Bright Lights Film Journal

Riefenstahl meets Maddin

Of all the real-life German film personalities referred to in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the most notorious – apart from Goebbels himself – is Leni Riefenstahl. Most viewers know Riefenstahl, if they know her at all, as the director of the infamous Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, or the classic sports documentary, Olympia. Inglourious Basterds reminds us that Riefenstahl was not only a director, but one of Germany’s most popular movie stars, who acted and performed her own stunts in “mountain films” like 1929’s The White Hell of Piz Palu.

In her remarkable directing debut, The Blue Light (1932 – excerpted above top*), Riefenstahl plays Junta, a child of nature, rejected by the people of her village, who guards a mysterious blue light hidden in a mountain cave. The imagery, as you can see for yourself, is astounding, a true testament to Fraulein Riefenstahl’s visual talents. For those of us not enthralled by Nazi propaganda or Olympic sports, it is easily her most intriguing film.

The Blue Light and other mountain films of the late ’20s/early ’30s inspired Canadian independent filmmaker, Guy Maddin, to make Careful (1992, above bottom), which combines the imagery of the mountain genre with a pastiche of the oddly beautiful two-strip Technicolor process one sees in early ’30s sound films like Mystery of the Wax Museum (Curtiz) and The King of Jazz. Maddin, though far less well-known than Tarantino, is every bit the film nerd that Quentin is. He even persuaded the 90-year-old Riefenstahl to appear in a proposed feature to be called The Dykemaster’s Daughter. Regrettably, Maddin’s producers balked at his projected budget, and the movie was never made.

* I apologize for the way this trailer – or whatever it is – has been cropped. Pathfinder’s DVD version of The Blue Light provides the correct 1.33 aspect ratio.