Sunday, January 17, 2016

TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935) (Blu-ray Review)

2K Remastered Edition Blu-ray 
Label: Synapse Films 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 111 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: German DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 with Optional English, French, Spanish and Japanese Subtitles 
Video: Full-Frame (1.19:1) Pillarboxed Presentation
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Starring: Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess

Synopsis: Leni Riefenstahl’s classic piece of historical film making, filmed during the 1934 Nazi Party Rally in Nuremberg, Germany, is considered by many to be one of the most important films ever made. Realized by Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, this film was created to influence all of Germany to support the “power” of the Nazi Party.

Historically significant and, at times, a horrifyingly manipulative exercise in propaganda for the Nazi regime, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL continues to be controversial eighty years after its original release and has been banned in Germany for many decades. Until her death in 2003, Riefenstahl was under fire for her personal relationship with Adolph Hitler, spending her life haunted by the shadow of the Nazi Party.

The Leni Riefenstahl Nazi-propaganda film Triumph of the Will is a powerful document leading up to the rise of Hitler, as much as one can loathe and be horrified by what the Nazi party brought forth you sort of have to be fascinated by this inspired and manipulative slice of Nazi iconography, notably directed by a woman, Leni Riefenstahl, whom captured through carefully and artfully staged celluloid the magnetism and charisma of Adolph Hitler at the Nazi Party Rally of 194 in Nuremberg. 

The opening scenes are shot from the cockpit of Hitler's plane descending through the clouds over Nuremberg, circling the gorgeous city and announcing his arrival - the scenes are rather impressive. The Fuhrer descends from the plane along with other notable Nazi leaders and they're greeted like rock stars by deafening cheers of the crowd - travelling by motorcade they make their way through the streets cheered along the way by the German people. The imagery is impressive, persuasive and carefully manipulated - framing Hitler as a God among men, and the saviour of the German people, who at this point were coming off years of poor economics following World War I. 

Its hard not to appreciate the scenes of the pageantry that the Nazis were so well-known for, symmetrical gatherings of soldiers looking sharp and moving in unison, well-tailored and clean-cut. This rally coming shortly after the infamous 'Night of the Long Knives", a mass series of political executions carried out by the SS on Hitler's orders, a purge of left-wing and anti-Nazi party leaders, the absence of which cemented the Nazi regime and Hitler's power. 

This was my first watch of the movie in full, and it was potent and powerful, this is something that shows you first-hand the power of the moving image, the power it wields, the lies it can conceal. It's politically repugnant stuff, but it is also a document that needs to be remembered and should be seen by all, this is not something to be swept away and forgotten. The beauty of documentaries, and even propaganda movies like this, are that they stand witness to history, and this slice of Leni Riefenstahl directed Nazi propaganda is rather fascinating, and an interesting watch for all. 

Audio/Video: This fascinating slice of Nazi propaganda arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films in a brand-new remastered version of sourced from a new 2K scan, digitally corrected and restored under the supervision of film historian and preservationist, Robert A. Harris with digital restoration performed by Greg Kimble. Having never sat down to watch this before in it's entirety I can only put the image quality up against clips I've seen in other documentaries, none of which was anything short of ugly. This is probably about as good as we will ever see on any format, the image quality varies widely from scene to scene but there's some decent texture and contrast to the image, looking better than I can recall without having compared any other sources. The burned-in subtitles and watermark might detract a bit for some, but I did not find that it hindered my viewing experience, as a documentary I can accept it. The German language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 like the visual aspects of the movie are varied, but nicely restored and generally free of hiss and distortions, The often rousing scores from Horst Wessel and Richard Wagner sound great when put up against scenes of this infamous propaganda-film. The film is presented in the original German language with all-new on screen identifications which pop-up often, plus we have the burned-in subtitles, and newly translated removable subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Japanese, as this is a region-free release from Synapse Films he multi-language options should come in handy.

Onto the extras we have Leni Riefenstahl’s short film Day of Freedom, which was sort of a dry-run leading up to Triumph of the Will. Additionally there is a fantastic audio commentary by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, specialist on National Socialist German history, his guidance was appreciated, pointing out key figures and themes throughout the movie.  There's also a a four-page booklet with writings on the film from Films in review editor Roy Frumkes, the director of Document of the Dead, which I also found interesting. The back of the booklet also contains technical notes regarding the restoration of the film and audio sources used for the new version. 

Special Features

- Leni Riefenstahl’s short-film DAY OF FREEDOM, remastered in HD (17 Mins) HD 
- Audio Commentary by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, specialist on National Socialist German history
- Booklet with writing on the film from Roy Frumkes

I wouldn't say that I am a history buff but I am glad to have this slice of Nazi propaganda available to the world, cleaned-up, and given some perspective by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro. If you're a history nerd I imagine this is something you will want to own, a solid presentation through and through,