This is subtle and disturbing propaganda, but it’s also a surprisingly interesting film. There is of course no reason why awful messages can’t be conveyed in wonderful packaging, and that’s pretty much what I found here.
I mentioned previously, that there could be many motivations for making an Olympic film. One I failed to mention in that list, was as propaganda for a country or set of beliefs. We’re now firmly in that territory with this film, and we’ll be even more firmly there with the next one. To see sport used for an evil purpose is, of course, upsetting. What’s perhaps even more upsetting is when it’s done with subtlety, and as part of an otherwise wonderful experience.
This film represents an interesting take on what German Expressionism can do for a documentary. The way the athletes are filmed, the way the picture is cut, the soundtrack, it all adds up to a focus far more on the inner turmoil of the athletes than on anything happening in the real world. This film almost never indicates what actually happened. Sure, we see the flags of the nations that won, we hear the anthems, but there’s no real grounding in the actual events. Instead we get an odd glimpse into the filmmakers notion of what might be motivating the athlete, internally. It makes for very moody viewing, but it’s sometimes also quite thrilling. Certainly, after the workmanlike films preceding this one it was nice to see someone with an aesthetic.
What was, of course, less nice, was all the ways this was just propaganda for the Nazis. Besides all the obvious things that come with the Olympics being held in Nazi Germany, the way the film presented sport was itself quite twisted. The film seemed to focus almost exclusively on accidents and carnage. For example, in the section on the bobsled racing we pretty much only see the wipeouts. The only team that emerges unscathed is the one that wins. The message of sport as a kind of gladiator arena for showcasing superiority was quite clear. I’m both fascinated to watch the next film, and absolutely dreading it.