November 28, 2016

"As a filmmaker, Mr. Bannon, 63, has cited both the Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl and the left-wing documentarian Michael Moore as models."

"In top physical shape as a young Navy officer, and for years wearing the banker’s uniform of expensive suits, Mr. Bannon has in recent years sported flannel shirts and cargo pants. With a paunch and a sometimes scraggly beard, Mr. Bannon has a rugged look that Stephen Colbert described as 'Robert Redford dredged from a river.'"

My favorite paragraph from the NYT article "Combative, Populist Steve Bannon Found His Man in Donald Trump." It's a long article, worth reading. I'll just say 2 things:

1. Why is Leni Riefenstahl is called a "propagandist" and Michael Moore is a "documentarian." The same word — whichever you choose — applies to both. Riefenstahl was unquestionably a great film artist, far more interested in film as art than Moore. See the excellent, nonpropagandistic documentary about her, "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl." Moore is an out-and-proud propagandist. What's wrong with that if your cause is good? Riefenstahl presents the problem of what's wrong with art if your cause is bad.

2. I'm fascinated by how Bannon, who is about my age, looked in 1974, which is like Robert Redford dredged from a river in 1974:



ADDED: I made a new tag for Leni Riefenstahl, then searched the archive to add it to old posts. I see that back in 2004 I wrote "Is Michael Moore like Leni Riefenstahl?" Someone had compared Moore to Riefenstahl, and I was reacting to that. I said:
There are many huge differences between Moore and Leni Riefenstahl.... Quite aside from the fact that she was working in support of Hitler and Moore is working against Bush (and Bush is no Hitler, despite some noise to the contrary), Riefenstahl would have snorted at the lack of artistry in Moore's work. She was all about beautiful and precise visual imagery. "Triumph of the Will" does not pound at you with voiceover assertions, it aims to lure you and seduce you with sequences of images. Moore's type of propaganda is far, far easier to resist, because it is immediately and constantly apparent that he is propagandizing. That is a lot fairer to the viewer: your resistance is instantly activated. You can decide what you want to think. What Riefenstahl did was incomparable.

38 comments:

Brando said...

Looks pretty sharp in '74! But he's wearing the infamous Canadian Tuxedo. I guess it was the style of the time.

"Propaganda" isn't really a bad word--the Nazis made it a bad word because their propaganda was full of lies and advanced evil. But "propaganda" in and of itself simply means propagating information, like any mass form of communication.

surfed said...

Was it the "Oh SHIT!" river of "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" fame he was dredged from or some other ordinary river of no repute?

Laslo Spatula said...

"With a paunch and a sometimes scraggly beard, Mr. Bannon has a rugged look that Stephen Colbert described as 'Robert Redford dredged from a river.'

When wanting to add snark in a Serious Piece of Journalism use a quote by a comedian to get the job done with clean hands.

Of course, when I think of 'dredged from a river" I wonder if Ted Kennedy was driving.

I am Laslo.

gspencer said...

Why is Leni Riefenstahl is called a "propagandist" and Michael Moore is a "documentarian."

Because anything that touches the Nazis is always bad; and anything that touches leftist causes is ipso facto good.

But it's all a trick in wording. Trading on the ignorance of the political spectrum by most Americans, that technique is used by the left over and over. Hitler, Nazis, the 3d Reich are all as left wing (the left side of the political spectrum representing total government) as all the collectivist versions of totalitarianism have ever been, from Pharaoh-ism to Communism.

damikesc said...

Irony: Redford TODAY looks like Robert Redford dragged out of a river. Aging rather poorly.

Laslo Spatula said...

I'm Renfro Jeffries. Nazi And Proud Of It!.

I get tired of the Government-Media-Cosmopolitan Complex giving Leni Riefenstahl a bad name. You can’t be All Things to All People. She showed the beauty of what can happen when a People come united and move with purpose. Does a documentarian have to film their subject taking a shit just to give a more complete picture..?

The Government-Media-Cosmopolitan Complex makes its own propaganda, it’s called the News. It is just that when they film their subjects ‘taking a shit’ — rioting and looting in the streets, say — they try to make it heroic…

Every Society shits. It is up to the Citizen to decide if they want to be the ones shit upon. Look up: that is the Ass of the Government-Media-Cosmopolitan Complex above you, and I see you ain’t moving. Don’t cry to me when it ain’t rain that falls from that sky…

You are on the wrong side of the barbed wire, friends. Helter Skelter is coming, and it's coming with Cattle Cars: don't say I didn't tell you.

I'm Renfro Jeffries, Nazi And Proud Of It!

I am Laslo.

Bob Ellison said...

To what extent can artistry bend the mind?

I've watched Triumph of the Will. It's not that great. I'm not a film person, though; I can't stand Citizen Kane or the Godfather series. Dumb stories, apparently loved by film people.

