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Olympia

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As a director with a gift for melding eye candy with narrative, Leni Riefenstahl was a pioneer, and after she pleased the Third Reich with The Triumph of the Will, she was tapped to memorialize the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Using low-tech ingenuity (shooting from ankle-level pits, balloons, and cameras catapulted along rails), she recast a newsreely subject as a grand opera that, long after its political immediacy faded, still sings as art. To this day, Riefenstahl (who, at 94, oversaw a digital cleanup for this rerelease) insists she was ignorant of Hitler’s goals. But Olympia‘s ceremonious portent bears more than a whiff of the monolith behind it. Riefenstahl’s lusty lens — lingering in shadows and fetishizing virility — strip-mines individual magnificence and melts it into godlike trophies. It’s fascism in motion. And perhaps most frightening of all, it’s mesmerizing. Greatness, it turns out, can spring from evil. A-