Bright Lights Film Journal

Leni’s Body Beautiful: Forty Years of Riefenstahl’s Olympic Gaze in the James Bond Title Credits

In the beginning there was Leni, and Leni begat Robert and Maurice, who begat the Bond title sequences.

The end of 2002 heralded the arrival of the latest adventure in the forty-year-old James Bond franchise, a continuation not only of the residual cold war icon now transformed by the Bloc-less postmodern world, but of a specific gaze, a way of presenting the female form/image found in the vision of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Her vision has been variously reviled and defended over the past sixty years — ranging from Susan Sontag’s rigid and dismissive “Fascinating Fascism”1 to B. Ruby Rich’s “romantic portraiture”2 to the pioneering stance of Taschen’s Five Lives3 — but it remains controversial because of her association with the Nazi regime. Riefenstahl perhaps says it best, “I only live for what is beautiful.”4 bell hooks writes of Riefenstahl’s “romantic idea of the artist — as one always and only a slave of artistic vision.”5 She believes that “she literally could not see what was before her very eyes if it interfered with her artistic vision.”6 Henry Jaworsky, who worked as a cameraman for Riefenstahl, responded in an interview, “What do you call that thing a horse has? She has blinders. She looks only in one direction and that’s the project she is on. She doesn’t see anything that happens here or here. Her mind is on what she is doing night and day.”7 Renata Berg-Pan quotes Riefenstahl’s desire to discern beauty: “the form taken by beauty, and not only its interior form, but its exterior from…I only know how happy it makes me….”8 Yet this vision, attuned to the beauty of the human form, has continued, through a process at once celebratory and reductive, molded to accommodate the intransient tastes of the James Bond series title credits.

Riefenstahl directs The Blue Light

Riefenstahl’s career has been haunted and condemned by her association with the Third Reich and the infamous propaganda/documentary film Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will)9, which until very recently overshadowed any unbiased critical analysis of her work as actress, director, or photographer. Her first directorial effort was Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light)10 with Riefenstahl playing the lead. After seven years in front of the camera in six of Arnold Fanck’s Bergfilms, she had definitive ideas on the qualities her filmmaking would take. With the innovative use of filters and camera angles, Riefenstahl produced a pioneering film and a mix of both female and male gaze —and aimed it at herself. Riefenstahl’s body awareness is based on the character’s physical abilities; she climbs barefoot up a mountain to guard the mysterious blue crystals she treasures, while her image is sexualized through the cliché of the beautiful but innocent savage. The film’s obvious anticapitalist mysticism brought her to the attention of Hitler, who commissioned her to film the 1934 Nürnberg party rally with the same atmosphere.

Although Riefenstahl’s “body beautiful” — in this case, the male physique — is strongly evident in Triumph des Willens, she focuses on both genders in her Olympia film. Filmed during the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936 and edited over the following two years, the documentary stands as a testament to Riefenstahl’s neoclassic/Romantic artistic vision. Olympia Part 1 – Fest der Völker opens with a prologue in “ancient” Greece, where statues evoke the idea of human beauty. Through montage editing, the statues appear to come to life, with men throwing the discus, the shot, and the javelin, suggesting the competitions of ancient times. Female forms are juxtaposed against the sky, moving in concert with the wind and clouds. Photographed nude or nearly so, neither male nor female image is intentionally sexualized; there is only a celebration of the physical strengths and elegance of the human form. The Olympic torch is lit and progresses through Greece, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Austria11 into Germany, ending in Berlin. The images of antiquity are replaced by the modern and the National Socialist: a stadium filled with international spectators, officials in uniform and athletes in modern dress. The Third Reich is thus presented as the natural successor to (the physical cult of) ancient Greece.

The prologue introduces Riefenstahl’s gaze, that of the natural state of the human body without specific sexual agenda, and she continues her gaze on the Marathon (at this time still a male competition), photographing the runners initially with head and torso shots, moving to an angle behind and above, showing their legs, and then ultimately only their shadows. The famed springboard and platform diving sequences further this vision of nearly abstract genderless form; we see bodies silhouetted against the sky or spooling in and out of the water. Ultimately, Olympia provides a catalogue of body form images against water, air, and fire, all echoed in the now classic title sequences that would begin sixteen years later in the Bond series.

