were made to commemorate them, including Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and The Victory of Faith.

Overkill L.A.

Overkill L.A. or SST Overkill is a hardcore punk/speed metal band started in 1980 in Los Angeles and which recorded two records on SST Records and some tracks on compilations. The band started as Overkill but they were rechristened Overkill L.A. by SST Records when they re-released their albums in the '90's and SST Overkill when they reunited in 2005.

Robert A. Harris

Robert A. Harris is an American film historian and preservationist, and owner of The Film Preserve Ltd, a New York-based company which specializes in the restoration and reconstruction of classic films. In collaboration with James C. Katz, he has restored several films, including Lawrence of Arabia (1989), Spartacus (1991), My Fair Lady (1994), Vertigo (1996), and Rear Window (1998).

In 2006, he was involved in the restoration of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.In 2010, Harris was honored by the International Press Academy with its Nikola Tesla Award for Visionary Achievement in Filmmaking Technology.In 2013, Harris completed restoration work on the roadshow version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

In 2014 and 2015, Harris oversaw digital restorations of Spartacus and My Fair Lady, and supervised digital restoration of Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will.

Harris also produced The Grifters with Martin Scorsese (1990), and developed screenplays including Endurance and Airship Empire with producer Wendy Winks. Both were not produced.

Harris is a regular contributor on a dedicated insider forum with Home Theater Forum.

The Academy Film Archive houses the Robert A. Harris collection, which includes over 1,100 items.

Sepp Allgeier

Josef “Sepp” Allgeier (6 February 1895 – 11 March 1968) was a German cinematographer who worked on around fifty features, documentaries and short films. He began his career as a cameraman in 1911 for the Expreß Film Co. of Freiburg. In 1913 he filmed newsreels in the Balkans. He then became an assistant to Arnold Fanck, a leading director of Mountain films. He worked frequently with Luis Trenker and Leni Riefenstahl, both closely associated with the genre. He was Riefenstahl's lead cameraman on her 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will. During the Second World War, Allgeier filmed material for newsreels. He later worked in West German television. His son is the cinematographer Hans-Jörg Allgeier.

The Lambeth Walk

"The Lambeth Walk" is a song from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl (with book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose and music by Noel Gay). The song takes its name from a local street, Lambeth Walk, once notable for its street market and working class culture in Lambeth, an area of London. The tune gave its name to a Cockney dance made popular in 1937 by Lupino Lane.

The story line of Me and My Girl concerns a Cockney barrow boy who inherits an earldom but almost loses his Lambeth girlfriend. It was turned into a 1939 film The Lambeth Walk which starred Lane.

The Victory of Faith

Not to be confused with the 1829 oratorio "Der Sieg des Glaubens" composed by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) to libretto by Johann Baptist Rousseau (1802-1867).Der Sieg des Glaubens (English: The Victory of Faith, Victory of Faith, or Victory of the Faith) (1933) is the first propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Her film recounts the Fifth Party Rally of the Nazi Party, which occurred in Nuremberg from 30 August to 3 September 1933. The film is of great historic interest because it shows Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm on close and intimate terms, before Röhm was shot on the orders of Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives on 1 July 1934. All known copies of the film were destroyed on Hitler's orders, and it was considered lost until a copy turned up in the 1990s in the United Kingdom.

The form of the film is very similar to her later and much more expansive film of the 1934 rally, Triumph of the Will. Der Sieg des Glaubens is Nazi propaganda for the Nazi Party, which funded and promoted the film, which celebrates the victory of the Nazis in achieving power when Hitler assumed the role of Chancellor of Germany in February 1933.

Why We Fight

Why We Fight is a series of seven documentary films commissioned by the United States government during World War II to justify to U.S. soldiers their country's involvement in the war. Later on, they were also shown to the U.S. public to persuade them to support U.S. involvement in the war.

Most of the films were directed by Frank Capra, who was daunted, yet impressed and challenged, by Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will, and worked in direct response to it. The series faced a tough challenge: convincing a recently non-interventionist nation of the need to become involved in the war and ally with the Soviets, among other things. In many of the films, Capra and other directors spliced in Axis powers propaganda footage going back twenty years, and re-contextualized it so it promoted the cause of the Allies.

Why We Fight was edited primarily by William Hornbeck, although some parts were re-enacted "under War Department supervision" if there was no relevant footage available. The animated portions of the films were produced by the Disney studios – with the animated maps following a convention of depicting Axis-occupied territory in black.

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