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Leni Riefenstahl's unchanging aesthetic

By Mark Cousins   October 2003

For dynamism alone, no female film director has matched the shots and cuts of Third Reich propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, who died on 8th September, aged 101. But the obituaries have missed a further and more curious point-that no female artist of the 20th century has taken so much pleasure in looking at men. Essentially, she was an erotic artist.

In a different age Riefenstahl might have made porn movies, although she would have considered herself too classy for that. Triumph of the Will (1935) had the suspense and build-up of sophisticated pornography, and photographed men in partial erotic archetypes. Her…

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