Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My current thoughts on "The Blue Light" by Leni Riefenstahl

Plot Spoilers. You are forewarned.

* The Female protagonist Junta, is played by Leni whom wrote and also directed this film. Impressive.

* Junta is a social outcast that relates more to the marvels of nature than to other humans. The film is set in a small Italian villa nestled at the base of an enormous, spectacular waterfall, above which is a cave that glows blue every full moon. Young men from the villa parish as they try and reach the blue light. The local towns folk blame Junta for the unfortunate events and ostracize her. Then a German sap comes to town and befriends Junta. He, without her consent, follows her up the vertical cliff, and enters the cave where the blue light glows. To Junta's dismay the German ruins everything. He leads the town folk to the stones of the blue glowing cave and the cave is soon destroyed, literally raped of every precious stone.

*The men that die in the film are following Junta to get up to the blue light, so is she also part of what they are after? Since they all give her googly eyes when she is in town, it makes me think so. Whatever it is, the men are scaling the mountain on their own accord yet Junta is blamed for the negative outcomes of their ventures. I've rarely see films that depicts this notion, a whole village of people wrongly accusing a women who is innocent. To me it provides commentary on band wagon mentality, a tool of Fascism.

* The Blue Light comes from a cave that has a vaginal shaped opening. It holds Junta and she seems safest/most content there.

* I think it's has anti-capitalist/pro-environmental themes, as well as sympathy for loner mountain woman.

* For a majority of the film there is no dialogue. I was impressed with Leni's ability to tell such a story visually.

* the moon plays a major role in this film. I find that historically interesting.

* the music was cheesy, would have been better with Thomas de Hartmann playing Gurdjeff on harmonium.

* Joaquin said Leni invented the chemical make up on the film stock for this film that emulates night. It's spectacular. Apparently this chemical method is still in use.

* I can't think of a more beautiful film shot in 1932.

* Leni is one of the finest rock climbers I have ever seen. If you are into rock climbing this is a must see.

* Leni hung out with Hitler and worked for the third Reich. If I were in her shoes would I have left my immense privilege to live outside of the regime? YES. I mean this, but I am also not faced with her situation. Neither are you. I believe that most people would not trade there power in for fairness and truth. If they did, we would not have our history or this mess we are currently in. That doesn't mean Leni's choices are okay with me, there is no excuse for Leni working with/for the thrid reich, but I also don't judge her enough to turn my back on her work. I believe she was a privileged person that danced with evil and that she was more passionate about film making then anything else.


  1. hi Kanako. i don't think the choice is whether or not to turn your back on her work, but rather whether or not it is ok to view it as a work of art outside of the larger context of who she was and what she participated in. i also think that you are going too far in defending Nazi's or (Nazi sympathizers depending on your take of LR) here. It reminds me of Hanna Arendt's writing on "the Good Germans" and the banality of evil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banality_of_evil....I also think that as Americans who live in a country that is participating in wars of empire and live greatly privileged lives these questions are not abstract, but are parallel to our own. I would even go so far as to argue that as American feminists, our art should address this situation directly. For me this is what is lacking in political (feminist) art today. Of course to bring up the question of politics and art is to bore people and create a false hierarchy of content over form or lyrics vs. music or whatever. That's not what I mean to do. But aesthetics and symbols have social meanings. Fascism was an a political movement with a set of aesthetics and cultural ambitions and it was enormously effected and millions of people died. To try and isolate Riefenstahl from the reality of what she participated in is a mistake.

  2. Hi Tobi, My intention was not to defend Nazi's or Nazi sympathizers. More trying to understand/elude to why she would have made the bad choices she did. I'm interested in why/how people become blind, or turn away from, or participate in atrocities. I chose to view this film less in relation to her affiliations with the third Reich (partly beacuase it was made before the invasion of Poland) and more of a female voice in the landscape of early film making. I admit this is too convenient of a perspective to take, but am overwhelmed with excitement of Leni's ability as a film maker partly because she is women bodied and for her time, a rarity and proof of ability.

    In terms of the art movement in America, to me it refects the priveleged and oppulant times we live in. I don't think there is enough policaticlaly charged or aware work in my own perspective. I watched "Beautiful Losers" to my disdain. Only one character admitting to their privelige and they premissed the film with this air of the poor artist, even thou many of them attened $30,000+ a year art schools, or were employed by large corporations that payed them well early on in their careers. I also found the lack of any sort of political commentary in the "artist" work annoying, and the fact that they mostly paraded the fact that they SOLD OUT to cheesy multi-national big buisness marketing campians an insult to "underground" art movement. Boy what times we live in.

    Have you ever watched Rosenstrasse by Margarethe Von Trotta? I enjoyed the film because it dealt with the realities of the relationship between a German woman and a Jewish man during WW2 (i'm really into stories about multi race intimate relations). It also recounts the German womens' movement that protested the detention of their Jewish husbands. I believe it was her husband Volker Scholdoff that I heard speak about how contemporary German Cinema has strayed away from their history because they are so ashamed of it. They have it at rainy day if you are intrested and haven't seen it.