What if "Amazing Grace", the greatest song ever written, had lyrics extolling murder and slavery? Would it convince people? How about Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers decreed that a black person was three fifths of a white person, and a woman not a citizen at all?

[By the way, Professor, something at Blogger is broken. When I use Preview, my comment blows away with various error messages.]

Ann Althouse said...

"By the way, Professor, something at Blogger is broken. When I use Preview, my comment blows away with various error messages."

Yeah, that happens to me too. The short-term solution is: Don't use preview.

The longterm solution is Blogger will fix it.

And by Blogger, I don't mean me. I mean the faceless corporate entity known as Blogger.

Laslo Spatula said...

"And by Blogger, I don't mean me. I mean the faceless corporate entity known as Blogger."

Blogger is part of the Government-Media-Cosmopolitan Complex.

I am Laslo.

Danno said...

Laslo, is that cosmopolitan as in a city, or as in the magazine?

chickelit said...

Bannon looks a bit like Jane Fonda in that old photo.

rehajm said...

Bannon was great in B.J. and the Bear

Laslo Spatula said...

From Wiki:

Cosmopolitanism is the ideology that all human beings belong to a single community, based on a shared morality.

I am Laslo.

Bay Area Guy said...

I read the NY Times article on Bannon. I watched video clips of him speaking.

I officially like Steve Bannon.

I didn't really know who he was, but I suspected that the post-election attempts to demonize him as a Nazi were overblown.

He's certainly not a Nazi or a racist. He feels that the elite of both parties have shafted the middle-class working man. He has a Harvard MBA and worked for Goldman-Sachs, so he was once part of the elite. He knows their playbook.

All in all, he's an interesting man, and I'm glad he's with Trump.

wildswan said...

Suppose you juxtapose Louis CK, Michael Moore and Steve Bannon. Then, isn't there a style there? An anti-style, perhaps, which says more than any words any of them say. The Seinfeld-George Costanza-T shirt style. Lena Dunham is in that style. But women just can't sell short-fat-plain as style. Or maybe I mean women won't buy it. Julia Louis Dreyfuss is the woman put opposite George Costanza. Had it been Lena Dunham - well, there would have been no Seinfeld.

So how to do propaganda in the age of male anti-style, female style-still-required? In the last days of the campaign, Michael Moore began to advocate the same positions as those held by Steve Bannon. Maybe he could do a good documentary on Bannon. And for women, the one who will run successfully is the one we can imagine Leni Reifenstahl doing propaganda for? Nikki Halley?

Quaestor said...

Riefenstahl presents the problem of what's wrong with art if your cause is bad.

Those who watch Triumph of the Will pre-quipped with knowledge of Nazi antisemitism and the Second World War tend to see it as propaganda immediately, especially after Hitler appears flying over Nuremberg in his personal Ju-52.00 This is bias which distorts. It's like making an aesthetic judgment about a portrait of a person you hate. If you can't put aside your personal dislike of the subject, the least important aspect of art, perhaps you should disqualify yourself as a critic. That said Hitler had a hand in the final edit, for example SA leader Ernst Röhm is nowhere to be seen in the film although he was a prominent member of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress

A film I regard even more powerful as art and propaganda is Riefenstahl's film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics titled quite naturally Olympia. I said about, but that's inaccurate. The subject is the 1936 Games just as the subject of a figure study is the nude model yet the figure study is about something else. Riefenstahl took two years to assemble and edit her footage, so cranking out a timely news documentary about sports couldn't have been her motivation. Riefenstahl had a lot more creative control over Olympia than her more famous Triumph of the Will, and she gets to say what she has to say more clearly. The original Olympic Games weren't about sports, they were held in honor of the gods. It was a religious celebration, a kind of worship ritual. Much is said about the Greeks banning war during the olympiad, but their games weren't about peace, brotherhood, or international fellowship, that's our modern bias showing. The ancient games were about excellence in human achievement offered to the Zeus as a sacrifice. The most acceptable sacrifice was the most perfect achievement — the fastest run, the longest throw, etc. In Olympia Riefenstahl created a pean to that pagan interpretation of athletic competition.

Sebastian said...

"Why is Leni Riefenstahl is called a "propagandist" and Michael Moore is a "documentarian." Prog linguistics, like prog ethics, is entirely situational.

Matthew Sablan said...

She made effective films; it is a shame her art was used to support something horrific. But, that doesn't mean her art isn't art.

Honestly, at this point, I think Bannon is deliberately trolling the media with comments like this and his, "I'm like Darth Vader and the Devil" comments.

JTR said...

He looks like a 1974 lesbian.

chuck said...

I think Riefenstahl would be in the same tradition as Eisenstein. Why Eisenstein is celebrated while Riefenstahl is not is left as an exercise for the reader.

William said...

