Thursday, May 20, 2010

Olympia (1938) & Disc II

Having proven her mettle with her still-astonishing propaganda epic Triumph of the Will, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl furthered her reputation with the two-part Olympia, an all-inclusive filmed record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In its original 220-minute form, the film was designed as a paean to Aryan superiority, likening the strong-limbed young German athletes with the godlike participants of the ancient Olympic games. By accident or design, however, the film transcends politics, resulting in an across-the-board tribute to all the Olympic partcipants -- even those whose racial makeup did not come up to the "pure" standards established by the Third Reich. This is especially true in the first portion of the film, in which black American runner Jessie Owens emerges as the star. The second half of the film is the more impressive technically, with Riefenstahl utilizing an astonishing variety of camera speeds and angles to record the diving competition. Working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, Riefenstahl and her staff were often denied desirable camera angles, forcing them to improvise with telephoto lenses; the results are often far more dramatically impressive than the up-close-and-personal approach taken by contemporary TV cameramen. After an editing process that took nearly 18 months, Riefenstahl added icing to the cake with a richly evocative soundtrack -- an added touch which, so far as the filmmaker was concerned, "made" the picture. Inasmuch as the German government was still trying to curry favor with the outside world in early 1938, Olympia was shipped out in various reedited versions, each favoring the athletes of the release country. Many English-language versions avoided any references to Hitler or Nazism -- quite a feat, considering the preponderence of swastikas at the Olympic site. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 204 mins
Olympia (1938)

The opening scene has some creative film making with lots of naked bodies and 3 young adult female athletes topless interacting. Sort of like the gratuitous sexuality of when Showtime had the three ladies doing floor exercises together at late night viewing.

Just as the review above notes, Jessie Owens gets plenty of limelight and was much more balanced {at least on the first disc} than I had heard it was. There did tend to be a little more German jubilance and of course the Swastika but since filmed in Germany it was bound to have some obvious bias.

Overall from the first disc, it was a good historical record of most of the events. The pole vault competition was quite fierce and was one of the most interesting aspects of the film.
I believe the competition was like 9 hours long and well after dark when a winner was decided.

I have decided to watch the second disc, hoping that it will be worth it...

Disc II:
The second disc at least did not disappoint me. Although the main film was much more of the same general news reel type documentary as the first disc, the filming was very good and included many different angles including from the various athlete's perspective.

It starts out with a short clip of the topless young girls on the disc and there is an extended section of young men running around naked and swimming and then going to the sauna. The fencing also was very good although with B/W the narrow blades were hard to see, especially as the contestants were fast.

Bonus Features also made this disc well worth watching it also. They include 1. a biography of the director Leni Riefenstahl which notes that she also did "Triumph des Willens" or better known as RDRutherford Movie Reviews: Triumph of the Will (1934). 2. Deleted scene of the "Olympia Oath" which obviously is a little strange as it closely resembled the Nazi oaths. 3. Alternate scenes of: Sailing, Gymnastics, Fencing, Wrestling, Boxing, Score Boards. 4. Still Gallery. 5. Essay by David Calvert Smith. 6. "Jugend Der Welt"-"Youth of the World" which was the winter Olympic games in Germany but the quality was not as good as the main film-over 30 minutes. 7. "Die Kamera Faurt Mit"-The Camera Goes Along which is a documentary about the filming of the movie.

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