Fascist Art & Aesthetics

Posted: February 24, 2011 in World War 2
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

ARTICLE BY Susan Sontag PUBLISHED ON A-FE

Here is a book of 126 splendid color photographs by Leni Riefenstahl, certainly the most ravishing book of photographs published anywhere in recent years. In the intractable mountains of the southern Sudan live about eight thousand aloof, godlike Nuba, emblems of physical perfection, with large, well-shaped, partly shaven heads, expressive faces, & muscular bodies that are depilated & decorated with scars; smeared with sacred gray-white ash, the men prance, squat, brood, wrestle on the arid slopes. And here is a fascinating layout of twelve black-and-white photographs of Riefenstahl on the back cover of The Last of the Nuba, also ravishing, a chronological sequence of expressions (from sultry inwardness to the grin of a Texas matron on safari) vanquishing the intractable march of aging. The first photograph was taken in 1927 when she was twenty-five & already a movie star, the most recent are dated 1969 (she is cuddling a naked African baby) & 1972 (she is holding a camera), & each of them shows some version of an ideal presence, a kind of imperishable beauty, like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s, that only gets gayer & more metallic & healthier-looking with old age. & here is a biographical sketch of Riefenstahl on the dust jacket, & an introduction (unsigned) entitled “How Leni Riefenstahl came to study the Mesakin Nuba of Kordofain”—full of disquieting lies. [Read More]

Second Exhibit. Here is a book to be purchased at airport magazine stands and in “adult” bookstores, a relatively cheap paperback, not an expensive coffee-table item appealing to art lovers and the bien-pensant like The Last of the Nuba. Yet both books share a certain community of moral origin, a root preoccupation: the same preoccupation at different stages of evolution-the ideas that animate The Last of the Nuba being less out of the moral closet than the cruder, more efficient idea that lies behind SS Regalia. Though SS Regalia is a respectable British-made compilation (with a three-page historical preface and notes in the back), one knows that its appeal is not scholarly but sexual. The cover already makes that clear. Across the large black swastika of an SS armband is a diagonal yellow stripe which reads “Over 100 Brilliant Four-Color Photographs Only $2.95,” exactly as a sticker with the price on it used to be affixed—part tease, part deference to censorship—on the cover of pornographic magazines, over the model’s genitalia. [Read More]

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