Tracy: USA! USA!
Natalie: Ha! I'm only at the party for the food.
Tracy: So what did you think of those German fascist Abercrombie and Fitch ads that opened each section?
Natalie: HA! That's totally what they were! I couldn't figure out what to call them other than porn . . . I have to admit, up front, to watching 80% of this on fast forward. I managed to get through the pseudo-religious trek to the Holy Land with the flame opening and some of the events but good God I can only watch so many people do the same thing over and over.
Tracy: It was this weird combination of Nazi propaganda--establishing the Reich's place in these great ancient empires--and just a straight-up film strip about what happened at the 1936 Olympics. And disturbingly, the Nazi part was the only part that I thought at all interesting in terms of film. Disgusting? Absolutely. But at least it showed an artistic point of view. I liked the diving section, but other than that, it just seems to be the camera angles. And I'm good with the extreme close-up, thanks.
Natalie: Yeah, I don't quite understand why we needed to see ALL of the 1938 Olympics. And, that's a point the book is wrong about. It's listed in the book as only 118 minutes but this thing is close to four hours if you get the complete version with two discs as the book seems to imply we should. I needed more of an argument. So, give me more Nazi propaganda. At least that would have been something to pay attention to.
Tracy: Freaking book. As is, I could only think about how the spectre of WW2 is all over this thing, and how a lot of these athletes probably met, and shot at and killed, each other in just a few years. But that's all me--obviously the movie isn't doing that. It was satisfying to watch non-Aryan Jesse Owens give a hearty fuck-you-and-your-"superior race"-bullshit right in Hitler's front yard, but again, not the movie's doing.
Also, all the athletes looked really old. And not that athletic.
Natalie: Agreed on all points. I just don't see the point. I don't know why we need to watch it. I don't know why it's so long. I don't watch all of the contemporary Olympics and don't want to watch all of a retro-Olympics. The only reason I can see for this to exist is if you're having some sort of Olympic themed party with a Nazi-twinge and you need something quiet to play for hours in the background.
Tracy: Exactly! And if you're having such a party, you really should reconsider your lifestyle choices. So I'm guessing the book says Riefenstahl and camera angles.
Natalie: HA! What would you serve at such a party . . . different conversation, I suppose :)
The book says, Olympia is “a hymn of praise to athletic prowess and to the poetry of the human body in motion” while recognizing that the film is “a piece of propaganda.” But the book seems to play apologist for that fact, stating “Sponsored by Hitler, the film does contain some sequences that seem to support the notion of ‘Aryan’ superiority” but undercutting it with “the filmmaker did receive a gold medal for her efforts from the Olympic Committee in 1948, long after Hitler’s dream of a 1,00-year Reich had disintegrated.” Otherwise, the book is in awe of the effort (“Huge preparation was necessary. Steel camera towers were constructed in the stadium, platforms built for tracking shots, and Germany scoured for the best talent”) and the sheer amount of footage edited (“Nearly 250 hours” edited into a “masterfully paced [film], with exquisite matched cuts and just enough variation in repetitive events . . . to sustain visual interest”). The book declares this film “the most moving cinematic record of human sport and physical competition ever produced.”
So, basically, the Nazis set up what is now considered standard ways of filming sports.
Were you moved?
Tracy: And the invitations! I was the opposite of moved. I watched it all because I like the Olympics and it was a nice way to turn my brain off, but I was not stirred by the grandeur of global competition. When I thought at all, it was things like, "huh, they don't have starting blocks," and "huh, they used to do the gymnastics outside." The most riled up I got was when I realized that we boycotted Moscow in '80 BUT WE TOTALLY WENT TO BERLIN IN '36. Nice.
And also, Hitler claps like a girl.
Natalie: Now I kind of want to have that party. But ironically. Right, Moscow. Sigh. And, getting a medal from the IOC doesn't exactly mean that you're good or that the film is excellent or worth watching or manages to exceed its Nazi birth--the IOC makes mistakes (cough Romney cough CHINA cough). HA HA HA! Hitler did clap like a girl!
Tracy: Hee. No kidding. The IOC is not our moral arbiter. So not having ever seen Triumph of the Will, I say make that your token Riefenstahl propaganda movie and give Olympia the heave-ho.
Natalie: Agreed. I've seen part of Triumph but I think we only need one Riefenstahl (if any--aren't we a little heavy on the Nazis lately? Just luck of random draw I guess).
Tracy: Yes. But we're onto a run of fun movies coming up! And Nazi free, as I recall!