The reception of Olympia was varied: enthusiastically received in France, where it was called “Les Dieux du Stade” (“The Gods of the Stadium”)12, it was rejected in the United States.13 Today it is recognized by Andrew Sarris as “her greatest achievement,”14 and Jack Kroll notes “in her greatest work, Olympia, the humanist fuses with the aesthete in a thrilling celebration of the human will in its real triumph.”15 While the usually strident Pauline Kael refers to the film as “one of the greatest films ever directed by a woman,”16 Peter Cohen suggests in his documentary The Architecture of Doom,17 that “the Nazi ethos might be better understood not as political ideology with an aesthetic expression but as an aesthetic vision with political consequences.” Politically naïve or not, she has paid the price for her visions and managed to complete only one other feature film, Tiefland (Lowlands)18 until her centennial year, when she released the short, Impressionen unter Wasser (Underwater Impressions).19

A director’s vision or style can influence generations of filmmakers. Hitchcock’s “icy blonde” or the color-coded costumes of North by Northwest come to mind. Allude to Ford and one immediately imagines Monument Valley. As easily as these can be identified, even parodied, so Riefenstahl’s body vision can be found in contemporary visuals. The Third Reich embraced aspects of modernity and channeled them through a Germanic/neoclassic aesthetic in its spectacle of rallies, genre art, monumental architecture, and the body cult. Robert Brasillach considered the Nazi Party’s rallies in Nürnberg as “the highest artistic creations of our time.”20 The identification of James Bond as a hero also corresponds with this suggestion of the National Socialist misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, as one who is above the common masses or “mongrel races.” It is important to note in this connection that James Bond’s nemeses are never white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the original Ian Fleming novels. Additionally, there is the class leveling of society that Nazism hoped to achieve, albeit framed by the ideology of racial superiority. As Tony Bennet notes, Bond also functioned in the context of “swinging Britain” as an embodiment of the then prominent ideological themes of classlessness and modernity. He was a key cultural marker of the claim that Britain had escaped the blinkered and class-bound perspective of its traditional governing elite and was in the process of being thoroughly modernized as a result of the implementation of new, meritocratic forms of political cultural leadership.21 In Fleming’s detailed ruminations of postwar Western society, the female is repeatedly an image without substance. This has, of course, been translated into most of the Bond films.

The structure of the Bond films developed into a triptych form after the initial theatrical release of Dr. No in 1962, establishing a template followed by “official”22 Bond films to this day. Although the character was first introduced in a teleplay of Casino Royale23 in 1954 by CBS in their Climax series, which reduced the novel to an hour-long cold war spy vignette with an Americanized “Jimmy Bond” (Barry Nelson), Bond has since been manifested into twenty-one commercial films, from the Broccoli/Saltzmann productions, to the remake of Thunderball as Never Say Never Again, and the feature-length spoof of Casino Royale24 in 1967. The Broccoli series has followed a strict structural form beginning with an adventure short that may stand alone with regard to the body of the film, an opening title sequence introducing the main theme music and symbolic plot projections, and the final third — the film itself. While neither of the original title designers, Robert Brownjohn, who set the style and Maurice Binder who developed it, credit Leni Riefenstahl or her body aesthetic in the Olympia film as an influence in their Bond title sequences, the correspondences in image, symbolism, even action are intriguing and worthy of examination for their ideological meaning and filmic intertext.

After Dr. No established the success of the Bond characterization, the Broccoli/Saltzmann production team began their franchise in earnest with From Russia with Love (1963), the first of the films with a triptych structure. For the first time the mini-adventure gives way to the stylized title credits. Designed by Robert Brownjohn, the neon-colored titles are superimposed over various parts of a woman’s body as she shimmies to the music. She is rarely shot in full body, and the title “Sean Connery as James Bond” is placed over her undulating, belly-dancing stomach, foretelling the sexually charged “Eastern/Orient” theme of the film. Yet the image is constructed to allow no identification with any particular character in the film. This is the initial nod to Riefenstahl — a female form without identity. Far from the standardized Hollywood “Barbie doll” portrayals of female shape prevalent in films of the time, here there is something akin to athletic form. Goldfinger (1964) set the standard for title credits in the series. In Robert Brownjohn’s design, scenes from the film are projected onto the gold-painted body of a woman as a direct tie into the title, the theme song sung by Shirley Bassey, and villain Goldfinger’s (Gert Fröbe) plans to control the world’s gold supply. In the film, Goldfinger disposes of an unfaithful girlfriend by having her painted in gold. She suffocates because of this, and her lifeless body is already suggested by the title credits. Here, the female image becomes an identityless ornament. Riefenstahl set her female images in air or water, the essences of freedom and life. The image in Goldfinger adapts this concept by literally encasing a woman in a true element, gold. The use of this metal, which has been valued from ancient times, also signifies woman-as-possession. The image retracts into a male dominated historical ideal, just as female social consciousness began to develop in the Western world. As the concept of the title credits became a popular aspect of the series, the Riefenstahl body images were increasingly borrowed and adapted. The Olympia intertext (often direct replication) would remain, but it became charged with an agenda, more often that not, of subjugated women, manipulated and disposed of, as were many of the female characters in the films.