Eisenstein deserves mention in this context. From what I've read many of his staged reanactments of moments in the Russian Revolution are wildly different than the events that actually occurred. Nonetheless, any historical documentary about those events includes his footage as though such footage is what really happened. He was an avowed propagandist whose propaganda became the Gospel Truth.

William said...

The good thing about looking like Robert Redford when you're young is that you look sort of like Robert Redford when you're old. In any event, he never got fat or even paunchy. Paul Newman also looked good in his old age but he died and that's even worse than wrinkles or fat so far as appearance goes.

Sam L. said...

Mikey Moore's causes are bad. My opinion; yours may differ. It's America; get over it.

mockturtle said...

I see the NNDB website describes Bannon as a 'White Nationalist'. On what basis, I wonder? If you are white and a nationalist, does that make you one? I guess it makes me one.

mockturtle said...

I never found Redford at all attractive. Newman, on the other hand...

Roughcoat said...

I'm betting that Bannon got laid a lot in 1974 using that look.

Honestly, it's a pretty good look (in 1974). I aspired to look like that in the 70s.

The chicks really dug it. I am not being sarcastic.

mockturtle said...

In the photo, he looks like a girl. I thought it was a girl, at first.

Scott said...

Leni Riefenstahl was promoting someone else's agenda; and that makes her a propagandist. Michael Moore is promoting his own; and that makes him a documentary filmmaker. Producing propaganda -- even elegant, beautiful, compelling propaganda -- is the occupation of a hack. Moore is delusional and wrong too, but his level of hackery is minuscule compared to Riefenstahl's. Moore cares about his message. Riefenstahl wanted to create high art and didn't give a damn about what message it delivered. That makes her several degrees more repugnant than Moore.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Scott, I don't get that at all. Why do you assume that all of Riefenstahl's ideas were dictated (literally) to her, while all of Moore's sprang unbidden from his own head? If Moore's cinematography is "documentary," it's principally a documentary account of what goes on in his brain, yes. But most of what's in there came from other sources, just like Riefenstahl. The real difference remains that Riefenstahl was a very good propagandist, and Moore a remarkably inept one.

"Propaganda" is a word originally belonging to the Catholic Church. (Google "Via di Propaganda.") As such, it wasn't even neutral; it was positive: the spreading of the Faith.

To whoever mentioned it above ... ah, Quaestor, of course, I've seen Olympia, and reacted to it much as you did. If you leave the politics out (which is like leaving the cereal out of a box of Wheaties, but I digress), it's simply a stunning paean to human accomplishment.

William said...

None dare call it treason sort of thing. A truly accomplished propagandist comes across as a truth teller. The canonical books of the Bible are the revealed truth of God. Those others are propaganda.

viator said...

The visual experience of an average Althouse reader is eons, or at least 75 years, advanced from the age of Riefenstahl. We and the creators of the visual images we consume have digested the lessons of Kurosawa, Fellini, MTV, The Mad Men, The New Wave, and many other influences. We have learned an advanced visual vocabulary. Many once great visual images seem flat and static to the modern sensibility.

David said...

Bannon! Once more proving that very good looks are a big asset in life.

"Robert Redford dredged from a river" is seriously funny but the rest of the article is depressing.

I watched "Triumph of the Will" last year. It's astonishingly good propaganda. With the hindsight it's also utterly heartbreaking. What a beautiful city Nuremberg was before Hitler offered it up for destruction.

Scott said...

"...Why do you assume that all of Riefenstahl's ideas were dictated (literally) to her..."

Literally? Don't you think if I assumed that, I would write that? You know, literally?

I wrote that she was promoting someone else's agenda. She didn't organize the 1934 Nuremburg rally or the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but the historical record shows that she had more than a little influence in how they were staged. And, perhaps by magic, her unique vision and the political vision of Hitler were, um, highly congruent. I think it's more than reasonable to observe that Riefenstahl promoted Hitler's agenda. And that it makes her an abject hack. A whore to Hitler's repugnant ideals. She makes Michael Moore look like David Attenborough.

Scott said...

"The canonical books of the Bible are the revealed truth of God."

You're confusing the Bible with the Quran.

mikee said...

I could never get my hair that thick and long. Mine was wavy and stuck straight out from my head when it got long enough to cover my ears. The 70s were a hard time for me, hairwise.

gnome said...

What's so poor about "dredged from a river"?

The scene from "A river runs through it" where Brad Pitt emerges from the river after being washed downstream with nothing but the top of his fly rod emerging for a while has cemented Brad Pitt in my circles as the handsomest actor ever.

Early Robert Redfords look coarse by comparison.

gnome said...

I didn't know Michael Moore was called a documentarian. I thought he was called a bloated multi-chinned pig.

HT said...

I read this piece yesterday morning, and I thought it said that now Bannon looks like RR dredged from a river, not then. Then, he looks like many of the pretty boy stars from the 70s like Leif Garrett and a blond Bay City roller. I was glad to read it.