Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935) is rightly famous (and notorious) as the most powerful propaganda film ever made: a documentary account of the Nazis' massive, staged-for-the-camera Nuremberg rallies of 1934. The film glorifies Adolf Hitler and propagates the myth of German "purity" so skillfully that to this day it provokes heated arguments about the crucial conflict between art and social responsibility.
As part of its ongoing series, Reel Love: A Century of the Avant-Garde, the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, will show a 42-minute condensed version of Triumph at 8 p.m. Thursday, in a multi-film program called "Rumors of War." Also on screen: The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), Pare Lorentz's passionate documentary about the tragedy of the Dust Bowl during the Depression, Joris Ivens's poetic short, Rain (1929), and three brief works by the pioneering New Zealand animator Len Lye.
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Triumph is likely to provoke the most comment. As beautiful as it is vile, the 110-minute original represented the apex of Riefenstahl's career as Hitler's favorite filmmaker. Two years later, he commissioned her to direct Olympia, a highly politicized chronicle of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. But it is her Nuremberg documentary, in which der Führer is portrayed as a god overseeing legions of marching Germans, that has tainted Riefenstahl for more than six decades. Now one hundred years old, the discredited filmmaker continues to deny any involvement in Nazi politics, any knowledge (until after the war) of the death camps and any intention to deify the German dictator. The facts of her life -- and the film itself -- argue otherwise. For information, call 303 298-7554.