In the fourth film and the first of the series with title credits designed solely by Maurice Binder, Thunderball (1965), naked women swim across the screen while Tom Jones belts out the theme song. The sexual connection between the song’s lyrics and the images are clear: one female form has a spear gun fired between her legs — the suggestion of a large phallus/weapon that can apparently pleasure and kill a woman simultaneously. Binder hints at nudity. Like the figures in Riefenstahl’s Olympia diving sequence, these female forms are anonymous and mythic. Yet they are now also sexualized and vulnerable, wriggling in the water and pursued by men in wetsuits with spear guns.

By the following year, the empowered female had encroached on the male-dominated spy film with Modesty Blaise (1966), while television had already introduced Emma Peel in The Avengers25 (1961-69). But Binder’s female form title credits had become Bond film ritual. Expectations followed with each successive film as to how far he might push the limits with regard to nudity, sexual content, and implication. Billy Wilder even cited Binder’s work as “superior to the films themselves.”26 The sequences generated their own cinematic folklore: Binder had started to feature naked female dancers and was once discovered by “Cubby” Broccoli “on his knees in front of one with one hand in a jar of Vaseline. Binder’s explanation was innocently technical: “Well, she would not shave and I had to get this shot right. And, since this girl refused to shave her pubic hair … was using Vaseline — to ensure the shot.”27 Binder continued to design the title credits for an additional thirteen films. Charles Taylor writes, “What we can deduce from Binder’s title sequences is that his sensibility was a match for Bond’s. They are the work of a sensualist connoisseur who went about work with a naughty sense of play. It’s amazing how many nude women Binder was able to work into PG and PG-13 films by shooting them in silhouette or keeping naughty bits tantalizingly obscured by the credit titles.”28 Naughty as they may be, and still copying the basic concept of silhouetted shapes from Olympia, the sequences began to frame the female form as ornamentation or receptacle. By Thunderball‘s release, some critics had begun to complain of the formula of the series.29 For the most part, the credits became formula as well, and prepared the audience for the narrative formula to come.

1967 was a rich year for Bond, who was trotted out in two separate films, Casino Royale and You Only Live Twice. While Casino Royale does follow the triptych structure, it is with tongue firmly in cheek as the new Bond (Peter Sellers) is met in a pissoir, a genial send-up of the preoccupation with action or killing in the Broccoli series mini-adventures. The title credits are noteworthy for the use of Richard Williams’ animated illuminated manuscript titles. Each is gorgeously rendered in the op/pop color of the sixties. The major actors are shown with symbols and references regarding their placement in the film. With Ursula Andress, a former Bond girl from Dr. No, and other female stars, the title drawings feature very busty caryatids brandishing weapons, Williams’ obvious nod to the silhouettes of Binder’s titles. The film is not granted status as a “real Bond,” but it is noteworthy nevertheless that this film was the first that used Bond to cross the bridge from modernity to postmodernity. Portrayed by David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Terrence Cooper, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, and Daliah Lavi, “James Bond” becomes a nonlinear gender-bending compendium of skewered identities and the neutering of the series hero’s sexual prowess. Niven, as Sir James Bond, laments the “joke shop spies” now using his name and number (he has retreated into an Edwardian retirement), aesthetically removed from the machinations of the cold war, the nuclear age, and “beautiful dead women [left] like blown roses.” What ensues is nothing less that the destruction of the Vietnam era status quo by Dr. Noah, who plans to replace world leaders with controllable robot clones and eliminate all men over 4’10”. The film’s notion of Sir James Bond’s Edwardian superiority, the transformation of contemporary Bond into multiple copies, and the ultimate destruction of the villain as well as the hero(es) is the clear rejection of modernity for an openly mythic and transcendent solution to a technocratic world. Although the film parodies the female sex object of the real Bond series, it tended not to relegate women to the simple role of expendable ornamentation, but Bond purists rarely deal with the film except in passing, and dismissively at that.

