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October 13, 2015

Diary of a Lost Girl


Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen
G.W. Pabst - 1929
Kino Classics BD Region A

Two of the greatest close-ups are here. The first comes a bit after fifteen minutes, when a smarmy pharmacist, the family business partner, sets himself up to seduce teenage Thymian. Louise Brooks' face is seen in profile against Fritz Rasp. Light reflects off of Brooks' lower lip. The second close-up is more conventional, but still effective, of Thymian looking out a window while it's raining. She's gazing out at her step-mother, and the step-mother's two young children, suddenly reduced from a cozy middle class life to immediate penury following the death of her husband, Thymian's father. Stills barely convey the power of these images. And as wonderful as they appear in blu-ray on a good sized television, I can only imagine the impact made when seen as nitrate film projected on a large movie screen.

Louise Brooks was about eight years older than the character she portrays, a girl whose day of confirmation is follow by a downward spiral of unwed motherhood, internment in a reformatory, and star attraction at an brothel servicing wealthy men. After the first few minutes, it doesn't even matter that Brooks doesn't pass for someone thirteen or fourteen years old. Mostly, it's about the face as it expresses curiosity, skepticism, and trust.

The blu-ray is from the reconstruction supervised by the F. W. Murnau Foundation. Censored almost immediately upon release, what we see is a composite version with scenes and shots from several archives. This may not be exactly the film Pabst intended, but it's as close as we have for now. The piano score uses a couple of classic themes, but is otherwise unremarkable. Commentary by Thomas Gladysz, director of the Louise Brooks Society, is informative, pointing out the identity of the actors with some biographical information, discussion of the source novel by Margarethe Bohme, as well as covering some of Pabst' career and the critical reception of Diary.

There is more than Brooks. This is a film where the value of a person is measured monetarily, with close-ups of hands exchanging or grasping money. While not a horror movie, two of the male characters are presented as monstrous - such as the pharmacist Meinert, played by the previously mentioned Fritz Rasp, is seen glancing at his collection of pornographic photos, there is something feral in his smile, with hands that constantly need to possess a person or an object of value. Even creepier is Andrews Engelmann as the enforcer at the reformatory, tall, bald, ready to clutch one of the girls by the back of her neck or poke her in the shoulder lest she forget her place. There is also the grandmotherly madame of the brothel, the client with the goat-like beard, and even a toddler who pointedly resembles a pint sized Louise Brooks.

The blu-ray comes with the short, Windy Riley Goes Hollywood. Produced by a poverty row outfit in 1931, with Brooks getting second billing to forgotten comic actor Jack Shutta, it's one of the last films Brooks made before calling it quits a few years later. The direction is credited to William Goodrich, the pseudonym for another silent era castoff, Fatty Arbuckle. Brooks expresses the experience of making this film best: He made no attempt to direct this picture at all. He just sat silently all through the three days of filming in his director's chair like a dead man. He had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career. But it was such an amazing thing for me to come in to make this broken down picture, and to find my director 'William Goodrich' was in fact the great Roscoe Arbuckle.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 13, 2015 04:33 AM