Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Leni Riefenstahl's "The Blue Light" and the Politics of Hyper-Visibility
Margaret Hennefeld

Last modified: 2010-05-12


While the inadequate archival preservation of films by early women directors such as Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber and Elvira Notari has led to their virtual erasure from dominant film history narratives, German silent film director Leni Riefenstahl’s work and biography have suffered from inverse but revealingly parallel problems: a plenitude of memory and historicization. An excess of discussion regarding ambiguities surrounding Riefenstahl’s implication in National Socialism, the extent of her knowledge about German concentration camps, and her personal relationship with Hitler continue to haunt analysis of Riefenstahl’s oeuvre.

However, this conflation of Riefenstahl’s personal politics with her filmmaking puts more at stake than the public memory of her as a film director. Is it possible that parading and sensationalizing the scandals surrounding Riefenstahl’s career has also distracted public attention from other histories of women. filmmakers while at the same time implicitly coloring those histories as fascist?

In Andrew Sarris’ seminal compilation of “Interviews with Film Directors,” Riefenstahl stands alone as the only woman filmmaker sandwiched between thirty-nine male directors. Further, as Riefenstahl’s interview with Sarris reveals, cinematic memory of Riefenstahl’s earlier silent German mountain films (such as The Blue Light) has been largely overshadowed by the visibility of her later fascistic texts (Olympia and The Triumph of the Will).

Therefore, I suggest as an alternative or complementary effort to feminist excavations of invisible women’s film histories, a more extensive probing of the female filmmaking histories that mainstream publics already recognize. Perhaps the hyper-visible spectacle made of Riefenstahl’s canon contains its own forgotten histories that we can use to rethink the careers of early women directors such as Alice Guy-Blaché and Lois Weber.


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