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice kept to the formula with Binder designing the title credits, but race enters the title sequence for the first time. As Nancy Sinatra sings the title song, we see images of Japanese women, with very few body shots superimposed over flowing lava and erupting volcanoes. Occasionally a schematic is placed over the images, representing a radar array, which also morphs into Japanese fans and chrysanthemums. The images here are for the most part faces, with only a few torsos shown, and the only true nude shot is near the end, when a group of women are seated in a row across the screen. One woman is in profile and her breast is clearly outlined, with nipples quite prominent. Binder’s melding of female forms and volcanic eruptions recalls the montage of bodies and ancient Greece in Olympia. While Riefenstahl brings statues to life amongst the ruins of the Acropolis, evoking a rebirth of the idealized form, Binder portrays the destruction of nature (the eruptions imply male ejaculation) as a violent act toward women.

A major change took place in 1969 with the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery as Bond. Binder’s titles also undertook a modification. The women were still there but interspersed with a composite of clips from the prior film. Again possible influence from the mythic imagery of Olympia: one woman wears a Greek headpiece and holds a trident, suggesting “Britannia.” Women are also positioned as supporters30 to the British coat of arms, in a reference to the narrative, in which Bond portrays a genealogist from the College of Arms in London, hired by arch-villain Blofeld to trace his ancestry to a noble house. Binder refrains from lingering on breasts in this go-round and avoids any phallic symbolism altogether. Tame but satisfying — and fairly inventive — as Binder was able to avoid sophomorism and tie in the previous films, an assurance that it was still “really Bond” on the screen. The titles continue but Lazenby does not, as the next Bond film brought back Sean Connery in his last Broccoli-based appearance as 007.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was Binder’s first foray into arming women in the title credits. Both silhouette and true shots of women with diamonds are used. The opening shot shows a woman with diamonds draped across her abdomen and dangling in front of her pubic area, while a woman’s hand holds a pistol. The gun/diamond images continue to interchange. With a barely masked full-frontal nude shot and a clear view of breasts, women are inserted into the stones suggesting a duality of female value: sex and money. The everpresent jiggle and wiggle of a Binder sequence has one nice touch —Blofeld’s puffball of a cat slithers under the leg of one woman, wearing a diamond collar, of course. Key to this sequence is the new concept of the dangerous woman or the woman-as-weapon to introduce the film’s femme fatale, “Tiffany Case” (Jill St. John), who is as unemotional as Bond in shedding a liability when her (financial) survival is jeopardized. Binder equates the female image with the power to seduce and control. While the images are still placed in secondary and erotic context — female desire and potential for power is finally acknowledged.

Live and Let Die

Roger Moore took over the role in Live and Let Die (1973) and for the next seven films. Binder continued the title design for another nine films, steady as a rock and about as inventive. The titles sank to a new low with this outing, as they focused on a racial stereotyping framed by the visual titillation. Even though African-Americans are prominent in the film, the sequence explicitly depicts sexually threatening black women, contrasted with a helpless white woman. Quite clearly, black is evil and dangerous here. This is even more disturbing as it is the only use of women of color in the titles aside from You Only Live Twice. Why Binder chose to portray black women as a continuation of the villain, “Mr. Big” (Yaphet Kotto), is inexplicable. By now the United States had wrung itself out with the Equal Rights Movement and was in the midst off the Women’s Movement, which specifically addressed the inequality of all women. What Binder offers however, is both crude and offensive in any era. The first shot of the white female has her waving her arms as if in need of rescuing, though it really looks more like a woman in desperate need to dry her fingernail polish. The second shot has her lying on her stomach discreetly covered. The women of color bear tribal markings, African jewelry, or are nearly nude. In addition to the objectification of the female, Binder here separates the value of woman based on race. These women are reduced to mere receptacles, a far cry from the influential aesthetics of Riefenstahl, who in Olympia managed to celebrate athletic prowess and accomplishment without regard to race, despite the dictates of the Nazi regime. Ironically, Riefenstahl’s pioneering photographic work on the African Nuba tribe emerged during the same decade.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Moore’s second outing, broke no new ground this time either. The unique gun Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) uses in the film is in the title credits, first held by a man, then by a woman. The images place women in water or in front of fire, or subsequently dancing away in the nude, once again recalling Olympia‘s prologue. The gun at one point is held and then caressed sexually by a woman, as if stroking a phallus. The water gives an attractive diffused look to the women, but Binder’s ideas have run their course and nothing here is provocative, challenging, or even mildly erotic. Oddly enough, a major aspect of the film’s narrative deals with physical deformity: Scaramanga has an auxiliary nipple, which might have provided great material for the title credits. It is a body part that is still forbidden to be clearly shown on a female in a PG-13 rated film but easily depicted on the male character. A crossover of women identified by their body parts could have been placed and contrasted against a male with a physical identifier that usually suggests the female.