    I really enjoy what an informed/aware/punk/prolific writer you are. I wish YOU owned the worlds largest media conglomerate. xx kanako

  3. Hi Kanako, I was focusing on this part of your post because I think it's something that needs to be addressed primarily. I understand that you might not be trying to defend Nazis or even Riefenstahl here, but to me it comes across that way. Basically, I don't think you can talk about something being beautiful without contextualizing what beauty means, as it is culturally and historically contingent. To examine the aesthetics of fascism means to look at the works of art produced during that time period (and in the case of Germany, this includes the Weimar Republic, when Hitler rose to power) As I understand L.F.'s work, she was a part of this tradition before she made propaganda films and her vision and aesthetics in this film is why the Nazi's recruited her. So I think it needs to be examined in this light.
    That said, you bring up points that I hadn't thought about in your discussion of the film. I think that because you are a filmmaker and interested in visual art, you are more intrigued with her work than I am. Though I liked what she did with light and some of the shots and editing, I couldn't follow the story that well and thought a lot of it looked really cheezy. I didn't really think her acting was very good (which is maybe just because it seemed like she was being overdramatic) and I didn't like the alpine, romantic nature aesthetic. I do think you bring up interesting points here, but for me any formalistic issue needs to be viewed in light of who she was and what she did.
    As for a more beautiful film made in 1932, Carl Theodore Dryer's Vampyr comes to mind, as I saw it recently, but for me there are many films made in the 30's that are more visually compelling. I didn't really like this movie that much. It's always easy to reduce something down to ideology if you don't like it. Though I appreciated seeing it for historical reasons. Maybe this is what Joaquin is saying about Deren vs. Riefenstahl in his post. I know I will have a harder time critiquing Maya Deren, but it needs to be done!

  4. I recognize what you are saying and think it is truly valid. Not including who she was and what she did is near sighted, and really I was just taken aback by her technical abilities and her painterly aesthetics. The subject mater really intrigued me as well, a women who can out rock climb the boys ect.

    thanks for your valuable criticism, i hope you keep it coming. x k

  5. I want to examine the story as an example of the German tradition of Romanticism as I think that is what is happening in her film--an attempt to make Germany "great" again by reviving the tropes of their past--the emotionalism, the spiritual/mystic relationship with nature, the journey of the rugged individual struggling --the rock climbing as a symbol of the will. Joaquin can speak more on art history than I can, but as I understand it, part of Hitler's project was to evoke this tradition...and though it might be controversial to speak of, didn't this come from Nietzsche? (sorry Joaquin...I actually blame Schopenhauer) ....anyhow this is what I am most interested in and what I was sort of getting at with all that "Germany" stuff I was writing about in my initial post. The Lassie aesthetic is interesting--is Riefenstahl where Walt Disney meets Adolf Hitler? B. Ruby Rich writes about this!

  6. A kind of short, not that well written New Yorker article on Hitler the artist:


    The most relevant part to this discussion is his interest in classical ideas of physical beauty, which could be expanded to include strength, athleticism (Junta)

  7. I see where you are going with this. My personal understanding/experience is much less informed then yours, more so now with our conversation. I've haven't payed as close attention to Nazi art/aesthetics and it's relationship to how/what they accomplished as you. I mean I'm aware that is real history, but personally never seeked to inform myself about it. In the past I have focused my WW2 reading on Jews recounting their experience, and I think this reading made me so mad at the third reich that I turned all interest away from them. Like if I ignored them they would just go away. Maybe not so productive....

    Saying all that, when uninformed me thinks of Nazi Aesthetics/propaganda I think of high contrast, symmetrical, uniform, sloganeering, uniform, uniform, uniform. Square, walk in straight uniform lines, march march, big planes blare by in the sky, everyone is fuckin white with blonde hair and blue eyes and you can tell even on the black and white film. uniform, huge rallies/uniformed marches, Bad Moustache. Art Deco? OMG, I have to digress, when my army dad was stationed in Ft. Campbell KY, the only moustache an officer could have on that base was a square, Hitler, moustache! Seriously, I'm not making it up, and that's what my dad had! WTF.

    K, anyway, not to beat a dead horse but, I was viewing Das Blaue Licht from a place of excitement, I got to witness the visual creation of a women who managed the triple header of film: writing, directing, and starring (in 1932). I wasn't viewing it considering her relationship to the third reich, which is naive and convieniat, also more enjoyeble. Part of me secretly didn't want to look at what a fuck up she was because it takes power away from her work. I'm a spoiled brat. army brat that is.

  8. can i just say that i'm really appreciating this discussion. i have little to add to it as 1) i haven't seen the film and 2) i know practically nothing about the history of the aesthetics of the third reich, BUT your comments and ideas have given me a lot to chew on, and have made me really excited about the trajectory of this group!

    p.s. i didn't know you lived in ft. campbell, kanako. my stepdad was stationed there way back in the day, and i lived in clarksville, tn (right across the border) for 4th and 5th grade.

  9. hi. Another cool female one woman production company from the silent era is Alla Nazimova.


    Actress, dancer, writer, director, producer...She was a true show biz powerhouse and a lesbian! I tried to get the O.F.F. to show Salomé for opening night, they thought it was too risque:


    Salomé from 1923, based on the banned Oscar Wilde play was adapted (screen written), directed (under a male pseudonym, although I've read that it is disputed whether she directed it or not) by and stars Alla Nazimova.

    and here's a Alla Azimova youtube bio:


  10. oops, youtube took down the Salomé clips....fuckers!

  11. All I can say is OFS are wimps for not making this their opening night movie. What is the point of having a film society then? Sorry for the dis, but seriously. I guess you are supposed to get involved before you can dis the programming of a community organized and run festival, but I thought last years' fest was particularly weak in the narrative feature-length film department. Hoping for a better fest next year.