Masumoto, Naofumi. “Interpretations of the Filmed Body: An Analysis of the Japanese Version of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia.” Critical Reflections on Olympic Ideology. Centre for Olympic Studies, 1994. 146-158. 31 Mar. 2008 <http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/ISOR/ISOR1994t.pdf>.
This article analyzes the Japanese version of Olympia and explores its relationship to contemporary Olympic events. While it touches on a wide variety of questions such as the film’s political implications, its focus is on the aestheticization of the human body, particularly of the strong and victorious. It suggests that Olympia was not so much a document of the 1936 Olympics as it was a unified body of art. While the article acknowledges the historical context of the film and its influence, it affirms Riefenstahl’s commitment to producing an artistically free and independent picture. For example, it notes that Riefenstahl beautified the bodies of not just Aryan athletes, but also blacks and Asians, against the wishes of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Additionally, it argues that Riefenstahl’s use of retakes and overdubs serves to discredit the film as a historical documentary but instead supports it as an artistically united statement. It connects the film to today’s Olympics by contrasting its emphasis on beauty with mass commercialization yet also notes the film represents universal and unchanging Olympic ideals.
The article raises several points in the question of the extent that Olympia is propagandistic. Aside from noting the film’s beautification of the human body irrespective of race, the article suggests the film was not propaganda in and of itself, but rather a record of a propagandistic event. On the other hand, the article also spends some time on the introductory sequence in which an Olympic torch is carried from Greece to Berlin, suggesting the Germans as the true descendents of the culturally advanced Greeks. Additionally, it argues that the film’s depiction of Hitler as a typical sports spectator humanized him and was inherently positive.
Rings, Guido. “Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia: A Documentary Film as Instrument of Propaganda?” Storia della Storiografia 36 (1999): 105-119.
This article examines the question of Olympia as a propaganda film and largely concludes that it is indeed propaganda. Much of its argument is derived by drawing parallels between the aesthetics of Olympia and the ideals espoused by National Socialism. The author argues that in its depiction of the athletes the film glorifies the strong, healthy, and young and celebrates physical perfection, creating a cult of the idealized body that Nazism champions. The sacrifice of the individual for the better of the community, epitomized in the marathon sequence as the runners visibly suffer for their nations’ glory, is also a key part of Nazi ideology conveyed in the film. The author notes a militarist tone that celebrates discipline and unity over individuality throughout the film, especially during the parade and calisthenics sequences. The article concludes by pointing out that although the film may not have explicitly been intended as propaganda, the fact that there existed propagandistic overtones meant German audiences, who were accustomed to such ideas being conveyed in their media, would make the political connections suggested by the film.
Other points relevant to this debate that the author mentions include, as other scholars have noted, that the shots of Hitler depict him as an average, relatable person, and he suggests that these shots are intercut with segments in which Germany is winning, thereby linking Hitler with the success of the nation. While other scholars have praised Olympia for its seemingly fair treatment of the black athletes, Rings takes issue with the fact that they only appear on the podium as winners once, despite winning numerous times. Overall the article takes a less forgiving stance towards the film, and its assessment of the political connotations of Olympia’s aesthetics is quite useful. However, the author sometimes quotes German sources without providing an English translation, which can make a full comprehension difficult.