DIARY OF A LOST GIRL
Review by Ed Nguyen
Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Edith Meinhard, Vera Pawlowa, Joseph Rovensky
Director: G.W. Pabst
Audio: Dolby Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: English intertitles
Video: full-frame, non-anamorphic
Studio: Kino Video
Features: Short Film "Windy Riley Goes Hollywood"
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: November 13, 2001
a little more love, no one on this earth would ever be lost."
Brooks, the 1920's quintessential flapper girl, was a luminous beauty.
However, as an actress, she was only a minor starlet at best.
Indeed, Brooks was known more for her trend-setting hairdo and wild
lifestyle than for any of her Hollywood films.
After the advent of the sound picture, her film roles would become
scarcer and utterly forgettable. The
new era of sound cinema would eventually sweep her aside as it had so many other
silent film personalities.
in 1928, Louise Brooks made a fateful decision that ensured her legacy as one of
the silent era's most glamorous leading ladies. In her typically impulsive manner, she broke with Hollywood,
skipping out on a contract with Paramount to go to Europe to make movies.
While there, she caught the eye of G.W. Pabst, a German director who at
the time was conducting an extensive search for the lead actress in his upcoming
film. Pabst soon became quite
smitten with Brooks' charms and cast her as Lulu for his film, Pandora's
Box. Louise Brooks eventually
starred in two Pabst films, both of which were destined to become masterpieces
of the late silent era. Ironically
then, it was through German cinema, not Hollywood, that Louise Brooks achieved
her greatest triumph as an actress, though this was not immediately apparent.
its release, was utterly scandalous. It
depicted, among other things, the silver screen's first lesbian. Furthermore, the openly challenging sexual themes and
erotically-charged cinematography were truly daring for the times.
The film was considered so immoral that it only played briefly in America
and elsewhere in a heavily censored form. The
second of the films, Diary of a Lost Girl
(1929), related the story of a young girl who falls into prostitution. Not surprisingly, this film fared even worse than Pandora's
Box. Before long, both films were locked away in film vaults and
the 1950's saw a revival of interest in silent films. At film festivals and college campuses where the two Pabst
films were screened, it soon became apparent that these films were not failures
but rather long-overlooked masterpieces. The
breath-taking lyricism of the cinematography, the confidence of Pabst's
direction, and Louise Brooks' beauty in these films all ensured that Brooks'
legacy would never again be forgotten.
BOTH films are now on DVD, with a Kino Video restoration DVD of Diary
of a Lost Girl available for the American public.
It is an astounding and mature film, far superior to most of the early
sound pictures. The film tells a
simple story - the descent of an innocent, young girl into prostitution and her
eventual redemption. Louise Brooks
was well-suited for her role as Thymian, the young girl, and gives arguably her
best screen performance. She was
able to project an aura of gentle charm and sweetness into the role yet
presented a character who was incapable of controlling the sexual allure that
drew men to her. This duality in
her nature, even in the simplest scenes of exposition, denied her character the
happiness she sought, and it was essential in persuading audiences to sympathize
with Thymian and to hope for her possible redemption.
story opens on the day of Thymian's communion.
She is the daughter of an affluent pharmacist who has just discharged his
pregnant housekeeper. When Thymian
learns the news, she is distraught and begs her father to reconsider.
It is to no avail, as he already has plans to hire a new housekeeper,
Meta, that very day. Thymian questions her father's young assistant over the
dismissal, and he promises to show her the reason for it.
That evening, he seduces Thymian. The
story leaps ahead several months, when we learn that Thymian has given birth.
The identity of the birth-father is soon revealed, and after the young
assistant refuses to marry Thymian, a decision is made by Meta during a
community meeting to give away the infant and to send Thymian to a society home
for lost girls.
society home is an unhappy place, domineered by an unusually stern head
mistress. Desperately sad, Thymian
entreats a former family friend, the Count Osdorff, to beseech her father to
allow her back home. The Count, a
dapper but hopelessly useless young man, is easily turned away by Meta, who by
now has firm control over the pharmacist. After
the Count relates this news to Thymian, she determines to steals away from the
society home one evening with the help of another girl, Erika.
Once free, Thymian discovers the fate of her child, and knowing that she
is no longer welcomed at home, she turns to Erika for friendship.
