A 'LOST' ACTRESS FOUND IN 'DIARY'
November 14, 1984
By BILL COSFORD
Herald Movie Critic
Louise Brooks was a sensation once. First she was a Kansas girl, and
then she was a New York chorine, and then a flapper. And then, for a
surprisingly short time, she was an international movie star.
She was also smart, and that may have been the trouble. Brooks had a
couple of Hollywood film roles in the 1920s, including a come-hither
gal in A Girl in Every Port (1928), but she never did get along well
with the moguls.
Eventually, she would write a book about her experiences, Lulu in
Hollywood, and the book would be called "brilliantly perceptive and
articulate" by The New York Times.
But first she would leave Hollywood to go to work for G.W. Pabst, with
Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau one of the first generation of brilliant
German directors. After that, Hollywood refused to have much to do
with her, and she was out of the movies by 1938, at 32.
Brooks wound up in Rochester, N.Y., where she is something of a
recluse, writing occasionally for film journals and otherwise staying
out of sight. But she left behind the two Pabst silents, Pandora's Box
and Diary of a Lost Girl, the films that inspired some of the most
heady praise in the history of the film buff. For instance, critic
Lotte Eisner: "...an actress who moves across the screen causing works
of art to be born by her mere presence." And Henri Langlois, then head
of the French film archive, the Cinematheque: "There is no Garbo, no
Dietrich. There is only Louise Brooks."
Pandora's Box, which played briefly in the United States in 1929, and
which was recently revived locally by the Beaumont Cinema, cast Brooks
as the ultimate vamp, Lulu, who left a litter of ruined men in her
Now Beaumont, in association with Jerry Winters, a Miami- based
producer and distributor who is a consultant to the Miami Film
Festival, is showing Diary of a Lost Girl (Friday through Sunday),
which was made in 1929 but released in the United States only last
year. It's a chance to see one of the most praised "lost" performers
in film history.
Pabst was something of a reformer, and Brooks, with her startling
cross of vulnerability and seductiveness, clearly the vamp; the
collaboration seems odd at first thought. But in Diary of a Lost Girl,
Pabst hammers away at a cruel and hypocritical society by casting
Brooks as the eternal victim.
As Thyamine, Brooks runs the gamut of betrayal: She is seduced at 16
by her father's employee, bears a child and is banished to a home for
wayward girls run by comic-strip fascists. She escapes, only to
stumble into a brothel, where she is immediately re-seduced. She is
penniless, abandoned. Only then, among the lowlife, does she find a
measure of human kindness. And only then does Diary of a Lost Girl,
histrionic as only silent films can be, begin the long struggle back
to a happy ending.
It's a strange little movie, shown here in a print newly struck from
pieces that Winters' company was able to assemble, with a new musical
score. It would be a mere curiosity were it not for the evidence of
Brooks' appeal on the screen.
She was a remarkable screen presence, the kind of beauty who glows
even in the company of a screenful of attractive costars and
well-dressed extras. Her one concession to the hypertheatrics of the
silent performing period is the comic swoon she adopts at her
seducers' first touch; there's something of the sendup in the routine,
as if Brooks were mocking her own appeal.
She proved so intractable with American moguls that they apparently
resorted to the ugliest rumor of the time in order to cripple her
career: Despite all evidence to the contrary, it was said that she had
no voice for talkies. And though she made a number of B-movies, we
will never know what Brooks might have been like in a starring,
Diary of a Lost Girl is thus a fascinating piece of evidence for
speculation on the career that never was. And largely because of
Brooks, it is one of the more painless of silent films to sit through;
one catches oneself making up a voice for the actress, just to help
Diary of a Lost Girl (unrated) ***
CAST With Louise Brooks.
CREDITS Director: G.W. Pabst. Screenwriter: Rudolf Leonhardt. Based on
the story by Margarethe Boehme. A Kino International release in
association with Jerry Winters Inc.
Running time: 90 minutes.
Friday through Sunday only, at Beaumont Cinema on the campus of the
University of Miami. A silent film.
Illustration: photo: Louise Brooks