Diary of a Lost Girl (Kino Lorber, NR)

diary of_a_lost_girl_75Melodramas by definition are plot heavy, with many twist and turns and outrageous coincidences, and Diary of a Lost Girl is no different.

 




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Diary of a Lost Girl, a silent film directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, is pure melodrama. I’m not saying that as an insult—many critics, myself included, consider most popular Hollywood movies to be modern variations on the melodrama—but in order to make clear exactly what it is: It’s a moral fable intended to tug on your heartstrings and reveal to you the evil that lurks behind the façade of respectability constructed by “good” people to separate themselves from those considered “bad” and to justify the power they claim to pass judgment over the “bad.”

Those judgments fall disproportionately on women. As Virginia Woolf wrote, “Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword,’’ with one side reserved for “good” women who deserve the protection of policemen and the kind attentions of the clergy, where she “has only to walk demurely from cradle to grave and no one will touch a hair of her head.” On the other side, those who are not considered “good” must face a world where “the paths wind between bogs and precipices; the trees roar and rock and fall in ruin.” The story of Diary of a Lost Girl is how Thymian Henning (Louise Brooks) was born on one side of the shadow of the sword, found herself through no fault of her own on the other, and what she did with the hand dealt her. The film is based on a bestselling, scandalous novel by Margarete Böhme, and was subject to much censorship upon its release, due to its depiction of subjects the bourgeois world of the time preferred not to acknowledge, including rape and prostitution.

Diary of a Lost Girl was shot in 1929, when the decadence of Weimar Germany was at its height. When we first meet Thymian, she’s a middle class girl headed for her confirmation, wearing a white dress with white flowers in her hair. So innocent is this young teenager (in fact Brooks was 22, but that’s cinema for you) that she doesn’t understand why their housekeeper, Elisabeth (Sybille Schmitz, on whose life Rainer Werner Fassbinder partly based his film Veronika Voss) is leaving. When Elizabeth turns up drowned later the same day, it is revealed that she was pregnant by Thymian’s father (Josef Rovensky). When Thymian seeks comfort from her father’s assistant, Meinert (Fritz Rasp), he instead takes advantage of her (Bill Cosby style—she conveniently faints first). The resulting baby is taken away and Thymian is locked up in a dismal home for wayward girls run by a truly creepy couple played by Valeska Gert and Andrews Englemann.

Melodramas by definition are plot heavy, with many twist and turns and outrageous coincidences, and Diary of a Lost Girl is no different. The father remarries and the new wife wants nothing to do with the daughter; a potential suitor proves ineffectual at everything he tries; Thymian escapes from the reformatory and begins working, as they say, in the only way always available to a desperate girl; and on and on. Pabst weaves humorous scenes in among the tear-jerkers—a chase across the bunk beds of the reformatory is something to see, as is a comic turn by Sig Arno as a brothel customer. Above all, the beauty and skill of Brooks shines through.

The film has been remastered in HD from archival 35mm segments, and comes with three extras: an informative audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz, director of the Louise Brooks Society; the short film “Windy Riley Goes Hollywood” starring Brooks (in her first sound film); and a promotional trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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