Together they seek shelter at a local establishment, which is revealed to
be a brothel. Thymian, homeless and
penniless, soon resigns herself to her new fate.
film flashes forward several years. At
a large party, Thymian has a chance encounter with her father.
He is now married to Meta, while his young assistant now operates the
pharmacy. The encounter is brief
and silent. Father and daughter
exchange glances, the one angry, the other sad.
In the crush of party-goers, they are parted, having never spoken.
It is a moment of regret and lost chances.
the film flashes forward several years. Thymian
has received a letter from the family lawyer concerning her father's estate.
Here is a possible chance for reconciliation.
Yet Thymian's decision at this pivotal moment is an unexpected one.
It is an equally noble and tragic decision, and it propels the film
towards a bittersweet ending, which I will not reveal here.
of a Lost Girl
succeeds on Louise Brooks' restrained and graceful performance, but credit must
also be given to the director, G.W. Pabst.
He has crafted his film with many simple yet achingly-beautiful scenes.
Thymian's initial appearance at her communion, a simple shot of Thymian
glancing out a window into the rain, Thymian embracing her little sister, her
poignant return to the society home... these and countless other scenes in the
film reveal the great care and attention that Pabst gave to his visual
compositions. The result is an elegant film of such lyricism that it, along
with Pandora's Box, established Pabst
forevermore as one of the masters of silent cinema.
film's restoration utilized source material from many participating European
archives. While the intertitles are
new, the age of the film is evident during viewing. The final composite print for this DVD, though superior to
any prior VHS release, is still speckled with dust, scratches, and minor
indications of film decomposition. Nonetheless,
it is very decent in relation to other silent films available on DVD, and the
transfer is a solid one.
nice bonus is that nine minutes of excised footage, never seen in America, has
been restored to the film. The
restored footage, which is in relatively good condition, appears to be comprised
almost entirely of a brothel sequence in which Louise Brooks gives a dance
lesson. It is quite tame and played
for comic effect, but was apparently censored for some reason.
The sequence is somewhat weak and inconsequential, as it adds nothing to
the film and its comedic tone is at odds with the surrounding sequences.
On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with having extra footage of
Louise Brooks dancing! The
remaining extra footage appears to extend a beach outing near the end of the
film; perhaps the notion of people frolicking along the shores offended some
sensibilities, but again, this footage is quite tame.
In general, nothing in the film or the restored footage would garner more
than a PG rating in today's society (which may be good or bad depending on one's
point of view).
side note: Some shots in the brothel were arranged differently for the DVD
edition than on some previous VHS editions, but in this regard, I consider the
DVD as the authoritative reference.
a word...WOW. An original score has
been composed exclusively for the restoration, and though it is presented only
in Dolby Stereo, it is absolutely beautiful.
Right from the very first bars of music, the score evokes a lush,
melancholy atmosphere. Most silent
films have merely functional and forgettable music. This score will haunt you even after the film has concluded.
The comparison of my old VHS version with its generic score to this DVD
is not even close; the new score is so well matched to the tone of the film,
even employing repeating motifs for various characters or visual themes, that it
elevates an already-acknowledged masterpiece to even greater heights.
only regret is that the score has been recorded using keyboards and electronic
strings and woodwinds rather than actual musical instruments.
The facsimile is quite good, but it is still a shame.
An orchestra may have been exorbitantly expensive, but the score is
worthy of a true orchestral interpretation.
Nevertheless, even in its present form, this is the most moving original
score I have ever heard for a silent film.
sole extra feature is a nifty - one of Louise Brooks' rare talkies!
"Windy Riley Goes Hollywood"
is a 18-minute sound film from 1931 and is presented in an unrestored condition.
It was directed by none other than the former silent film star Roscoe
"Fatty" Arbuckle, under a pseudonym.
Unfortunately, the acting is stilted, the comedy is bad, and the
direction is pretty awful. Furthermore,
the film's sound and picture have not weathered the years well.
Still, it's a thrill to actually hear Louise Brooks' pleasant speaking
voice. Sadly, it is fairly obvious
from this forgettable short film that, having been black-listed after returning
from Germany, Louise Brooks no longer had a viable film career.
After Diary of a Lost Girl, Brooks was never to star in another
feature-length film again.