Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From Nazi Propaganda to TV Feature Story

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
-Albert Einstein

I was swimming laps at the Steiner Aquatic Center when I glanced up at the high dive and experienced a flashback. A memory of a movie clip from a college documentary film class.

A black and white vision of a diver twisting and turning through the clouds.

I was watching the line of hyperactive ten year olds plummet from the high dive and remembering a few minutes of Olympia. The propaganda-flavored documentary of the 1936 Olympics directed by Leni Riefenstahl and funded by the Third Reich.

The final diving sequence is considered a cinematic masterpiece. Riefenstahl celebrated the human form by isolating the diver from up and down. By turning film upside down and backwards. So the athlete appeared to soar through the sky.

This, of course, was the same director who created the infamous “Triumph of the Will.”

She was a brilliant filmmaker who hung out with the wrong crowd. To say the least.

So, watching these young high divers, I decided to make my own Olympia.

Shot by shot, Photographer Randy Casper and I analyzed the original sequence. And then recreated it at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center.

At the last minute I departed from the original storyboard by donning a tie and jumping into the pool. Not something Riefenstahl would have done. But it was a pretty hot day.

Wanting to set the piece to Olympia’s original score, I contacted a couple of video distributors to research music rights.

One distributor told me Riefenstahl, at the time still alive and scuba diving in the tropics, did.

The other said the US confiscated the film during World War Two. It was now property of the National Archives. As an American citizen, I owned a piece of that movie.

The Nazis killed a few of my distant relatives from Poland.

I figured they owed me.

So I used the score.

And it became a popular TV feature. Occasionally dusted off and replayed for photographers and high school students.

And, no doubt, few of them would guess that a playful video of ten year old belly flop artists cooling off on a hot summer afternoon, was originally inspired by, of all things, a Nazi movie.

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