Film #10: Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty Feb 28, 2018 19:25:23 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Feb 28, 2018 19:25:23 GMT -5
Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty (1938)
Directed by: Leni Riefenstahl
Directed by: Leni Riefenstahl
Film #10/53; part of the Criterion Collection's "100 Years of Olympic Film" box-set
If the first part of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia was focused on the intensity of the events in their entirety, then the second part is about admiring the physicality and unmatched form of the Olympians that partake in these events, hence its subtitle. Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty is a satisfying follow-up to what could reasonably called the best Olympic documentary made thus far. Not only does it operate in a germane fashion to its predecessor, but it takes risks in being more abstract and concerned with physique than the results of any particular event.
Olympia Part Two does have the distinction of being more unambiguous in its captivation by Nazism and the respective party as well. Shots beautify the German competitors, highlighting their five consecutive gold medal wins only to be beaten by both the American and Italian teams in rowing, which leaves the Germans distraught at the loss. Moreover, extended sequences of the Nazi flag positioned against the Olympic torch and other moments of positioning make Riefenstahl's motivations abundantly clear. Of course this flag-waving was present in the first part, but we had the great utilization of suspense to distract us, at least momentarily.
What does come through in this follow-up is Riefenstahl's continued desire to experiment and even go against the grain of what folks like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels would've wanted. There's an instance where her camera captures Jesse Owens following his win in track and field, while Nazi-funded rags at the time explicitly called for the banning of black competitors from all Olympic games. Riefenstahl clearly found herself arrested with the legendary runner enough to disobey. Furthermore, she chronicles fencing, polo, the pentathlon, and cycling with newly implemented cross-editing effects. Sadly, this doesn't let us see how intense certain events become; for example, the German/Indian hockey game starts strong but slowly fades into the Austria/Italy football game, taking away the momentum of what was a gripping face-off.
Some of the events Riefenstahl lingers on lead one to assume she found them just as bizarre as some of us might in a modern context. During the equestrian events, one of the wilder events has the jockeys urging the horses to jump over a wooden fence into a small bond. The goal is for the jockey to remain on the horse upon it sticking the landing in the modestly deep pond so it can trudge its way to a swampy surface. For every horse and jockey duo that manage to pull off the daring feat, there's a horse that collapses mid-air, a jockey who nearly gets trampled while in the water, or a frustrated jockey who tries to pull his horse out of the water by its harness only to rip the harness off. It goes without saying, but it's quite a sight.
Riefenstahl also films the long jump in a way that allows us to see the competitors complete their landings rather than her camera remaining static on their starting position even after they jump. It all concludes with a magnificent diving display in the third act, which shows the human form contorting and somersaulting in the air while Riefenstahl's camera captures the beauty of a partly cloudy sky, which serves as the background for these mid-air acrobatics. Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty might not be the same intense display of games gone past that was its predecessor, but it's a rousing conclusion to a fine documentary that offered so much to an invaluable medium.
Directed by: Leni Riefenstahl.