Wednesday, February 17, 2010

1938 - OLYMPIA, Leni Riefenstahl's film on the 1936 Olympic games

The Nazi's favorite filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl created this documentary from her photographed record of the 1936 Olympic games.  Olympia is considered a classic in the documentary film form, and although a very long film it still has parts that hold up pretty well watching the film today.

Rifenstahl stuck hundred's of cameras everywhere to get some amazing shots of the athletes competing. She spent almost two years editing the miles of film footage she got back. The finished film was split into two parts.

The film is somewhat unnerving to watch with Hitler in the stadium and all the thousands of good little Germans "heiling" him with their creepy Nazi salutes.

Part One,  The Festival of Nations contains a brilliant prologue and opening to the Olympic games and consumes almost thirty minutes of running time.  The Festival of Nations primarily focuses on track and field competition and gets pretty tiresome.

Riefenstahl frequently photographs the athletes very closely and uses lots of slow motion tricks to keep it interesting but it's a pretty long slog for much of the film.  Towards the end of the film, Riefenstahl sharpens the focus of the film with a pole vaulting competition that goes into the night.  The Festival of Nations concludes with a marathon running race which is very well filmed.

Part 2:  The Festival of Beauty, is a little shorter than part one, and has more variety in the athletic events which makes it easier to watch.  The sailing sequences and most entertainingly, the horse competition events which are hilarious.  The horses frequently throw their riders and appear to have a lot more common sense about jumping dangerous parts of the Olympic track then the people riding them.  Olympia ends with the famous diving/flying sequence which is primarily achieved through editing.

In spite of the dated aspects and somewhat repetitious nature of some of the athletic events,  Olympia is still an impressive film.

126 minutes for The Festival of Nations.

100 minutes for The Festival of Beauty.

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