Prix de Beaute: Silent Film Festival Opening Night

This year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival opened at the Castro Thursday night with Louise Brooks' last starring role, Prix de Beaute (The Price of Beauty). I wouldn't put this French feature quite in the same category as Pandora's Box, but I liked it very much.

Brooks plays a working girl who enters and wins a beauty contest, becoming first Miss France and then Miss Europe. Her fiancé doesn't approve. In fact, he believes that beauty contests should be outlawed. She leaves her celebrity behind to marry him–a formula for a very sad marriage.

Historians argue over whether Louise Brooks was a great actress or merely a great beauty. Prix de Beaute should settle the controversy. She was both. You have absolutely no trouble believing that she's the most beautiful woman in Europe, or that she's a deeply conflicted soul, in love with an overly jealous, overbearing man that she's growing to hate.

Stephen Horne provided his usual excellent accompaniment. I wasn't seated where I could watch him, so I can't say what instruments he played beyond the piano. I think I heard an accordion, something like a guitar, and maybe a flute.

Prix de Beaute was made as a sound film (someone else dubbed Brooks' lines), but the Festival screened the silent version made for theaters not yet wired for sound. At the very end, Horne stopped playing and the original soundtrack came up. I can't tell you why without spoiling the ending, but it was dramatically the right thing to do.

Although this was a new restoration played off a DCP, this French film was shown with Italian intertitles. The theater projected yellow subtitle translations.

All in all, a very good presentation of a very good film. I'm looking forward to three more days of silent movies.