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28 May 2012

Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (1925)

The Ufa-production Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925) was the most popular and most important German Kulturfilm of the silent era. The action was an idealized, somewhat naive approximation to health and beauty in conformity with nature. Today, the documentary is best known as the first film to feature Leni Riefenstahl.

Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 27/3. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Capture: Morgen (Morning). Collection: Didier Hanson.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/13. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Pictured are members of the Gymnastik Schule Hedwig Hagemann in Hamburg. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Censorship
The directors of Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925) were Nicholas Kaufmann and Wilhelm Prager. They designed it as a feature-length documentary film. The film shows sports and fitness scenarios and other forms of physical exercise such as dance. The film makers tried to offer a contrast to the rather hopeless living in the city of Berlin and other large cities of Germany during the 1920’s. The film also contains scenes from the bathing culture in order to promote a healthier working with your own body in harmony with nature. Aesthetically, the film traces the human body staged in the style of the ancient world. Some ancient scenarios were reenacted. It displays nudity very liberally for that time, and quite from the beginning this helped to make it a huge success. In several countries the film was subject to censorship and some scenes had to be cut.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Pictured are members of a Japanese Jiu-Do School. Collection: Didier Hanson.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/5. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925, Nicholas Kaufmann, Wilhelm Prager). Pictured are members of the Tanzgruppe Mary Wigman performing Die Wanderung (The Hike). Collection: Didier Hanson.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/15. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Capture: Die lebende Venus (The Living Venus). Pictured are Prof. A. Köster, model Inge B. and W. Prager. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Nudism
Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit must be seen in the context of ‘body culture’ (Körperkultur), which was very popular in Germany in the 1920’s. This trend included Freikörperkultur (FFKK or nudism), the Lebensreformbewegung (Reform Movement) and Naturismus (naturism). Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit can be seen as a ‘promotional film on a grand scale’ which reached a mass audience. While contemporary reviews were largely uncritically, today the film is often seen as an ideological forerunner of the body worship by the Nazis, as celebrated in the later propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl. The young and then unknown Riefenstahl even appeared as an extra in Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit. She was one of the dancers of the Mary Wigman Gruppe. Other famous people who can be seen in the film are the American swimmer and later Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, the American boxer Jack Dempsey and the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The actresses La Jana and Camilla Horn also appeared as an extra in the film.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/20. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Caption: 'Urteil des Paris - Fragment Pallas Athene.' (Judgment of Paris - Fragment of Pallas Athena). Collection: Didier Hanson.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/18. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Caption: 'Das Bad einer vornehmen Römerin - Das kalte Bad (Frigidarium).' (The bath of an elegant Roman lady - The cold bath (frigidarium)'. Collection: Didier Hanson.

 Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 24/16. Photo: Ufa. Publicity still for Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit/Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925). Capture: 'Das Bad einer vornehmen Römerin. Behandlung mit dem Strigilis'. (The bath of a posh Roman lady. Treatment with strigil - a small, curved, metal tool used in ancient Greece and Rome to scrape dirt and sweat from the body before effective soaps became available.) Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.

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