The recent photo of Cheney speaking to the troops reminds one blogger of Leni Riefenstahl. I think not so much. Cheney just looks evil in that shot. On the other hand, I recently watched Triumph of the Will, and I have to say that in the absence of historical perspective, I don't think Hitler would look particularly sinister in that movie. I can see why Riefenstahl has the enormous reputation that she does; she managed to make a documentary about a political rally which wasn't dull, a truly astonishing feat. She also makes Hitler look really good, and not by having the film make crazy and exaggerated claims about his accomplishments. Mostly, the movie doesn't make claims. She shows enthusiastic people filled with admiration for Hitler, and actually doesn't let Hitler himself dominate the screen time. When she does show Hitler, he's being friendly and chatty when possible, and he occasionally looks bored on occasions when it's impossible to imagine someone wouldn't be bored; in other words, he looks human. On the other hand, he looks very serious and somber when a ceremonial occasion calls for it, and when she does show him speaking, he looks dedicated and passionate. No doubt, in portraying Hitler as he wanted to be seen, Riefenstahl had the benefit of an actor who was very skilled in playing that role (Hitler was incredibly careful about his public persona), but still, the effect is impressive.
All in all, it really conveyed to me how people could have been enthusiastic about Hitler, even some very smart people who should have known better. We have a tendency to think of propaganda as transparent manipulation, which we'd never fall for. We like propaganda for our own causes, but we don't think it influences us; we already believed that before seeing it, and we mock those of other views for being conned by the propaganda they're fed. And, indeed, most propaganda is of quite poor quality, and it's surprising and disturbing that despite what we like to think about it, it seems to have a lot of impact. However, Leni Riefenstahl shows an example of propaganda done with skill and subtlety. It should present a warning that there is surely more of the same out there, that we don't recognize because of its subtlety and because the causes with which it is associated are not yet discredited.