Sunday, June 20, 2021

G. W. Pabst gripes about censorship of his two Louise Brooks films

While looking through Parisian newspapers while working on Around the World with Louise Brooks (my forthcoming two volume transnational look at Brooks' career), I came across a couple of noteworthy interviews with director G. W. Pabst. In one of them (the second piece, shown below), he complained about French censorship of his films, including the two films he made with Louise Brooks. 

The occasion for Pabst's complaint was his visit to Paris in January 1931, which prompted a few Parisian newspapers to profile and interview the Austrian-born director.  The article pictured to the right was published in Comœdia on January 30, 1931.

Why were French journalists interested in Pabst? At this point in his career, there were few directors as esteemed by French critics than Pabst. His silent and early sound films were highly regarded, especially Joyless Street (1925), The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927), Loulou / Pandora's Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), and Westfront 1918 (1930). Despite the high regard in which they were held, French censors still excised so much of Pabst's two Brooks' films that it annoyed both the director and French critics, who complained time and again about the sorry state of each film. (I have run across a number of articles about the two Brooks' films in which newspaper and magazine writers said they were aware each film had been cut.)

In France, Pandora's Box went under the titles Le Boite de Pandore, or Loulou, while The Diary of a Lost Girl went under the title Le Journal d'une Fille perdue and Trois pages d’un journal. The latter was a huge success, showing continuously for more than a month after debuting in Paris. (This was at a time when most films showed for only a week.)

I won't translate the entire article pictured left; it appeared in Le Quotidien on February 6, 1931 and takes the form of a profile, within which are interspersed Pabst's answers to various questions asked by "L.D.", the author of the piece.

The article begins by stating that everyone was pleased that the acclaimed director was in Paris, where he was considering taking on the direction of a French film.

The second to last paragraph is of special interest. In translation, it reads: "I have never been lucky in France with my films. None escaped the censor's chisel. Two of my films: The Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora's Box (Loulou) have been altered in their fundamental meaning. Even in Germany I was not immune from such severity; thus The Diary of a Lost Girl was cut by nearly three hundred meters, all in small pieces. But at least the meaning of the film remained the same."

The article concludes, "There is no bitterness in Pabst's voice. He is no longer fixed on the past. He stretches his strength and his heart towards the next work which will be a great humane film. Ten minutes later he jumps on the train which brings him back to Berlin."

To me, Pabst's comments are revealing. It had been well more than a year that both of his Brooks's had shown in Paris, and even longer since their German debut. Yet, they were still on his mind, or on the mind of French journalists.

Does anyone know if French censorship records still exist, or or accessible?



1 comment:

  1. OK, I'm replying late, but Pamela Hutchinson's excellent monograph on Pandora's Box tells us that the French censor, worried by a father and son being in love or lust with the same woman, ammended the titles to make the son into a secretary. In Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen she quotes the screenwriter of Diary of a Lost Girl who observes that this change made father Schon's affection towards his son read in a much different way, something the censor apparently failed to observe...


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