Having proven her mettle with her still-astonishing propaganda epic Triumph of the Will, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl furthered her reputation with the two-part Olympia, an all-inclusive filmed record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In its original 220-minute form, the film was designed as a paean to Aryan superiority, likening the strong-limbed young German athletes with the godlike participants of the ancient Olympic games.
By accident or design, however, the film transcends politics, resulting in an across-the-board tribute to all the Olympic partcipants -- even those whose racial makeup did not come up to the pure standards established by the Third Reich.
This is especially true in the first portion of the film, in which black American runner Jessie Owens emerges as the star. The second half of the film is the more impressive technically, with Riefenstahl utilizing an astonishing variety of camera speeds and angles to record the diving competition.
Working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, Riefenstahl and her staff were often denied desirable camera angles, forcing them to improvise with telephoto lenses; the results are often far more dramatically impressive than the up-close-and-personal approach taken by contemporary TV cameramen.
After an editing process that took nearly 18 months, Riefenstahl added icing to the cake with a richly evocative soundtrack -- an added touch which, so far as the filmmaker was concerned, made the picture.
Inasmuch as the German government was still trying to curry favor with the outside world in early 1938, Olympia was shipped out in various reedited versions, each favoring the athletes of the release country.
Many English-language versions avoided any references to Hitler or Nazism -- quite a feat, considering the preponderence of swastikas at the Olympic site.