1977’s film, The Spy Who Loved Me, offered up a Soviet female character with an agenda. The film’s title credits are quite at home with the resolution of the film. While the tuxedoed Bond bounces on a trampoline, a naked woman performs what can only be described as phallic gymnastics on a gun barrel. In an odd way, the image pays tribute to the athletics in Olympia, but it is too obvious and self-parodying. Binder also falls flat with Moonraker (1979). A static image of Bond in a parachute has the occasional female form swinging by. Binder must have become obsessed with the possibilities of women on a trampoline or a trapeze, as they rotate across the screen again and again. The sex has faded; the women do not even try to angle themselves for a surreptitious crotch shot; and the color, which is usually vibrant (if a bit heavy on the reds and oranges), is now a pale blue to suggest outer space. A netting makes a brief appearance, perhaps to hint at the actuality of the stunts performed by the women. The change from undulating through water or writhing in front of flames has given way to monochromatic backgrounds and women pulling a burn of their own as human space shuttles. But the female figures twirling weightlessly through space at the end of the sequence are a direct quote of Riefenstahl’s famous trick editing in Olympia‘s diving segment.

The one and only time the singer (Sheena Easton) of the title song is shown in the title credits is with For Your Eyes Only (1981) and it does not work. Easton is young and pretty enough, she appears to be topless, but all you see of her is her head and upper torso. Binder did improve on the lighting of the dancing and squatting girls. Again a blonde woman is spotlighted, she is shown almost fully illuminated as by now, blondes seem to have become a theme of their own in Binder’s sequences. The use of a trapeze and/or trampoline is expected by now – as are flying breasts, backsides and pistols.

1983 brought back the dueling Bonds as Never Say Never Again (Connery) went up against Octopussy (Moore). The former dispenses with a title sequence but Moore’s Bond still had Binder, who uses lasers to show “007” coming out of a gun across a woman’s body (this sequence is awash in “007’s, perhaps to indicate that this is the genuine Bond). He also offers a fairly attractive whirlpool effect, and one of the oddest ways to wear diamonds ever seen in cinema history: a long chain of diamonds is wrapped across a female torso and right over the nipples. The rest is unfortunately pure rehash of the earlier trapeze and trampoline images. The final Roger Moore Bond film is A View to a Kill (1985), and Binder repeated the famous precredit gun barrel motif with a vengeance in the title sequence. The colors are day-glow, as Binder seems to have discovered what all the fuss about black lighting was — a decade too late. He does, however, return to the elemental and athletic image: a female figure as melting ice statue appears and several ski around the screen. The latter is perhaps a nod to Riefenstahl herself, who was famously shown on skies on the cover of Time magazine in 1936. Although Riefenstahl must have raised eyebrows with her very short pants in that photo, Binder’s women are in outfits that defy gravity in thin ribbons that are apparently glued on.

