Louise Brooks at the New Mission

I confess. I was wrong. I gave G.W. Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl a B+ in this week’s newsletter. I should have given it an A. Pabst’s second film starring Louise Brooks is a better film than I had recalled.

Or maybe the movie seemed better because the music was better. That can happen with a silent movie.

Saturday night, my wife and I attended a screening of Lost Girl at the New Mission‘s huge and beautiful Theater 1. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival hosted this presentation, part of the New Mission at 100 celebration. The Musical Art Quintet provided the live accompaniment.

Made in 1929 Germany, Diary of a Lost Girl portrays a society driven by sexual hypocrisy. Men use attractive women, worship them, then toss them to the curb. And only the women are punished for what the men do to them.

Brooks’ character is raped by one of his father’s employees and becomes pregnant. When she refuses to marry her rapist (who keeps his job), she’s sent to an exceptionally cruel reformatory. She escapes, and finds a home and a family of sorts in a bordello. She is, in every reasonable sense of the word, a good person. As the story moves into its final act, she must decide between respectability and what she knows is right.

The Musical Art Quintet provided musical accompaniment with a new score composed by bass player Sascha Jacobsen. Combining classical music and jazz, it carried the emotions and enhanced the occasional humor. My wife, Madeline Prager, who plays and teaches viola professionally, put it better than I could:

“The band nailed it. Interesting too, in that most silent film scores for ensembles utilize winds and large percussion instrumentation. This score, for string quintet, was versatile and so hauntingly effective.”

The New Mission projected Diary of a Lost Girl digitally, from a recent 2K restoration that, for my eyes, could have used a little more restoration.

Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society had a table set up in the lobby, selling copies of the Margarete Böhme novel on which the film was based. He also sold Diary of a Lost Girl DVDs and Blu-rays containing his own audio commentary. We talked a bit about the art of recording these commentaries (he plans them out carefully), and he told me that Beggars of Life will be coming out next year.

All in all, it was a great way to end an otherwise horrible, election-centered week.

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