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  • Riefenstahl Screened: An Anthology of New Criticism
  • Margaret McCarthy
Neil Christian Pages, Mary Rhiel, and Ingeborg Majer-O'Sickey, eds. Riefenstahl Screened: An Anthology of New Criticism. New York: Continuum, 2008. 276 pp. US$ 110. ISBN 978-0826428004.

Establishing shots and opening sequences often signal the quality of what follows. The succinct, but canny introduction to Riefenstahl Screened portends the excellent [End Page 686] scholarship that follows. Riefenstahl's afterlife in the twenty-first century, as she continues to inspire biographies and biopics, as her cinematic blueprint proliferates across a range of media, prompts the need for new conceptual turns. Long overdue as well are approaches that, as the editors state, "maneuver around the impasse that has characterized the debates around the meaning of [Riefenstahl's] films and her biography." The difficulty of pinning down Riefenstahl's persona, its "uncanny oscillation between disempowerment and empowerment," as well as of determining what exactly constitutes fascist imagery, has created legion critical rifts. If the editors wisely forego an approach that would "unmask" Riefenstahl or provide some kind of final word, her mendacious character remains beyond dispute for all the scholars in the volume. Those in need of convincing should look to Steven Bach's recent biography for the historical particulars. By abandoning a "does she/doesn't she" approach, the volume moves in all kinds of new and unexpected directions that tell us as much about our own historical moment as Riefenstahl's films revealed about theirs.

Georg Seesslen's "Blood and Glamour," which originally appeared in the catalog for the first German exhibition on Riefenstahl in December 1998, opens the section entitled "Aesthetics." He maps out links between fascism and pop, or the way the former seems to have been especially predestined for the latter. More pointedly, he argues that Riefenstahl's films have always "carried the pop germ in themselves." He then goes on to trace her reception across the pop firmament from the 1970s until the present, referencing figures like David Bowie, Conan the Barbarian, and Reinhold Messner along the way. Carsten Stathausen's "Riefenstahl and the Face of Fascism" closely examines a famous photo of her as Junta, the heroine of Riefenstahl's film The Blue Light, and its implications for the "chimerical face of fascism," particularly in a contemporary digital age that diffuses the authorship of images. Lutz Koepnick's look at Riefenstahl's representation of soccer in Olympia takes us to a new conceptual place; by looking at issues of space, speed, and interconnectivity, he argues that Riefenstahl's otherwise pioneering cinematography fell flat in its efforts to capture soccer's spatial dynamics and temporal rhythms.

Part Two, "Afterlife," begins with David Bathrick's essay on the first twenty-five years after Triumph of the Will. He traces the uses of Riefenstahl's images in later, unexpected places - in documentary and feature films like The Great Dictator, The Eternal Jew, Frank Capra's film for the U.S. information agency Why We Fight, and in Night and Fog. Bathrick argues that these films unwittingly reprise the iconic status that Riefenstahl conferred on her images, even as they pursued differing political, philosophical, and aesthetic objectives. Wulf Kansteiner's essay, "Wonderful, Horrible Lies: Riefenstahl Memory and Riefenstahl History in Germany," provides a richly substantiated critique of Robby Müller's well-known documentary, his inability to chorale and chasten Riefenstahl in moments when she exhibits her most egregious lies. In the end Kansteiner considers the documentary a "master class taught by Riefenstahl herself" and indeed a "horrible" film. Valery Weinstein takes a careful look at the German rock band Rammstein's controversial use of Riefenstahl's imagery in several of its music videos. If other critics dismissed their quotations as shock tactics to enhance sales, Weinstein reads critical potential in videos that align fascist and contemporary desires to escape to a naked, pure body. In both instances this desire is manufactured by the larger ideological and media-driven forces it would escape. Rammstein posits itself self-critically, she argues, within this dynamic. [End Page 687]

Part Three, "Continuities," begins with a revised essay by Eric Rentschler from his 1996 volume, The Ministry of Illusion. In it...


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