Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s Feb. 12 announcement that he was dropping out of opening ceremonies for the Beijing Summer Olympics because of the mainland’s ties to Sudan got me thinking about another filmmaker inextricably linked to the Olympics: Leni Riefenstahl.
Best known for her Nazi party rally documentary Triumph of the Will, Reifenstahl was at the top of her game when she immortalized the human physique in Olympiad, her film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
I was only vaguely aware of Reifenstahl until I saw The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, Ray Müller’s 1993 documentary (released in German as Macht der Bilder) made on the occasion of her 90th birthday. At the time, I was blown away by Müller’s film, but I haven’t given Riefenstahl much thought since then.
During her life, which spanned more than a century, Riefenstahl was admired for her considerable talents and moxie, envied for her access to Adolph Hitler, ostracized for her involvement in National Socialism, and then accepted for her sheer staying power.
Spielberg’s decision to boycott this summer’s Olympic Games prompted me to do a little reading on Riefenstahl. To learn more about this chameleon who claimed that art trumps politics, I’ve been reading Jürgen Trimborn’s gripping biography Leni Riefenstahl: A Life.
I don’t know much about Trimborn other than what is in the jacket of the book and in the reviews indicating that this 2002 book is the seminal work on Riefenstahl’s life. I found myself wondering whether Trimborn was raised Catholic in light of his assessment that Riefenstahl’s life was incomplete because she never confessed her sins and never apologized for profiting from her association with Hitler and his hate machine. Obviously, an apology is preferable to denial, but it still doesn’t constitute atonement.
I want to read more about Riefenstahl, especially from a psychological point of view. In my estimation, she was both a textbook narcissist and a sociopath. When repeatedly confronted by courts, journalists, and filmmakers with her collaboration (at the very least) and crimes (at the worst), her strategy was: “Deny, deny, deny.”
I was quite eager to run Riefenstahl’s chart and was disappointed that Trimborn’s book didn’t have a time of birth. Biographies are great treasure troves for the astrologer looking for an accurate time of birth. Riefenstahl was born on Aug. 22, 1902 in Berlin, Germany. You can see Riefenstahl’s chart, thanks to Astrodienst, here.
Triumph of the Will could be the subtitle of Leni Riefenstahl’s story because her success, first as a dancer and then as the star of German “mountain films,” was due entirely to her own determination and her ability to attract patrons. The artistic life that she envisioned for herself was not what her parents, particularly her father, had in mind for their daughter. In freedom-loving, modern-day America, it’s hard to imagine the hurdles that Riefenstahl surmounted in a patriarchal society where women were controlled first by their fathers and then their husbands.
The self-directed, athletic life that Riefenstahl pursued epitomizes her Aries Moon, which I’ve seen frequently in the charts of female dancers, gymnasts, trainers, and sports therapists. Riefenstahl wasn’t merely mirroring Hitler’s misguided search for human physical perfection; her celebration of the martial beauty of mountain climbers, soldiers, athletes, and African tribes was part of her own aesthetic.
If there was a time when Reifenstahl must have felt as if she were standing on top of the world, it was on Hitler’s birthday (April 20) in 1938, when Olympiad had its premiere after two years in the making. In looking at the transits and progressions for this day, the main thing that jumps out is the opposition of Jupiter in Aquarius to her Leo Sun. Clearly, she was at the apex of her influence.
I’ve been studying astrology off and on for nearly 30 years, but I still don’t understand the significance of “unaspected” planets. Riefenstahl’s Sun is so late in Leo that it doesn’t make any connections to any other planets in her chart. Some astrologers would say the lack of aspects gives the Sun a renegade quality. Certainly Riefenstahl was an original.
What I found interesting in reading Trimborn’s biography of Reifenstahl was how she responded to the transits of outer planets in her life. She was certainly dragged through the depths as Pluto made its way through Leo during World War II. But after the war she grew interested in Africa and studying the isolated Nuba tribe of Sudan as Pluto came to oppose her Sun late Leo. (I’m speaking broadly here.)
Late in her life, as Neptune in Aquarius opposed her Sun, she discovered yet another career, as an underwater photographer, which she pursued until her death.
The 1993 Uranus/Neptune conjunctions in Capricorn opposed Riefenstahl’s Mars at 21 degrees of Cancer. That coincided with the international release of Müller’s documentary. The film in turn precipitated a brutal re-examination of Riefenstahl’s role in the rise of the Third Reich and whether the various tribunals that exonerated her after World War II were told the truth. Indeed, some of the damning documents and footage that Trimborn uses to make his case against Riefenstahl weren’t available until recently.
Although Riefenstahl maintained until her dying day (Sept. 8, 2003) that her films were art, not propaganda, clearly other artists, including Steven Spielberg, understand the dangers of appearing to serve a brutal regime.