Diamonds Are Forever

The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989) were Binder’s final Bond films. By now it was all rote fare. After Timothy Dalton’s two shots at Bond, the series went dormant until 1995. Maurice Binder died in 1991, and as no Bond films were on the horizon, fans could only wait. Enter Danny Kleinman, who had been a director of music vidios31 and was familiar with the technology that had replaced “the more primitive film optics of Binder’s work.”32 Kleinman has subsequently created the title credits since Goldeneye (1995). In that first “new generation” Bond, the credits are as thematically related to the narrative as they have ever been in a Bond film. The film was released in 1995 and since the last outing in 1989, the world of traditional James Bond settings had changed significantly. The Bloc system had dissolved with the collapse of communism in Europe. The Berlin Wall had come down in 1989 and Germany had reunited in 1990. No longer could the Soviet Union or its satellites provide an easy target of the series as it had since the 1970s. Bond needed a new focus, one that was not anchored in the remnants of the past fifty years. Kleinman knew how to use CGI and storyline, and understood the need to have a hook in the sequence. Women wielding sledgehammers chop away at statues of Marx and Lenin, strut their stuff on falling and breaking hammer and sickles. In a nod to Binder, there is a phallic moment when a pistol emerges from the mouth of one of the women. Perhaps not as directly influenced by Olympia as Binder’s titles, the images of muscular female shapes destroying Soviet symbols nevertheless have more than a passing intertext to the body cult and anticommunism of Riefenstahl’s propaganda films and Nazi cinema in general. Kleinman did not disappoint with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). A new take on Riefenstahl’s superior female shape emerges in his tribute to Binder’s style and the high-tech update. A figure of a woman made of microcircuits moves across the screen and as she turns, alternates between base metal and gold flesh. There are also X-ray shots of a pistol being loaded (we see the magazine inserted) and then fired. A diamond necklace transforms into satellites, recalling Diamonds Are Forever. The female figures get to use the gadgets this time, just as the character “Wai Lin” (Michelle Yeoh) does in the actual film. The World Is Not Enough (1999) hit pay dirt literally: the oil symbolism used in the titles was reminiscent of Binder but with Kleinman’s typical edginess. Bond has a world commodity to save and Kleinman offers images that are gooey and sexy at the same time. Whether the shapes are in oil or skintight leather, physical prowess is dominant. The bodies are toned and strong. Riefenstahl’s body beautiful has returned and has survived the sexual clichés of Binder’s late work. The oil rigs can be seen as the relics of the past as the western world moves out of dependency on oil and into alternate means of power. Just as Riefenstahl used edifices of Greece to move from the ancient into the modern, Kleinman uses the rigs to move from the modern into the postmodern.

Die Another Day (2002) finally does take Bond into the postmodern world, both in the pastiche and self-aware narrative and with regard to the cinematic style. The title credits do not separate the film into a triptych structure in the classical Bond manner. There is no abrupt change, the mini-adventure does not stand alone, and the credits continue the narrative into the body of the film. Once Bond’s cover in North Korea is blown and he is captured, finding himself in the hands of a female torturer, Bond retreats into himself, which is echoed in the lyrics of Madonna’s title song — “I’m gonna close my body now.” Perhaps more like the original novels than any previous Bond film, this Bond can be hurt, is not infallible, and fears death. As the female torturer subjects him to repeated pain, the images fracture across the screen and re-form, foreshadowing the identity morphing in the film’s plotline. The titles are also a powerful parody of the Binder sequences. Here the female forms are not harmless sexual teases meant to be taken by Bond, but consist of the three modes of his torturer: electricity, ice and scorpions. They “seduce” him into revealing his life and secrets and are, in their own painful way, irresistible. In offering such a twist on the Binder women, Kleinman has in essence returned to the Riefenstahl originals, sexless women, beautiful in form, almost superhuman in their potential strength.

As Leni Riefenstahl approached her one-hundredth birthday in 2002 and released her first film in decades, exhibits, articles, books, and the press focused the world’s attention once again on this divisive artist. She told Christopher Jones and Andrew Pulver that her film, “Impressionen unter Wasser certainly isn’t a ‘comeback.’ I was always active and continue to be so. […] I once said that I am fascinated by the beautiful and the living.”33 The images of her own diving in coral reefs cannot help but recall so many of Maurice Binder’s titles for Bond. A circle has indeed closed. Jeff Chu writes, “Artistically, though, her distinction as a trailblazer remained intact, and her influence has gone multimedia. Think of big events — rallies, U.S. presidential inaugurations, even sporting events—that are essentially huge photo-ops.”34 Riefenstahl’s gaze is still the subject of controversy, in the many new books that take on her new pop-icon status. But her unique physical imagery obviously inspired the trendy body-conscious print advertisement started by designer Calvin Klein in the 1980s, and her films have influenced directors ranging from the Italian neorealists to George Lucas. Riefenstahl’s vision transcends all borders, as she offered up her aesthetic “…in which the human body is rhapsodically celebrated.”35 It is little wonder that Olympia, often called the greatest sport film ever made, would provide the pattern for the image of the female body in a film series that has attempted to celebrate the physical cult of the space age and beyond.

