The Ernst Jaeger papers include numerous primary source materials on Leni Riefenstahl and on Jaeger, a renowned German journalist.
Born Berta Helene Amalie Riefenstahl in 1902, Leni grew up in Berlin. She studied dance and was soon performing in Munich, Berlin and Prague until a knee injury ended her stage career but did not stop her from a transition to film. Within months of viewing Arnold Fanck's "Berg des Schicksals" (Mountain of Destiny) the film she credits with piquing her curiosity in cinema, Riefenstahl starred in another of Fanck's mountain films, "Der heilige Berg" (The Sacred Mountain,aka Peaks of Destiny), after a chance meeting with the director. After appearing in several films, Riefenstahl turned to directing, a remarkable feat for a woman in a field dominated by men.
In the spring of 1932, anti-Nazi journalist Jaeger encouraged Riefenstahl to join him at Berlin's Sportspalast arena to hear Adolf Hitler rally the audience in his bid to become president. "It seemed as if the earth's surface were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook the earth", she later recalled. "I felt quite paralyzed."
Although Riefenstahl reportedly rebuffed his amorous advances, Hitler soon commissioned Riefenstahl to execute a chilling work of demagoguery known as Triumph des Willens (The Triumph of the Will), an account of the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi Party's Sixth Nuremburg Party Congress. The film featured a cast of thousands, including Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goering and other top party officials.
Riefenstahl followed Triumph of the Will with Olympia, an epic two-part documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While directing Olympia, Riefenstahl oversaw a crew of 60 cinematographers who shot more than 1.3 million feet (248 miles) of film. In the process, she invented or enhanced many of the cinematography techniques now taken for granted: slow-motion shots of athletes, the use of a telephoto lens for close-ups, underwater diving shots, high shots from towers and low shots from pits, panoramic aerial shots taken from blimps and cameras deployed on rails to capture fast movements. To this day, Olympia is still considered a cinematic masterpiece.
Riefenstahl hired Jaeger, the former editor-in-chief of a popular German trade journal as her press chief, although doing so raised the ire of Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda. Jaeger, a Social Democrat, had been expelled from the Reich Literature Chamber by Goebbels, partly because his wife was Jewish. Jaeger ended up ghostwriting publications on behalf of Riefenstahl. "I had been able to help him a year earlier when he was in financial straits: My firm commissioned him to write a brochure on the work involved in Triumph of the Will", she wrote in her memoir. Riefenstahl also requested that Jaeger accompany her to America to help secure U.S. distribution for Olympia.The trip was not as successful as she had hoped because few executives welcomed her. Even with near-universal acclaim, the Third Reich-tainted Olympia never found a U.S. distributor, and a dejected Riefenstahl set sail for Germany.
The ongoing debate continues as to whether Riefenstahl was merely recording events that had been staged by the Nazis (as she claimed until her death), or whether she alone was responsible for the film's persuasive visual dynamics and production design.
(from: Acquisition Shifts Focus to Filmmaker, by Dan Knapp, USC News, 08/08/05)