Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Riefenstahl with a conscience?

In the 1993 documentary "The Wonderful Terrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" Leni Riefenstahl talks about her first film "The Blue Light":

"I played a girl who was kind of a witch. As if it were a premonition of my own life. Junta was loved and hated. It's been the same for me, I have been loved and hated. Just as Junta lost her ideal through the shattering of the crystal, in the same way I lost my ideal at the end of that terrible war. To that extent that film was a premonition of my own destiny."

"The crystal is the symbolic theme of "The Blue Crystal"...Symbolic of the ideals that are dreampt of but are never attained"

What is the ideal that Riefenstahl is speaking of? Her personal artistic ideal or the German, at her time nazi, ideal that she is forever tied to? She and the documentary leave it at that, an uncertain statement. If it is her personal, artistic ideal then why does she lose it at the end of "that terrible war". Possibly, because of her inexorable connection to the nazi ideal that was partially created by her, if we accept that nazism was essentially an aesthetic movement. The defeat of the nazi party was then the death of her ideal...but maybe more accurately, the defeat of the German Romantic aesthetic that she worked in the tradition of and that maybe she regarded the nazis as worthy partners to carry on...and by their shameful defeat she saw the end of that aesthetic ideal that she loved because it could never be worked in again without accusation of nazi association. for this reason alone she would be understandably pissed at the nazis...maybe for their bad ideas (many of which she claims to have shared, "...except for the racial ideas of course." she says) but primarily for losing the war...The "evil" association is regrettable to me too as someone who is a fan of Romantic work from Nietzsche to Mary Shelley to Jack London to The Cramps to Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler. Romanticism has it's mistakes if were concerned with talking about socially responsible (radical) artwork, with it's focus on the heroic individual amongst, to quote Nietzsche, "the herd-like masses" "the rabble". The romantic hero always has to defeat the judgment of society to achieve their pure, noble, individual aims...fine, but where does that leave the rest of society? It's the same problem existing in far right libertarianism and individualist manarchism. (the american brand of anarchism, that has so much in common with far right conservatives as to be indistinguishable sometimes, small government, no rules, etc... See Jo Freeman's "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" for a 70's feminist context to this idea: But Romanticism has it's awesome possibilities too...Maya Deren's Modernist take on it for example...that can't be discounted merely because they are stylistically, seductive and therefore persuasive. We have to trust the intelligence of the audience (the masses) enough to make their own judgments regarding the ideas within the work. If we don't trust that judgment what is the alternative? re-education camps, Only using hollywood style propaganda techniques with posters designed by Shepard Fairey? In other words are we socialists (in the most radical sense of the word)or not? And is it possible to be a feminist without being a socialist that wishes to emancipate all women not just the elect individuals who adapt to the male power structure enough to make it!? (i.e. survive)
Riefenstahl made it and survived but did she care about other women who didn't climb the heights and the ranks on their Ayn Randian journey? And if not is she a feminist or just a strong women who bought into the male power structure to benefit herself and others that would follow her example?


  1. This is a really great post and we have already talked about a lot of this off-blog, so no need to reiterate.

    I do want to say that "the male power structure" is not as "male" as this term makes it sound. What I mean is that there are always women who cooperate with, uphold and perpetuate systems of power that oppress women. So I get what you mean using this term, but I think it's misleading and not necessarily useful when discussing systems of oppression.

    LF is the exception, the token woman with access to power in a male-dominated realm. Is the goal of feminism to have more female fascists? Clearly not. It's not just as simple as woman=victim and man=oppressor and when women have access to the tools to create liberation happen for all women. When LF starting working with Hitler (granted, after she made Das Blaue Licht) she became the oppressor. Was she also a feminist? Or maybe more to the point, was her early work feminist? And what is the criteria for evaluating this?

    If our ideas about "art" are Romantic and aesthetics are simply a matter of "individual choice" or "personal preference" then maybe that is a certain kind of feminism, though I would argue not a very radical version.

