Dictators & Art
To the Editor:
Richard Grenier [“The Fuehrer's Filmmaker,” Movies, August] raises a very interesting question: can artists loyal to cannibalistic regimes like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia produce great work? His primary example is Leni Riefenstahl, but Mr. Grenier also refers to the movies of Russian film directors loyal to the Soviet regime like Aleksandr Dovzhenko and Sergei Eisenstein. If anything, these examples suggest that Leni Riefenstahl is, at best, something of an aberration. It is impossible for a truly honest and talented artist to thrive while working in the service of an inhuman regime.
After his first successful film, Dovzhenko never amounted to anything; his life was an exercise in futility. Eisenstein was the most talented film director of those years. He produced his first truly great film, The Battleship Potemkin, in 1925, not long before Stalin succeeded in driving all independent creativity in art deep underground. Devoted to exposing the cruelty of czarism in the 1905 revolution, the film would have suited the needs of any anti-czarist movement, democratic or totalitarian. Eisenstein’s other truly great work is Ivan the Terrible, which Stalin ordered him to produce.
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