My thanks to Robert von Dassanowsky for his encouragement in the writing of this article.

  1. Susan Sontag dismisses Riefenstahl as a filmmaker in her “Fascinating Fascism,” Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980), 73-105. []
  2. B. Ruby Rich, “Leni Riefenstahl: the Deceptive Myth,” Sexual Stratagems: The World of Women in Film, ed. Patricia Ehrens (New York: Horizon, 1979), 205. []
  3. Leni Riefenstahl, Fives Lives, ed. Angelika Taschen (Köln, New York, London: Taschen, 2000) The text separates Riefenstahl’s life into five chapters: dancer, actress, director, photographer and diver. More than a mere visual text, Riefenstahl’s unrealized projects are listed along with an extensive notation of books and articles on the artist. []
  4. . Thomas Elsaesser, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman,” Sight and Sound, February 1993: 14-18. Elsaesser writes “this imagination continues to be fascinating to this day, because the kind of image-making it implies — which not only shows an abiding tendency to abstract the human figure and body from its historical and social inscription, but treats it as an empty sign or icon — means that the human figure can serve as a support of any kind of message, propaganda or advertising, all of which instrumentalise the body.” (Italics mine). 18. []
  5. bell hooks, “The Feminazi Mystique,” Transition 73 (1998):160. []
  6. Ibid., 160. []
  7. Henry Jaworsky, cameraman for Leni Riefenstahl, interviewed by Gordon Hitchens, Kirk Bond, and John Hanhardt, Film Culture Spring (1973): 126. []
  8. Renata Berg-Pan, Leni Riefenstahl (Boston: Twayne, 1980) 27. []
  9. Triumph des Willens, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, with members of the NSDAP, participants in the 1934 Nürnberg party rally, and the inhabitants of the city of Nürnberg, Riefenstahl Studio Film, 1935. []
  10. Das Blaue Licht, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, with Mathias Wieman, Max Holzboer, Benni Führer, Martha Marie, Franz Maldacea, and Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl Studio Films, 1932. []
  11. By the film’s release, the Anschluss had taken place in March of 1938, and Austria no longer existed. The film’s English and German titles during the map sweep from Greece to the Berlin stadium, however, preserve the status of 1936 and note “Austria/Österreich.” Riefenstahl had created three versions of the film for international distribution. See Graham C. Cooper, “Olympia in America, 1938: Leni Riefenstahl, Hollywood, and the Kristallnacht,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television, 13/4 (1993). []
  12. Richard Grenier, “The Führer’s Filmmaker,” Commentary August 1994. Grenier calls the film “by almost universal accord the greatest sports movie ever made,” 50. []
  13. See Cooper. []
  14. Andrew Sarris, “Film Scholars Debate Riefenstahl,” Film Culture Winter (1996), 43-47. []
  15. Jack Kroll, “When Leni Met Adolf,” in “Biographies Abounding,” Malcolm Jones Jr. and Peter McGrath, Newsweek 1 November 1993, 70-2. []
  16. Pauline Kael, quoted by Thomas Doherty, “Leni Riefenstahl: Ethics of an Auteur,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 August 2002, 48. []
  17. The Architecture of Doom, dir. Peter Cohen, with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, narration by Bruno Ganz, Rolf Arsenciel, and Sam Gray, Poj Filmproducktion AB, SVT Drama, Sandrews, Svenska Filminstitutet, 1989. []
  18. Tiefland, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, with Leni Riefenstahl, Franz Eichberger, Bernhard Minetti, Aribert Wäscher, Maria Koppenhöfer, and Karl Skraup, Leni Riefenstahl Produktion, 1945/54. For an in-depth analysis of Tiefland, see Robert von Dassanowsky’s “Wherever you may run, you can not escape him”: Leni Riefenstahl’s Self-Reflection and Romantic Transcendence of Nazism in Tiefland,” Camera Obscura 35 (1995/96). Von Dassanowsky explores the refusal of film scholars to critically look at the film, its intertext with Triumph des Willens, and it possible anti-totalitarian messages. []
