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“Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Response –Emma Whitford

October 22, 2009

This week in my Modern European Intellectual History Class we watched “Triumph of the Will,” directed by the famous fascist-intellectual filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.  The film details the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, and is recognized both as Nazi propaganda and as a beautiful example of cinematography. The film is a perfect example of “the total function of art..reversed.” Benjamin states, “Instead of being based on ritual, it [art] begins to be based on another practice–politics.”  Film can be easily reproduced and distributed to the masses , so its creation no longer carries the weight of ritual.  Therefore, Benjamin suggests, the purpose of producing film is to take advantage of its reproduction capabilities. Even the most convincing propaganda film cannot serve its purpose unless it is reproduced and viewed by mass audiences.

In his epilogue, Benjamin suggests, “The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”  In the 1930s the Nazi party found that one effective way to unite Germany behind its cause was to present an idealized image of the German volk in film. “Triumph of the Will” bombards the viewer with images of millions of gleeful Germans, waving flags and hailing Hitler. Interspersed throughout are sweeping arial shots of the majestic towers of Nuremberg, and angelic children laughing and clapping for the Nazi parade. It is through the reproduction of such a film that art serves its new purpose–to unite the masses behind a dominant political ideology.

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