Tagebuch einer verlorenen (Diary of a lost girl)

Dir: Georg Wilhelm Pabst. 1929. Starring: Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Edith Meinhard. Silent/Foreign Film.
Tagebuch einer verlorenen (Diary of a lost girl)

Had Tagebuch einer verlorenen come out before Die Büchse der Pandora, it would possibly be regarded as the superior film. The reasons filmschoolies seem to champion the earlier film are usually contextual. It had the first onscreen depiction of lesbians, it was the first collaboration between Pabst and Louise Brooks and it is, unquestionably, an amazing film. If you need further proof, the always safe and predictable Criterion released the first and Kino the latter. Viewed side-by-side, there’s little between the two films and the relatively lower stature of Tagebuch einder verlorenen seems to stem more from underexposure than under-appreciation.

With this film, Pabst presents one of the earliest (possibly the first) example of the Women in Prison film. Although technically not set in prison, the reform school setting is a common variation of the subgenre and allows for the same sorts of exploitation – sadism, lesbianism and repression of an innocent forced to endure cruel conditions. Pabst is, somewhat ironically, often praised for his sympathetic portrayals of the plights of women, but here (as with his earlier work) he seems to revel in the lurid situations he creates. Beginning with Die freudlose Gasse (1925) and continuing with Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (1927) and Büchse der Pandora (1929); Pabst’s heroines are variously unloved, duped, raped, forced into prostitution and murdered. The relentless brutality, at frequent instances, approaches camp in that Teutonic manner where comedy and horror comfortably co-exist.

Pabst is often wrongly described as an expressionist. In fact, his films owe more to the reaction against Expressionism known as Neue Sachlichkeit, (the New Detachment). In opposition to the febrile, ecstatic hysterics of Expressionism, Pabst’s films are cold, restrained and outwardly objective. The subjective enters the picture when practitioners of Neue Sachlichkeit choose their subject matter and unfailingly turn their realism toward the ugliest, most grotesque aspects of life (much like rappers who claim to merely write about what they see, and imply that all they see is misery and violence). All Pabst saw, apparently, was iconic beauties like Greta Garbo, Leni Riefenstal and Louise Brooks being placed in the worst possible circumstances.

The plot of the film focuses on Thymiane Henning (Louise Brooks), a posh girl who’s raped by her father’s assistant and sent off to a draconian reform school after her baby is taken away to be raised by a governess. There she endures the sadosexual rules and lusts of the schoolmaster and her creepy assistant until she escapes with her friend, Erika. After finding out that her baby has died, Thymiane and Erika find work in a brothel where they abandon themselves to the apparently nullifying physicality of the prostitute’s life.

In real life, Louise Brooks lived a life not unlike those of Pabst’s heroines. She was sexually abused as a child, became an alcoholic at fourteen and, as an adult, felt incapable of experiencing what she felt was normal love, instead passing through abusive relationships and flings. She hated Hollywood and was indifferent to her profession. And yet she was a brilliant actress (and witty film critic) who, in both of her non-Hollywood, Pabst-directed films still mesmerizes with her undeniable radiance coupled with Pabst’s Germanic perversity.

Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Sep 8, 2008 4:03pm
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