    In my definition of feminism, we have to be concerned with what happens to all women, not just token women w/ privilege who are focused on having a professional career in the arts or whatever. We need to build an inclusive popular feminist movement whose aim is to radically transform society.

    In this view, the questions feminist artists should ask start here:

    +Who has access to feminist history/theory/movements/tools/information/resources/community and who doesn't and why?

    +How do we create a world where people of all genders have our basic needs met (housing, health care, food, child care, education, work, literacy) and are free from human/civil rights violations (rape, war, torture, slavery, economic exploitation, racism, prison, immigration abuses and other kinds of violence) ?

    +What does art have to do with it? Communication? Empowerment? Replacing individualistic consumer-culture with a culture of community and resistance? Joy? A solution to mind-numbing boredom? An alternative to objectification?

    I'm sure we all have our own ideas about this...

  2. LF=LR i have mild dyslexic typing problem alkjdlfkjadake

    anyhow i am just sort of rephrasing what joaquin is already saying bl bla bla

  3. This is a great conversation. I feel schooled. and it's cool. I'm getting it!

    I think in order to build a broader movement within this consumerist landscape, we need larger audiences/mass dialogue. The modes and means to reach most folks are controlled by the wealthiest and i think their influence is omnipresent. How can cinefeminism be as influential as DR. Dre? How do we create work that is outside/against/opposed to/ these systems of oppression that reach beyond the scope of our immediate communities? More importantly how can this be done without groveling up the path of towards the powerful and privileged.

    I wonder, is it possible to speak beyond the choir using only radical tools/vision/laungage/asthetics? What Dr. Dre did for hip hop is what we could do for cinefeminism. Maintain our voices but create them using the best production quality.

    It is important that we evaluate our motivations for creating art as feminists and keep them in line with broader goals for basic human needs for all. WORD.

  4. I think in creating art as feminists/anarchists/ socialists/whatever we need to recognize how we are distributing it, who it is intended for. those "women who cooperate with, uphold and perpetuate systems of power that oppress women"? the masses? are we going to find those people in downtown Olympia? sure, but not as many as we would find in the mall. My cousin Sheila in Spokane, WA who has 5 kids and 2 jobs isn't going to read our zines, hear our music, watch our films, or see our art. The people who need it the most are not being reached. We need to branch out of out normal audience by going to places and getting to people we wouldn't want to. I hope this isn't repetative.

  5. i think these are really important questions to be asking re: feminism and art making and access. i'm wondering if there is another way to 'reach' women without access to 'diy' culture (for lack of a better name) than the mall once things get to the mall, they tend to lose their radicalism--people get the spice girls version of girl power rather than bikini kill's (though you can get bk records at the mall and i have tried to get our records there precisely for this reason) but what about folk culture/art that does not involve pop culture. i guess maybe crafts would be an example of this--people who are creative making their homes and lives better with what they have access to, from clothes-making to pie-baking to gardening...i think there is a way to live that is more connected and less consumer-driven. my grandma (who loved to shop and cut coupons) was more connected to this way of life and i see the good parts of 'diy' as being in a continuum to the way she lived on the farm, where they made their own music, put on dances, canned and preserved the food they grew, made quilts, etc. sure this was out of necessity, but when they had to sell the farm to come out west to work in the factories they lost a lot of community. i am not saying that my grandma's life in kansas was necessarily more feminist, but she was more in touch with community and by necessity had to be a strong and independent woman. so as far as feminist art making goes, i like to think of my grandma, and how she was an artist and in her own way, a feminist.
    i don't know if that addresses all of anna's concerns, but it is something that came up after reading her post.

  6. my point being, that anyone can learn to bake a pie, make a quilt, plant a tree, write a song...and this is something that has the potential to be transformative in a consumer culture, ultimately these are tools of resistance. i don't think DIY necessarily equals elitism, when viewed in this way