Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia"

Jonas Mekas once said of infamous German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, “If you are an idealist, you’ll see idealism in her films; if you are a classicist, you’ll see in her films an ode to classicism; if you are a Nazi, you’ll see in her films Nazism.” Olympia, her stunning portrait of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, represents the apex of all three. With a crew of at least thirty cameramen and the limitless resources she enjoyed as the Führer’s favorite filmmaker, Riefenstahl didn’t use Olympia to document reality as much as bend its very fabric to her purpose, as she re-imagines Olympic competition as both a compelling nationalist drama and a spectacular cinematic meditation. Before Olympia, few filmmakers had approached sport with imagination and ingenuity, and here Leni freely moves from the sidelines to the center of the action, from reportage to poetry: in the midst of a rowing race, the camera takes on the churning motion of the oar; the climactic moments of a marathon become play of shadows. Perhaps filmdom’s ultimate statement on both the fetishization and transcendence of the human body, Olympia also remains an eternal reminder of the power of cinematic propaganda. Unscreened in L.A. for years, our show of Olympia comes from an archival 35mm print!
Dir. Leni Riefenstahl, 1938, 35mm, 226 min.

Watch an excerpt from “Olympia”!
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