The last word on Leni Riefenstahl seems always just out of reach. After her Memoirs, Steve Bach’s new biography provides a desperately needed corrective to Leni’s own lies, evasions, and half-truths. Anybody who has seen The Wonderful, Horrible Life knows what an extraordinarily maddening, talented, obsessive, domineering, and flirtatious creature Leni was even in her nineties–and she lived to 101. For artists anywhere–but especially Germans–Leni remains endlessly perplexing. The questions raised by her life go straight to the core of history, morality, ambition, power, and cinema. The dry statement issued after her death by the German government barely scratches the surface:

Leni Riefenstahl symbolizes a German artist’s fate in the 20th Century both in her revolutionary artistic vision and in her political blindness and infatuation. No one would deny that with her talent she developed cinematic methods that have since become part of an aesthetic canon. Her career also shows that one cannot lead an honest life in service of the false, and that art is never apolitical. (297)

Steven Bach. Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. 2006. ****