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Films are a source of entertainment for countless people. They can also be used for other reasons such as propaganda. Especially in WWII with so many powerful forces at work, films used as source of propaganda were a very effective method of gaining support. Leni Riefenstahl and Michael Curtiz did just that. Both of their films, Triumph of Will, and Casablanca were a powerful and influential form of propaganda that was exposed to countless people. Each film was able to purposeful persuaded their target audience effectively through the use of thoughtful cinematography, plot, and theme. The film Triumph of Will was produced, written, and directed by Leni Riefenstahl. She was an actress turned director. She produced several influential films, but her most renowned film being Triumph of Will. This film was released March of 1935 a few years before World War II. It is a propaganda film that features Adolf Hitler. It is considered a historical documentary and was filmed over the course of 4 days during the Nuremberg Rally. Due in part to her new techniques that she developed, it would leave a legacy and influence cinema even today.
The cinematography of the film includes a variety of different angles, a new form of editing, and camera movements that all played a vital role in conveying the overall message, Hitler is powerful and a savior. She utilized different camera angles to help convey the message. Shots that included Hitler were shot in low angles; this technique helped him look majestic, tall, and powerful. When he is filmed at the podium he occupies majority of the frame, this further shows how he is dominate. When she is shooting from a long focus lens it creates a distorted perception. The viewer can see how all the on lookers are small and insignificant, whereas Hitler is the focus of attention. This not only shows the vast following he had, but also how he literally stands above everyone else, further implying how important he was. When Riefenstahl focuses on the people, it is shot from high angles, which shows how they look up at Hitler and how they believed he is there savior. Casablanca was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, it was released in 1942. It takes place in Casablanca, Morocco in 1941. The Nazis are gaining control of most parts of Northern Africa and Europe and countless people are fleeting in Casablanca. It centers around Rick a nightclub owner, Ilsa and Laszlo who are part of the resistance, and the Nazis. Ilsa and Laszlo are trying to fleet from Casablanca to America, but many things come in the way. It showcases the struggles of refugees under the Nazi regime.
In Casablanca there are different types of cinematography that is used. The most notable would be the use of light. The stark contrast between the light and dark gives the film a dark film noir style; through this it shows the psychological depth of the whole film. Since it is filmed in black and white the lighting was essential because it established importance of individual characters and their emotions, it shows the darkness and heaviness from being occupied by the Nazi Party. A noticeable scene is when Captain Louis Renault comes looking for Rick. The Captain comes into Rick’s office but the only thing that is seen is Rick’s shadow casting on the wall. This shows how the Nazi regime is always around and always watching, and how Rick has his own secrets. Another scene would be when Ilsa is looking out the window watching Laszlo leave at night her face is half dark half light showing how she is split between her love for him and for Rick and overall the dark circumstances that they’re in.
Adolf Hitler placed this film into production; he hired Riefenstahl because he wanted something, “artistically satisfying,” as to appeal to individuals who weren’t necessarily political. The plot of Triumph of Will by Leni Riefenstahl was a film that focuses on the Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party regime. It follows Hitler and his high-ranking officials through Nuremberg Rally a 4-day affair that was basically an annual Nazi Party rally, which was considered to be a Nazi propaganda event. The film opens up with Hitler’s plane landing in Nuremberg which thousands of adoring fans waiting for him. Then you see his caravan going to the hotel where there are even more people, including men, women, and children. Over the course of the 4-days there are speeches from numerous Nazi Officials, but the most monumental moments are during Hitler’s speeches.
Casablanca is an amazing film that is both an entertaining film to watch, but also a very deeply complex political film. Casablanca is considered to be a propaganda piece. It was filmed alongside the OWI, or the United States Office of War Information, in hopes to help shape the American public opinion on the war. Elmer Davis the director of the OWI famously said, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized”. Due to this the plot had to be shaped to fit this narrative. It essentially is about the main protagonist Rick Blaine; who is an isolationist. He owns a nightclub called, “Rick’s Cafe American.” It is here that many different types of dealings take place, and is filled with Nazis from the occupying areas, and refugees who are desperately trying to escape. There is an old romance that comes about between Bogart and Bergman, but at last is broken once more because of war.
In Triumph of Will by Leni Riefenstahl the overall theme is how Germany will unite then become a great power, and it will be Hitler who could bring this to fruition. Throughout the film Adolf is portrayed as this German Messiah, from him descending from the clouds in his plane, to animals and statues watching him as he passes. Hitler is depicted as the savior of the German people and of the nation. Throughout the film it also showcases how he brings unity to all parts of their lives. This is shown through a variety of scenes, one of them being, during the aerial shot of the barracks of the army. All the tents are next to one another showing that all of the soldiers are one. This is further reinforced when you see all the soldiers not wearing their uniforms; this again showcases the unity among all men. Throughout the film, there are Old Imperial Germany flags alongside the Swastika. There are several examples of the blurring together of the German people, the state, and the Nazi Party. After Hitler gives his closing speech, Rudolph Hess says, “The Party is Hitler — and Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler!”. Frank Capra a proclaimed director explained Triumph of Will as, “it fired no gun, dropped no bombs, but as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal’.
Since this film was being produced in conjunction with the OWI, the major themes of Casablanca promote war, and anti-fascist ideologies. Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick and his nightclub symbolizes America, how it’s a multicultural hub, which is a beacon for those who are fleeting from tyranny and its isolationist polices (Jackson). In regards to Rick, in the beginning of the film he is neutral and decides not to act, just like America in WWII, but then something changes. Rick sees Ilsa and sees all the pain that was inflicted from the Nazi party. He then begins to support and “fight” in a sense for the Allies. For America it took the bombing of Pearl Harbor for them to take action. The pivotal moment in the film can be seen when the Nazis start singing their anthem, and Laszlo responds by signing the French national anthem alongside with all the refugees. Rick sees the ideological duel between both sides and decides his place. He later guns down Major Stressor, allowing Laszlo and Ilsa to leave. These scenes show the combined forces standing up against the Nazis and Tyranny. Overall, Rick and his actions closely follow the American sentiment leading up to the war. Both had a history of standing up to injustices but were hurt, and as result became resistant to join war. Then seeing the cruelty put forth changed their stance.
Both Triumph of Will directed by Leni Riefenstahl and Casablanca by Michael Curtiz are two films with world notoriety. These films are considered to be WWII propaganda films, although for different sides. They both used dynamitic cinematography such as camera angles and light to further convey to the story being told. Furthermore, they utilized their plot and location of filming to their individualized advantages; Casablanca was based on a war stricken part of the world to show the negative effects of the Nazis. Whereas Triumph of Will took place during a big event to sell how powerful and great Hitler is. The theme of both Leni and Curtiz films had underlying elements, classifying these films as propaganda. Triumph of Will and Casablanca both highlighted the feat of the human spirit in world war era and while doing so in comparable ways.
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