"In the Olympia film, Leni Riefenstahl added a human component to Adolph Hitler's portrait. In the party films (Triumph of the Will), she had portrayed him as a Furhrer who stood apart from all others, but in Olympia, she played up his affable side. He watched the events through his binoculars, chatted with neighbors about the competitions, fretted about major decisions, and grinned when the Germans won. It was somewhat odd for the German chancellor to show up in uniform at a peaceful event designed to promote understanding among nations, in the Olympia film Hitler played the dictator who knew how to behave himself."-Karin Wieland, Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century of Two Lives
"With Olympia, Riefenstahl had succeeded in making an overly political motion picture that is still considered one of the finest sports films ever made. Olympia set new benchmarks for cinematic sports coverage."
-Karin Wieland, Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century of Two Lives
There is a lot to unpack in watching Olympia now. We have a real artistic vision here from director Riefenstahl, connecting the 1936 event to ancient days of competition through a series of images like the one above. We then have the competition among athletes with everyone rooting on their own country, whether USA, Japan, Britain, or the hometown Germans. I found myself becoming interested in the results of the competition, though most if not all these athletes are long since passed away.
Jesse Owens winning Gold Medals is what many remember most from this Olympics, but I also liked watching many of the other events, many enhanced by Riefenstahl's intense and glaring camera. The drama of the Marathon was a particular favorite of mine
But despite getting into the competition, the political component of the film is what people may get out of it now. As mentioned int the quote above, Hitler and those in the Nazi party are background figures, seemingly just humbly rooting the Germans on to victory...but we all know there is disaster for the world on the horizon. -Chris Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey