Pabst, G. W.
G. W. Pabst 1885-1967
(Full name Georg Wilhelm Pabst) Austrian director and screenwriter.
Pabst is known for chronicling in his films the turbulence and neuroses of Europe during and after the two World Wars. His particular interest in exploring the psyches of the women of his time led to his legendary associations with actresses such as Brigitte Helm and Louise Brooks and set him apart from most of his contemporaries in cinema.
Pabst was born in Raudnitz, Bohemia, in 1885. He received his education in engineering at a technical school and at the Academy of Decorative Arts, both in Vienna, from 1904 to 1906. Beginning in 1906, Pabst worked as an actor, traveling to the United States with a German language troupe in 1910. He returned to Europe and entered the military where he was captured and placed in a prisoner-of-war camp from 1914 to 1918. At the end of the war, he moved to Prague, where he directed a season of expressionist theater in 1919. The following year he joined Carl Froelich's film production company. He directed his first film, Der Schatz (The Treasure), in 1923. In 1928 he formed with Heinrich Mann, Erwin Piscator, and Karl Freund the Popular Association for Film Arts. A year later he traveled to London to study sound film techniques, and in 1933 he moved to Hollywood. Pabst returned to France in 1935. He planned to emigrate to the United States with his wife and son at the outbreak of World War II, but illness forced him to remain in Austria. During World War II Pabst was compelled to make films for the Nazi regime, for which he has been harshly criticized. Most commentators agree, however, that Pabst did not sympathize with Nazi ideology, and the tone and subject matter of much of his film canon supports this. After the war, in 1948, he was awarded the Best Director prize at the Venice Festival for Der Prozess (1947; The Trial) and in 1949 he formed Pabst-Kiba Filmproduktion. Pabst worked in Italy from 1950 to 1953. He died in Vienna in 1967.
Pabst's films were deeply informed by both the socio-political events of his lifetime and his personal interest in Freudian psychoanalysis. Like other German directors, Pabst drifted to the cinema through acting and scripting. His first film, The Treasure, explores a search for hidden treasure and the passions it arouses. Expressionist in feeling and design, the film echoed the trend then in vogue in German films, but in Die freudlose Gasse (1925; The Joyless Street) Pabst brought clinical observation to the tragedy of his hungry postwar Europe. In directing the young Greta Garbo and the more experienced Asta Nielsen, Pabst was beginning his gallery of portraits of women, to whom he would add Brigitte Helm, Louise Brooks, and Henny Porten. In Geheimnisse einer Seele (1926; Secrets of a Soul) Pabst explored his interest in the subconscious, dealing with the Freudian subject of the dream and using all the potential virtues of the camera to illuminate the problems of his central character, played by Werner Krauss. Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (1927; The Love of Jeanne Ney), based on a melodramatic story by Ilya Ehrenberg, reflected the upheavals and revolutionary ideas of the day. Two of Pabst's films have a special significance. Die Büchse der Pandora (1928; Pandora's Box) and Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (1929; Diary of a Lost Girl) featured the American actress Louise Brooks, in whom Pabst found an ideal interpreter for his analysis of feminine sensuality. Lesser-known films of Pabst's career include Gräfin Donelli (1924; Countess Donelli), which brought more credit to its star, Henny Porten, than to Pabst; Man spielt nicht mit der Liebe (1926; One Does Not Play with Love) featured Krauss and Lily Damita in a youth-and-age romance; and, Abwege (Begierde) (1928; Crisis [Desire]), a more congenial picture that took as its subject a sexually frustrated woman. Pabst's other noted films include Westfront 1918 (1930), an uncompromising anti-war movie; Die Dreigroschenoper (1931; The Threepenny Opera), an adaptation of the play by Bertolt Brecht, is a satire on the pretensions of capitalist society; Kameradschaft (1931; Comradeship), a moving plea for international cooperation; The Trial, which deals with Jewish pogroms in nineteenth-century Hungary; and Der Letzte Akt (1955; The Last Ten Days), about the last days of Adolph Hitler.
Pabst's films are known to be both technologically advanced and narratively intimate. Pabst achieved this by using film techniques that blended both expressionistic and realistic elements in his films. Critics note the success of these two elements in such films as Joyless Street and Secrets of a Soul. As Jean Renoir said of him in 1963: “He knows how to create a strange world, whose elements are borrowed from daily life. Beyond this precious gift, he knows how, better than anyone else, to direct actors. His characters emerge like his own children, created from fragments of his own heart and mind.” Critic Linda Schulte-Sasse also notes Pabst's uniqueness among the Nazi genius films for “allowing a woman to forge historical progress” in Komödianten (1941). However, critic Eric Rentschler characterizes Pabst's films as “problematic” because they tend to involve vacillation and uncertainty.
Der Schatz [The Treasure] [screenwriter and director] (film) 1923
Gräfin Donelli [Countess Donelli] [director] (film) 1924
Die freudlose Gasse [The Joyless Street] [director] (film) 1925
Geheimnisse einer Seele [Secrets of a Soul] [director] (film) 1926
Man spielt nicht mit der Liebe [One Does Not Play with Love] [director] (film) 1926
Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney [The Love of Jeanne Ney] [director] (film) 1927
Abwege (Begierde) [Crisis (Desire)] [director] (film) 1928
Die Büchse der Pandora [Pandora's Box] [director] (film) 1928
Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen [Diary of a Lost Girl] [producer and director] (film) 1929
Die weisse Hölle vom Pitz-Palu [The White Hell of Pitz-Palu] [director] (film) 1929
Skandal um Eva [Scandalous Eva] [director] (film) 1930
Westfront 1918 [director] (film) 1930
Die Dreigroschenoper [The Threepenny Opera] [director] (film) 1931
Kameradschaft [Comradeship] [director] (film) 1931
L'Atlantide [Die Herrin von Atlantis] [director] (film) 1932
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SOURCE: Elsaesser, Thomas. “Lulu and the Meter Man: Louise Brooks, Pabst, and ‘Pandora's Box’.” Screen 24, no. 4 (July 1983): 4-36.
[In the following essay, Elsaesser explores Weimar culture's response to Pandora's Box and to the American actress Louise Brooks starring in the film.]
For several decades, G. W. Pabst's film, Die Büchse der Pandora/Pandora's Box (1928-29) was practically unavailable, except as one of the very special treasures of Henri Langlois' Cinemathèque in Paris. The star of the film, Louise Brooks, an actress from Wichita, Kansas, was to have one of the most enigmatic careers in film history. After the release of the two films she made with Pabst (the other one is Tagebuch einer Verlorenen/The Diary of a Lost Girl, 1929) she became a Paris cult figure in 1930, but on returning to Hollywood she virtually ceased appearing in films, and literally became a ‘lost one’. Langlois' infatuation with Louise Brooks made him feature a huge blow-up of her face—by then barely recognised by anyone—at the entrance of his 1955 ‘Sixty Years of Cinema’ exhibition:
Those who have seen her can never forget her. She is the modern actress par excellence because, like the statues of antiquity, she is outside of time … She is the intelligence of the cinematographic process, she is...
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SOURCE: Schulte-Sasse, Linda. “A Nazi Herstory: The Paradox of Female ‘Genius’ in Pabst's Neuberin Film Komödianten (1941).” New German Critique 50 (spring 1990): 57-84.
[In the following essay, Schulte-Sasse examines the unique place of Komödianten as a movie featuring a woman in the genre of Nazi “genius” films.]
Ob Männer oder Frauen, ist ganz wurscht: Eingesetzt muß alles werden
—Hitler, March 1945
G. W. Pabst's film biography of Caroline Neuber, Komödianten (1941), follows in most respects the paradigm of the “genius” films that pervaded Nazi cinema in the early forties. These films extol artists like Schiller, Mozart, Andreas Schlüter, or Rembrandt, scientists, inventors, and politicians as rebels combatting an ossified world. Consistent with this master narrative, Komödianten celebrates Caroline Neuber's efforts to free the German theater from the buffoon tradition of Hanswurst and to institutionalize theater as a serious medium. In this film as well the artist reigns supreme as a chosen being who transcends the ordinary, but whose path is one of “suffering.” Neuber, too, is “the way I have to be”; she is a visionary who prevails both against a hostile environment and against inner temptation. Like Herbert Maisch's film Friedrich Schiller (1940), Komödianten aligns itself with a late...
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SOURCE: Elsaesser, Thomas. “Transparent Duplicities: The Threepenny Opera (1931).” In The Films of G. W. Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema, edited by Eric Rentschler, pp. 103-15. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Elsaesser argues in favor of The Threepenny Opera's merits as a great achievement in Weimar cinema despite a lawsuit filed against Pabst by Bertolt Brecht—the author of the opera upon which Pabst's film is based.]
To write about Pabst's The Threepenny Opera (Die 3-Groschen-Oper, 1931) is to venture into a minefield of received opinions. Even if one sidesteps the boobytraps of literary adaptations and refrains from debating the faithfulness of filmed classics, one ends up frying on the barbed wire of Bertolt Brecht's powerfully polemical defense of his intellectual property in The Threepenny Trial (Der Dreigroschenprozess). Finally, Pabst's ambivalent role within the Nazi film industry seems to weigh the arguments in favor of assuming that the filmmaker had necessarily “betrayed” Brecht.1 Any assessment of the film in its own right is therefore likely to be seen as a case of special pleading. But since the film is most often discussed in the context of Brecht,2 I propose to dispose as quickly as possible of the question of the lawsuit and the...
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SOURCE: Friedberg, Anne. “An Unheimlich Maneuver between Psychoanalysis and the Cinema: Secrets of a Soul.” In The Films of G. W. Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema, edited by Eric Rentschler, pp. 41-51. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Friedberg explores the relationship between cinema and psychoanalysis in light of Pabst's experiences making Secrets of a Soul.]
“Mass culture is psychoanalysis in reverse.”
The coincident birthdates of psychoanalysis and the cinema have frequently been celebrated as “no accident.” Freud's theory of the unconscious, his “science” of the psyche (die Seele),1 was, from the start, a theory in search of an apparatus. Yet the cinema, an apparatus which could reproduce and project specular images, was, from its beginnings, an apparatus in search of a theory. Historians who accept metaphors of incipience, birth, parturition, and infancy for the two quite separate “bodies” of psychoanalysis and cinema—one a theoretical “body,” the other an apparatical corpus which only developed its theoretical parasites when well into adolescence—might also want to chart a further history of these figures. As both “bodies” developed, there were moments of mutual attraction, occasions of intercourse and...
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SOURCE: Geisler, Michael. “The Battleground of Modernity: Westfront 1918 (1930).” In The Films of G. W. Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema, edited by Eric Rentschler, pp. 91-102. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Geisler examines the ways in which Pabst's film Westfront 1918 reflects Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic rather than the events of World War I depicted in the film.]
A number of major texts in film history have never been accorded their due because more popular contemporary releases have pre-empted the audience's as well as the critics' attention and interest. Pabst was twice unlucky in this respect. The Joyless Street (1925) had had to compete with D. W. Griffith's 1924 release, Isn't Life Wonderful?, which dealt with inflation-ridden post-World War I Germany. Likewise, when Westfront 1918 premiered on May 23, 1930 at the Berlin Capitol Theater, it was soon superseded by Lewis Milestone's slicker and technically more sophisticated All Quiet on the Western Front (released in Germany in December of 1930). Milestone's film benefited from the spectacular international success of Erich Maria Remarque's novel of 1929,1 whereas Pabst had adapted a relatively obscure narrative by Ernst Johannsen, Vier von der Infanterie.2
Although present-day critics tend to see...
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SOURCE: Rentschler, Eric. “The Problematic Pabst: An Auteur Directed by History.” In The Films of G. W. Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema, edited by Eric Rentschler, pp. 1-23. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Rentschler discusses Pabst as a “problematic” figure in cinema.]
“None of us who knew Pabst well felt that we ever knew him at all. He was all things to all men, and nothing consistently. He would argue any side of the question with apparent complete conviction and sincerity, but to see this happen over and over was to suspect that he had no convictions at all. He worked like a scientist, presenting stimuli to his actors and watching their reactions with a cold-blooded detachment. He never made any comment, never explained himself. I always felt he lived his life completely alone.”
—Louise Brooks, in conversation with Richard Griffith1
“Whereas the greatest artists carry their times, Pabst, as a passive contemporary, is carried by the times. He follows. Expressionism, naturalism, sexualism, Freudianism, internationalism, anti-Nazism, exoticism, Nazism, de-Nazification, mysticism, agnosticism; all of the phases experienced by his nation and his class appear again during his artistic career. This is not to say that he was a man without faith....
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SOURCE: Berman, Russell. “A Solidarity of Repression: Pabst and the Proletariat.” In Cultural Studies of Modern Germany: History, Representation, and Nationhood, pp. 123-33. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Berman contends that Pabst's allegedly left-wing film Kameradschaft is actually ambivalent on the issue of proletarian liberties.]
The lesson of Nolde's vicissitudes in Nazi Germany involves the limits of intentionality: the painter's desire to identify with the fascist state was unable to influence the state's rejection of the painter. A similar disjunction operates in the case of Pabst's Kameradschaft (1931), one of the most explicitly political films of the late Weimar Republic. For the ostensibly leftist celebration of proletarian solidarity betrays, under scrutiny, a much more ambivalent agenda. True, the final sequence of the film seems to demonstrate unambiguously the establishment of the solidarity promised by the title. The last of the German mine workers, who volunteered to rescue their French comrades trapped in an underground disaster, return to the border after the successful conclusion of the operation. The thronging mass that greets them is in a festive mood, explained by a French worker who leaps onto a platform and, framed by the French and German flags, delivers a rousing speech proclaiming proletarian unity, pacifism, and...
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SOURCE: Konigsberg, Ira. “Cinema, Psychoanalysis, and Hermeneutics: G. W. Pabst's Secrets of a Soul.” Michigan Quarterly Review 34, no. 4 (fall 1995): 519-47.
[In the following essay, Konigsberg examines Secrets of the Soul in the context of films that feature psychoanalysts as either saviors or demons.]
In the 1948 film The Snake Pit, a psychiatrist (played by Leo Genn) has a long therapeutic session with a patient (played by Olivia de Havilland) in which he slowly opens up to her two earlier traumas that have resulted in her nervous breakdown and incarceration in a mental institution. A photograph of Sigmund Freud prominently appears on the wall behind them throughout much of the scene. The Snake Pit was Hollywood's fifth highest box-office success for the year and earned an impressive list of Academy Award nominations. Freud and psychoanalysis have on occasion been good box office and have also been treated with a certain amount of reverence in commercial cinema. We should remember that many Hollywood film-makers were under the influence of psychoanalysts at the time, an influence evident in the many films of the 1950s and 1960s that employ psychotherapists, and here I mean both analysts and nonanalysts, as an important and positive element in their plots. One looks back with nostalgia to a time when psychotherapists were not fools like Richard Dreyfuss in What About...
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