Hinton, David B. The Films of Leni Riefenstahl. Filmmakers Series, No. 74. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2000.
David B. Hinton provides a succinct history and analysis of Olympia in his chapter of the same title in his collection of works on Riefenstahl’s films. He holds it to be the first truly successful film about the Olympics, having been a massive undertaking that captured the spirit and beauty of the games in ways that previous newsreel footage could not. He praises the prologue of the film, set in the Greece, which connects the games to their ancient roots and implies the unchanging nature of beauty. He spends some time detailing the meticulous preparations Riefenstahl made for shooting the film such as devising innovative camera techniques that influenced how sports would be shot from then on. He goes on to describe Riefenstahl’s perfectionist quality, as she controlled every aspect of production to the minutest detail. The end result of her toils was that the film did not just record the games but rather illustrated the essence of each event, such as the physical strain of the marathon and the beauty of the divers.
The chapter discusses some of the accusations of propaganda leveled against the film but discredits most of them. Hinton notes that Riefenstahl’s use of retakes made the film less of a historical documentary but more of an artistic vision, which could potentially aid any propaganda aims. Still, he rejects the presence of Hitler in the film as evidence of propaganda because his appearance is brief and unspectacular. Furthermore, Riefenstahl’s choice to give the black Jesse Owens significant credit for his athletic accomplishments instead of downplaying them undercuts any support for racist Nazi ideology. The Germans are not portrayed as a “master race,” but rather internationalism is honored, as the Olympic flag is the dominant symbol, not the swastika. Some critics have contended that the glorification of competitiveness and strength reflects fascist ideals, but Hinton argues that this is an inherent quality of the Olympics themselves and not the film.