Triumph of the Will (German: Triumph des Willens) is a 1935 documentary directed by Leni Riefenstahl and ordered by the government of Nazi Germany. It was shown once a year for propaganda purposes in every German cinema until 1945. The film was wildly successful at its intended purpose and to this day forms a reference point for people's mental image of the Nazi regime. Moreover, the extent that Triumph of the Will continues to be regarded as an innovative and groundbreaking film has its roots in a concerted effort by the Nazis to promote the film as an ideal in contrast to various forms of expression the Nazis disapproved of.
Ultimately, the triumph of Triumph is one of budget. With the full backing of the state, the film sought to convince both foreign and domestic audiences that the Nazi regime was unstoppable through sheer force of spectacle. Surprisingly (or not), the film has since proved highly influential – the medal scene that ends Star Wars is a direct lift from a scene here where Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Viktor Lutze lay a wreath at the memorial for President Hindenburg.
Triumph is officially not in the public domain, as its rights are being held by the German Government through Transit Film GmbH. However, it's available for free online viewing. Interestingly, the film is uncensored in Germany, but due to its status as a Nazi propaganda piece, it can only be screened publicly in an educational or scholarly context.
See also Olympia, Riefenstahl's two-part documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Compare The Birth of a Nation, a similarly influential film that also acts as a white nationalist propaganda piece.
This film provides examples of:
- Badass Army: Perhaps the most iconic scene in the movie is when Adolf Hitler is standing with SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and SA leader Viktor Lutze. Hitler, Himmler, and Lutze all salute the entire armed forces, and the troops salute the Nazi leaders back.
- Balcony Speech: Hitler does a few of these.
- Eye Candy: Generally everything.
- Glorious Leader: The way Hitler is presented, as per the Nazis' agenda of near-deifying him.
- Hitler Cam: Possibly the Trope Maker, though it's actually used rather sparingly.
- Intended Audience Reaction: The idea behind the film was to get German audiences to view Hitler and the Nazis as gods among men. See Propaganda Machine.
- Leave the Camera Running: The marching band sequence late in the film. Even Hitler seems to get exhausted watching it.
- Milking the Giant Cow: The Fuhrer's bombastic gesticulating during his big speech is truly a sight to behold.
- Million Mook March: Numerous scenes, particularly the mourning of former President Hindenburg. The film claims a whopping 200,000 people came together for the celebration.
- The Oner: There's a very long crane shot (actually, the camera was mounted on a specially-built tower that was part of the arena) of Hitler, Himmler and SA leader Viktor Lutze saluting the First World War Cenotaph. This is actually an exact copy of a shot in Riefenstahl's previous film of a Nazi rally, Victory of Faith from 1933, except in the earlier film, it was Hitler and then-SA leader Ernst Röhm.note
- Patriotic Fervor: Of the worst sort.
- Propaganda Machine: The whole film itself is a glowing example. A few American propaganda pieces just showed the marching and translated parts of the speeches into English, letting the mere fact it was meant to be inspirational for the Germans speak for itself. The Why We Fight series did this a lot.
- Rousing Speech: Well, they certainly seem roused. And ready to kill on command.
- Signature Shot: Riefenstahl had quite a few of these, including the aforementioned Hitler Cam, but one that's present in not just this but almost all her films is a shot of church bells ringing against the sky.
- Stock Parody: Probably one of the most referenced films of all time: everything from Citizen Kane to Star Wars to Gladiator to The Lion King (1994) to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie borrows imagery from this movie, along with the innumerable films and documentaries who simply cannibalize its footage such as A Clockwork Orange. More generally our collective image of Nazis (marching masses of soldiers, Hitler's manic speech-making, showy displays of gunmen and swastika banners) largely originates here.
- Those Wacky Nazis: This trope is largely a product of perspective. The Nazis portrayed themselves as sane and reasonable, but we the audience now know that what they said and what they meant often conflicted with each other, and so all the many speeches in the film sound wholly ludicrous. Even in the context of the brief window of time between Hitler's rise to power and his suicide, members of the Allied Powers tended to view the film as making the Nazis look like a case of Small Name, Big Ego, with anti-German war propaganda subverting the film's imagery to depict Hitler's forces as all bark and no bite. Of course, the later postwar publicizing of The Holocaust eventually proved that yes, the Nazis really were that dangerous, but Triumph of the Will still stands as a display of just how disproportionately egotistical the Third Reich was.
- World of Ham: Just look at any one of Hitler's speeches in the film (which led to a good deal of jokes in Allied propaganda).