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Shaking his head over Oscar nod to Nazi auteur

March 08, 2004|Doug McIntyre

Lost in the eye candy of this year's Academy Awards show at the Kodak Theatre was, perhaps, the single most egregious moment in the history of television. An ocean of ink has been spilled on the winners, losers and the couture, but not a syllable has been printed in the L.A. Times about Oscar's nod to Hitler's director of photography, Leni Riefenstahl.

During the traditional "In Memoriam" tribute to those Hollywood greats who died the previous year, somebody on Oscar producer Joe Roth's team decided that Riefenstahl, the auteur of "Triumph of the Will," merited a round of applause for her contributions to the cinematic arts. This is spectacular historical and moral blindness.

Riefenstahl was undoubtedly a brilliant filmmaker, but -- and is it even necessary to ask? -- to what end did she use her genius? Art is about truth. Propaganda, by definition, is a lie. Riefenstahl used her considerable gifts to promote mass murder.

Kurt Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Lotte Lenya and Albert Einstein, among thousands of others, fled Europe so their talents wouldn't be co-opted by Hitler. Riefenstahl knocked on his door.

The great Art Carney, whose passing was noted in the same tribute as Riefenstahl, took a bullet on the beaches of Normandy on his way to kill Riefenstahl's executive producers.

How ironic that the Riefenstahl tribute came in the same week Mel Gibson was being vilified as an anti-Semite for his pro-Jesus movie.

For too many artists, art itself is a religion and the artist is above reproach. Actual religion, as practiced in its traditional forms, is disparaged as oppressive, moralistic, judgmental and a vestigial holdover from a less enlightened age. For radical secularists, Gibson is an evil Bible-thumper, but the actual anti-Semite, Riefenstahl, is an artist -- and art is inherently good.

Art as religion can exist only in a moral vacuum. Roth's team is living in a moral black hole.

"She [Riefenstahl] was there because she was an artist and she's gone. She had a greatness to her and she had amazing longevity." So said producer Sid Ganis, a vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in the New York Daily News. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was more specific: "She was a genius, and her movies were innovative and still copied today.... When I was making commercials years ago, I remember one where the director stole directly from 'Triumph of the Will.' " And Sir Elton John said it for the ages: "Yes, Hitler was evil [but] ... she was a great filmmaker, and as an artist myself, I think she deserved to be there."

Kneeling before the altar of art, the academy handed anti-Semites at home and abroad an audience of 1 billion viewers, offering Jew haters around the globe a rare opportunity to publicly celebrate the vile career of the High Priestess of Hate.

The academy can't acknowledge everyone who dies in a given year. The names of more than 400 notables, I'm told, were submitted to the academy for inclusion in the "In Memoriam" tribute. Ganis' comment to the New York Daily News is telling: "There was no special debate whatsoever in the decision to include her on the list."

No one raised his hand and asked if this was appropriate. Nobody said no. The worst thing you can be in Hollywood is judgmental. Nobody had the integrity to say, "We're not honoring a Nazi." Yet Mel Gibson's a bad guy.

I can't wait for next year's Oscars and the interpretive-dance homage to Stalin.

Doug McIntyre is a television and film writer-producer and host of "Red Eye Radio" on talk-radio station KABC-AM (790). He can be contacted at

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