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How to celebrate 100 years, part 1

November 20th, 2006 (11:03 pm)

And a good time was had by all!

Lulu Forever
© 2006, D. Gordon

My "public" celebration of Louise Brooks' 100th birthday took place at the Walter Reade Theatre, which showed Diary of a Lost Girl; and it definitely started with a bang. I'd gotten there about 40 minutes early, so decided to check on the details of the book signing. The guy in the ticket booth didn't know anything (didn't even know there was going to be a book signing) and directed me inside. The kid in the concession stand started off with "that lady's gone" (wha?), but then told me that "that guy" could help me. I stepped toward a tall older gentleman, who offered his hand and said in a quiet British accent, "Hi - I'm the author, Peter Cowie." The next 10-15 minutes were spent talking with Mr. Cowie and a few other audience members, discussing the book (which is coffee table-ish, and is beautiful - they used a particular process to sharpen the black and white pictures), looking at pictures of Louise and Louise's grave on people's cell phones, talking about the new Criterion release of Pandora's Box, and just generally talking about things that I don't normally get to talk about with others. Once in the theater I ended up sitting with Dominick from Connecticut, a Christopher Walken lookalike relatively new to silents and a Diary virgin. We talked a bit about traveling from out of town, and then the event began. It was a great time to come out and see some Louise.



Okay, but then there's the movie.

It's been years since I've seen Diary of a Lost Girl, and the last time might have been a VHS tape on my little 13" screen. Strangely enough, I didn't remember big patches of the film (I usually remember the general story, if not every particular - but not in this case). This may also be a recent restoration with previously missing parts. Overall, however, this was somewhat like a first viewing.

The print itself, from the Murnau Foundation, was in decent shape as far as print brightness went, with no obvious deterioration spots or darkness around the edges. It did suffer, however, from a fair amount of choppiness, as though enough individual frames had been removed to make characters jerk through some of their movements. That's a hazard of age; but there were other inappropriate places where the focus was off: if Louise walks into a room, she shouldn't suddenly go all blurry - then immediately slip back into focus. There were also a couple of near boo-boos: looking into a car in one scene, for example, you can just see a sliver of the camera and the cameraman's hand moving the crank. There are some wonderful parts - the scene where the reform school custodians are attacked by the girls á la Metropolis-like motions is really, really intriguing - but effects like that are ruined by what looks like careless camera work, something not seen in the earlier Pandora's Box.

In addition, the storyline itself doesn't play out as smoothly as the earlier film . Pandora's Box is a fate-bound play, a tragedy-in-the-making, which rolls inexorably towards its conclusion (and although German audiences would be more familiar with the story, American audiences could have easily followed the full version). Diary of a Lost Girl, however, jerks from plot point to plot point; while the overall story arc may be Thymiane learning how to gain control over her destiny, and taking a beating until she does, lack of control looks to extend to the production as well.

And then there's Louise. Louise is always luminous, a shining presence in both films. Maybe she just outshines the other actors much more in Diary, maybe her luminosity is more relevant to the story of Pandora's Box, but her presence is just - not quite wasted, but not used correctly here.

I was a little surprised at my reaction to the movie. As I said, I've seen it before; I certainly don't remember any specifically negative impressions. I've also heard a number of people state that they prefer this of the two Pabst-Brooks movies. Eh, maybe I just know Pandora's Box better, or maybe there's critical missing footage in Diary - but it just doesn't seem to have the same amount of cohesiveness that Pandora's Box does. Between the two movies, and actually among the three European Brooks movies - Diary of a Lost Girl, Pandora's Box, and Prix de Beauté - I would put Diary at #3.

Not that I'm giving up on the film. I would like to see it again (although I doubt it'll have the smooth accompaniment of Donald Sosin to enjoy a second time) and see if there are some more positives hiding in the weeds. It may have to wait a bit, though.

Comments

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 21st, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

Dear L W,

Thanks for your kind words...I have recordings of various DIARY performances if you're interested. They may not synch exactly with the DVD, but would come close. Let me know if you're interested in it or any other scores. I have PRIX DE BEAUTE, PANDORA as well.

Donald Sosin
dsosin@comcast.net
donaldsosin.com

Posted by: lady_wakasa (lady_wakasa)
Posted at: November 22nd, 2006 05:07 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks!

Well, thanks for the response! I'm tickled pink. %^D

I've heard you a few times now (also was at The Phantom Chariot, and some other performances), and you seem to get close to the "sense" or "feel" of a movie (if that makes sense). I'd love to take you up on the offer, and I'll email you to follow up.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 21st, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

Dear L W,

Thanks for your kind words...I have recordings of various DIARY performances if you're interested. They may not synch exactly with the DVD, but would come close. Let me know if you're interested in it or any other scores. I have PRIX DE BEAUTE, PANDORA as well.

Donald Sosin
dsosin at comcast.net
donaldsosin.com

3 Read Comments