  19. Impressionen unter Wasser, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, camera Leni Riefenstahl and Horst Kettner, Leni Riefenstahl Produktion, 2002. The film was premiered on Riefenstahl’s 100 birthday, 22 August 2002. []
  20. Robert Brasillach, quoted by Richard Grenier, “Fascism à la française,” National Review, 9 December 1997. []
  21. Tony Bennet, “The Bond Phenomenon: Theorizing a Popular Hero,” Southern Review July 1983, 195-225. []
  22. “Official” is the colloquial term used to refer to the Bond films produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzmann, who bought the rights to Ian Fleming’s novels/short stories, excluding Casino Royale and the dispute over ownership of Thunderball with Kevin McClory. See Keith Poliakoff’s article “License to copy write: The Ongoing Dispute Over the Ownership of James Bond,” Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal Vol 18 (2000), 387-436. []
  23. Casino Royale, dir William H. Brown, with Barry Nelson, Peter Lorre and Linda Christian, CBS — Climax series, broadcast 21 October 1954. See also Jason Mulvihill, “James Bond’s Cold War Part I,” International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 28: Issue 3, 12. []
  24. Casino Royale, dir. Joe McGrath, Robert Parrish, John Huston, Val Guest, Ken Hughes, Richard Talmadge, with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Deborah Kerr, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, John Huston, Charles Boyer, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, Kurt Kaszner, Barbara Bouchet, and Terence Cooper, Columbia Pictures, Famous Artists Productions, 1967. The film has been shunted aside for years, considered a pseudo Bond effort. The only scholarly work apparent on the film is by Robert von Dassanowsky, see “Casino Royale Revisited,” Films in Review June/July 1988 and “Casino Royale at 33: The Postmodern Epic in Spite of Itself,” Bright Lights Film Journal April 2000 Online. Reprinted in the Austrian Blimp Film Magazine 44 Fall (2000). []
  25. The Avengers, created by Sydney Newman, with Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, and Diana Rigg. ABC Weekend Television, 1961-69. Both Blackman and Rigg played “Bond Girls” in the series, Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and Rigg as Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “Bond Girls” have achieved cult status, see “Bond Girls: Only Diamonds are Forever,” Online The article traces the first “Bond Girl” Eunice Grayson from Dr. No forward in the series (it ignores Casino Royale) up to The World Is Not Enough. See also Bond Girls Are Forever, dir. John Watkin, with Maryam d’Abo (host) and Maud Adams, Ursula Andress, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Honor Blackman, Carey Lowell, Jane Seymour, Jill St. John, Lois Chiles, and Luciana Paluzzi, MGM, 2002. []
  26. Billy Wilder, quoted by Pat Kirkham, “Dots and Sickles,” Sight and Sound December 1995, 10. []
  27. See Kirkham, 12. []
  28. Charles Taylor, “The James Bond Title Sequences,”, 29 July 2002, Online. Binder is also the subject of a short documentary included in the extended DVD version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The title sequences of Bond films have been included in David Peters and Ken Coupland, For Openers: The Art of Film Titles, Titles Then 1950-1980 and For Openers: The Art of Film Titles, Titles Now 1980-1999, 2000. See also David Peters and Dav Rauch, From Psycho to Bullitt: Film Titles in the 60’s, 2001. []
  29. Nicholas Anez, “James Bond,” Films in Review, September/October 1992, 4. []
  30. “Supporter” is a heraldic term to identify the figure(s) on each side of a shield, apparently supporting it. They may be men, beasts or birds — sometimes real, sometimes fabulous (this would be a creature of myth usually). It is very rare for a female image to be found as a supporter. []
  31. See Kirkham, 12. []
  32. Ibid. []
  33. Leni Riefenstahl quoted by Christopher Jones and Andrew Pulver, “In the Shadow of the Swastika,” The Guardian, 23, August: 2002. []
  34. Jeff Chu, “In Her Own Image,” Time (Europe), 26 August 2002 Online. []
  35. Stanley Kauffman, “A Woman in History,” New Republic 14 March 1994, 31. []