Triumph of the Will, Failure of the Imagination

As I watched Triumph of the Will (1935) I quickly began to experience a sensation of excruciating boredom not unlike those you might expect to feel at an award ceremony dedicated to an obvious fraud and criminal (e.g Henry Kissinger receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in what our descendants will either remember as a moment of comedic brilliance on the part of the Nobel committee or as an intellectual crime against humanity). Their every word sounds contrived and derivative at best, pornographic at worst. The smiling guests strike you as pathetic and obsequious in their premeditated happiness, their every attempt at ingratiating themselves with the award’s recipient further reinforcing the event’s glumly parodic nature. By the forty-five minute mark you would give anything to see the whole affair go up in flames.

It appears that Triumph of the Will earns much praise for its “technical” brilliance. I suppose this means its skill in using film and sound to portray the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, regardless of its message. However, the film did not succeed in engaging my interest whatsoever. It contains no unexpected shots of Hitler or his officers. The camera films them from a low angle, exaggerating their height in comparison with the adoring masses shot at wide, sweeping angles. The filmmaker plays exactly the kind of music you would expect at the exact moments you would expect them. Worst of all, the film presents almost no information about the people attending the rally. I understand this serves the purpose of showing Nazi Germany as a collective body of true believers utterly devoted to Hitler, but I think a more talented filmmaker would attempt to show what makes an ordinary German fall in love with such a figure.  This would make for a truly powerful documentary about ordinary people touched by a charismatic individual, rather than what appears as an extravagant soap opera for sentimental brownshirts. For all those unrepentant YouTube Nazis looking for reactionary works of true brilliance, I suggest Wagner and Drieu La Rochelle.

As for the rest of us, we should wonder why such a dull, unimaginative film continues to earn praise for its cinematography. Might it have something to do with a human penchant for totalitarianism and fascism? Do we gain such satisfaction from images of harmony, social and otherwise, that we can momentarily suspend our disbelief with the simple aid of overwrought music and shots of marching crowds? Do we love the notion of absolute power so much that we continue to find images of evil, no matter how petty and base their origin, fascinating and worthy of our leering, falsely offended scrutiny? For those interested in a film that proposes an honest depiction of fascism, I recommend Piero Pasolini’s Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom.

2 thoughts on “Triumph of the Will, Failure of the Imagination

  1. I agree that the film was not very interesting and that it was predictable, but its purpose was not to be original. It was meant to move people to support the Nazi party. It may not have shown why specific people were drawn to the Nazi party, but there was an attempt to show that there is something distinctly German about the Nazis. For example, the shots of people in traditional German clothing, the crowds singing together in German, and the shots of German cities. More artist interest would have been nice, but it was “directed and produced by the Fuher.”

  2. Interesting thoughts. While Triumph of the Will was not intended to entertain, it was intended to persuade which I believe the film does. As for why everything seems expected or old, it is because this film has been copied time and time again. It is THE influential propaganda film of Nazi Germany. There is a reason people watch this movie today, especially because of the influence this movie has on cinematography and propaganda.

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