Thymiane is a beautiful young girl who is not having a storybook life. Her governess, Elizabeth, is thrown out of her home when she is pregnant, only to be later found drown. That same day, her father already has a new governess named Meta. Meinert, downstairs druggist, takes advance of her and gets Thymiane pregnant. When she refuses to marry, her baby is taken from her and she is put into a strict girls reform school. When Count Osdorff is unable to get the family to take her back, he waits for her to escape. She escapes with a friend and the friend goes with the Count while she goes to see her baby. Thymiane finds that her baby is dead, and the Count has put both girls up at a brothel. When her father dies, Thymiane marries the Count and becomes a Countess, but her past and her hatred of Meta will come back to her.
Diary of a Lost Girl
In Diary of a Lost Girl, Brooks stars as Thymian Henning, the teenage daughter of a pharmacy owner who is not the most understanding of men. Selfish and pompous, Henning is the first in a long line of male authority figures who subjugate Thymian and the other female characters, oppressing them in a series of almost Dickensian episodes. When Henning discovers that Thymian's governess is pregnant, he fires her. Alone and discarded, she commits suicide. Young Thymian is seduced by the predatory pharmacist who works for Henning, also resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. The girl refuses to marry the pharmacist, so her father sends her to a strict reform school after the baby is born. Eventually, Thymian and a friend are able to escape the reformatory with the help of Count Osdorff. She exchanges one prison for another when she winds up at a brothel, where she works as a prostitute for several years. A marriage to Count Orsdorff, her rich protector, would seem a way out of an ugly life, but the past and her hatred for her father's new wife haunt Thymian.
Both Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl were examples of street films, which dominated German filmmaking in the mid-1920s. In 1925, Pabst had directed The Joyless Street, his first foray into this genre, which dealt with the plight of ordinary people in the chaos that was contemporary Germany. Street films shared some visual techniques with German Expressionism, especially a focus on mise-en-scene to reflect the darkness of the narrative. However, Expressionist films were subjective and fantastical while street films were topical and grimly realistic. Street films were in the spirit of the New Objectivity (Die Neue Sachlichkeit), a mode of thought that had entered German society and art at this time. New Objective art and theory reflected the cynicism and resignation of Weimar Germany.
Pabst quickly became the master of this new social realism. At its core was a disillusionment in society's institutions and values, which had failed the German people in the tumultuous postwar period. Pabst's films captured how Germany's middle class was adversely affected by the failing economy and political upheaval of the times, including women who turned to prostitution or otherwise degraded themselves to survive financially. Pabst also condemned the middle class for their adherence to a rigid bourgeois respectability, which included hypocritical attitudes toward sex, especially regarding women.
In Diary of a Lost Girl, Thymian comes up against various environments in which social institutions fail her, leading to her moral degradation. In her oppressive bourgeois household, her father/family not only fails to protect her from a rapacious male but punishes her for it. The reformatory is a nightmare of regimented routine and predatory authority figures. The scene in which the girls exercise illustrates the rigidity of this reform school that is more about punishment than rehabilitation. The girls move robotically in exact unison to the beat of a gong that the lesbian matron gleefully bangs in an almost orgasmic ecstasy. The matron strikes the gong faster and faster as the girls struggle to keep up. In comparison to the hypocrisy of her father's house and the sadism of the reformatory, the brothel is a place of sisterly camaraderie and unfettered fun. Here, the motherly madam transforms Thymian from the reform-school girl with the shapeless hair to the sensual beauty with the modern bob and fashionable clothing. In Hollywood films, marriage to a rich nobleman signaled a happy ending, but in Diary of a Lost Girl, Thymian's marriage becomes just another institution that fails to provide her with emotional support and stability.
Brooks claimed that Pabst was the only director in her spotty career to treat her like an artist. He invited her to Germany to star in Pandora's Box after seeing her in Howard Hawks's A Girl in Every Port. Brooks had no love lost for Hollywood, rebelling against the star system and the tight control of the producers. But, her immediate reason for leaving Hollywood to work for Pabst may have been because Paramount studio head B.P. Schulberg was using the threat of talkies to drive down the salaries of silent actors under contract.
Brooks was gifted with a subtle acting style that is evident in many of her films, but Pabst seemed to capitalize on her innate naturalism and luminous presence. Charged with an internal vivaciousness and energy, she nonetheless avoided the affectations found in the performances of many silent film stars. Instead she opted for understated movements and a natural body language. Pabst recognized that she was capable of the subtlest of expressions and that her face achieved a kind of incandescence when properly lit. The director's melodramatic street films hold up in part because Brooks' performances seem so modern.
Neither Pandora's Box nor Diary of a Lost Girl was successful at the box office. Pabst directed one film in Hollywood before returning to his native Austria where he made films under the Nazi-controlled film industry, a choice that tarnished his legacy. Brooks' career declined rapidly after she came back to Hollywood, and she appeared in her last film, a lackluster western titled Overland Stage Raiders in 1938. Decades later, Pandora's Box was recognized by critics and film historians for its visual style, social criticism, and stellar performance by Brooks. However, Diary of a Lost Girl never achieved that level of recognition, partly because it had been brutally censored. Famously edited from the film was a scene in the brothel in which a client cannot fully "perform" unless the beat of a drum accompanies his actions. Recent restorations of some of the film's censored scenes have revealed that Diary of a Lost Girl is a powerful film about the social politics of sexual exploitation.
By Susan Doll
Producer: G.W. Pabst
Director: G.W. Pabst
Screenplay: Rudolf Leonhardt, based on the novel by Margarete Bohme
Cinematography: Fritz Arno Weaver and Sepp Allgeier
Music: Otto Stenzeel
Art Direction: Emil Hasler and Erno Metzner
Cast: Thymian Henning (Louise Brooks), Count Osdorff (Andre Roanne), Robert Henning (Josef Rovensky), Meinert (Fritz Rasp), Aunt Frieda (Vera Pawlowa), Meta (Franziska Kinz), Elder Count Osdorff (Arnold Korff), Director of the Reformatory (Andrews Enelmann), Director's wife (Valeska Gert),Erika (Edith Meinhard), Elisabeth (Sybille Schmitz), Guest (Sig Arno), Dr. Vitalis (Kurt Gerron)
1929 B&W Silent 79 mins.
Diary of a Lost Girl
Released in United States 1929
Released in United States March 1980
Released in United States 1929
Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures From Eastman House) March 4-21, 1980.)