Monday, February 23, 2009

Das Blaue Licht

here's what i thought of the film initially:

-it reminded me of Lassie but i really didn't think that this is a useful analysis and to try to figure out why is probably not worth my time. (I reconsidered and now think this is interesting)

-it also reminded me of Maya Deren, but i thought perhaps this was superficial based on a fleeting emotion or impression rather than anything concrete (joaquin said it isn't superficial, so maybe i'll explore this more)

-it reminded me of lectures i had on 18th & 19th century ideas of Beauty: the mountains and the Sublime--Nature replacing God... German philosophy about "the Spirit" (in particular Hegel, who I've never understood but also Heidigger, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who I don't want to like but kind of do)...also the emotionalism of German literature and Opera. Wagner. Goethe. The Sorrow's of Young Werther. I even thought of Narcissus and Goldman at one point. (I don't like any of this writing) All these associations run in my head in a swirl of "German Romanticism" and just sort of leave an impression, it's not very analytical...more of just a reference of a culture I don't know much about, but am a product of...Germany.

-I also thought about the scene in Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) when the monster lives in the forest alone and learns to talk by watching the girl interact with her family through the window. The father is blind and not afraid...etc.

-I absolutely hated the soundtrack and found it distracting (terrible music! reminded me of German club and family reunions: ja wohl!)

-I have no idea what was happening in the story of the movie, at all, but i kind of didn't care as it was nice to feel like it was a dream (similar to Maya Deren, but whose films I like better) I could follow the conflict/device of Junta and the guy not being able to speak to each other but still communicate pretty easily. That was the center of the film for me I guess, as I couldn't fully grasp what was happening beyond, villagers vs. mountain lady and crystals/the moon.

-The shots were cool looking and it seems like an amazingly shot, edited and well put together film, with a lot to grapple with technically and artistically (if I was a film maker or more interested in visual art than storytelling via film I imagine I'd actually care about this quite a bit)

-the Nazi/Aryan aesthetic was in full effect, i could see why hitler liked this movie (seriously, it was messed up and frightening. it scared me and i am almost half German)

-it was a lot different than Triumph of the Will, which i saw in class and kind of blew my mind not only as a document, but as a propaganda film (has anyone seen it? it was controversial that we saw it in school)

-the whole time i was thinking about Leni Riefenstahl's relationship with the Third Reich, particularly in her film Tiefland, where she supposedly hand picked Roma concentration camp victims to use as extras who were then sent to Auschwitz when the movie was over (I have not seen it and don't want to after reading this)

I was left with these questions:

What is the role of the artist under fascism?

What is the role of politics in art making?

Are there any ideas in the film and if not, is it fascist to make a work of art purely aesthetic and mythic?

How do the aesthetic/formalist elements of Riefenstahl's film relate to the Weimar republic?

Is it significant that Junta the "wild" one spoke Italian rather than German?

Clearly it is a Romantic work, but she also seems to be a Modernist. Or is she a Romantic artist using Modernist tools? Is this style particular to Germany (high Romantic art/culture) at this time period (Modernism) or was this just particular to her work?

I have a lot of problems with Romanticism, but am also drawn to it. I think that it is still the dominant "art" paradigm in a lot of ways, despite what people say they are doing, and that there's a lot of ideological manipulation that comes with the territory.

I quickly skimmed Chick Flicks on Riefenstahl but didn't take notes and I don't have my own copy. I know the author addresses this somewhat, but I found her dismissive remarks on Susan Sontag's analysis of Riefenstahl to be catty and glaringly reductionist, so she was kind of getting on my nerves.

As far as feminism goes: I don't think Riefenstahl is a feminist filmmaker, I don't think this is a particularly feminist film, nor do I think that feminists need to claim all female filmmakers as their own. I admittedly don't know a huge amount of biographical material and am not familiar with the rest of her work, but my impression is that she was a filmmaker who happened to be a woman who was a greatly skilled artist and crafts-person with access to resources and power. I also think she was a Nazi, and not someone who happened to hang out with Hitler or whatever it is that people claim. So that impacts my reading of her work. I think all of her work should be viewed in this context.

I think it's valid for feminists to investigate Riefenstahl as an early innovator of film as an art form and to explore her work looking for a record of what a truly capable filmmaker (who happened to be female) expressed via film. But I think it is mistake to confuse "filmmaker who happened to be a woman" with "feminist filmmaker". Maybe B. Ruby Rich disagrees with me, I haven't really read her that closely. Anyhow, I'd be interested in what other people think on this last point, as it begs the question:

What is feminist film?


  1. Adrienne Rich's rebuttal to the Susan Sontag article I linked to:

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  4. in B Ruby Riches words "There is even uncertainty over what name might characterize that intersection of cinema and the women's movement within which we labor, variously called "films by women," "feminist film",....and "women's films. All are vague and problematic....This crisis points to a real difference between the name "feminist" and the other names that have traditionally been applied to film (that is "structuralist" for certain avant-garde films or "melodrama" for certain Hollywood films).