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Kino on Video presents
"Here we have the seamy side of the big city."
DVD ReviewLouise Brooks, though she made relatively few films, was still a notable player in silent pictures. With her bobbed hair and spirited performances—especially in two roles for G.W. Pabst in Germany—she, along with Clara Bow, was one of the great jazz-age idols. Even after she retired from films, she wrote thoughtfully about pictures and thus is important to the history of cinema in several respects.
This slightly melodramatic social drama begins on the confirmation day of young Thymian Henning (Brooks). Given a diary by her aunt Frieda (Vera Pawlowa), she is lured to the apothecary shop of her father (Joseph Rovensky) by his assistant, Meinert (Fritz Rasp). There, he rapes her and she becomes pregnant. The family determines that in order to save their honor the child must be given up and Thymian sent to reform school. There, she is cruelly mistreated and escapes, only to take to a carefree life "giving dancing lessons" in a brothel.
Although there are a few somewhat mawkish and sentimental moments, the film still packs a punch as a social drama. The reform school is like Dickens imagined by Fritz Lang in its extreme authoritarianism; the girls are even forced to lift their soup spoons to their mouths in strict unison. The cueball-headed director of the school and the matron (Valeska Gert) are brutally sadistic; when their cruelty reaches fever pitch they become absolutely ecstatic.
The acting by and large is good, with the exception of one laughably stereotypical melodramatic movement by Brooks of the hand to the mouth, elbow up. She is otherwise quite understated in her performance, with much being said by simple use of her eyes. The nonverbal exchange between Thymian, cast out of her own house, and the triumphant sluttish housekeeper who now rules the roost, is striking and priceless. The moment of confrontation between father and daughter at the dance hall is similarly moving, a sensation that is heightened by the fact that it is Meinert who once again separates the two.
This print restores nine minutes of footage never seen previously in the US. While this is certainly welcome, other bits seem to be missing. Aunt Frieda is never properly introduced, and there is a segment featuring several smoking gangsterlike men about fifteen minutes in that seems to have no visible relationship to the rest of the picture. The film also cuts off a few seconds before the concluding music ends, giving the end a very abrupt feel. Why couldn't Kino have allowed the music to play out over a black screen?
Intertitles are newly translated to English; in a few instances the diary is shown in its original German with burnt-in English subtitles; in others, it is replaced entirely by inserts in English, apparently a result of using several different source prints.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The source print is not at all in good shape. Heavy speckles and scratches run throughout the entire film, and there are segments damaged by nitrate decomposition. However, Kino seems to have made the most of what they have here; the transfer is good, with plenty of detail and a fine palette of greys. The picture is not tinted. It's quite sad if this is the best extant print of this film. There are also some moments that display severe combing. Even after making the usual allowances for age, this source material is seriously faulty.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The score by Joseph Turrin is apropos and fits the scene without being Mickeymousy. Although it seems to be played on a synthesizer, the sound is actually pretty good, except when brass instruments are called upon to be reproduced. The other orchestral sounds are quite good indeed. Active use is made of the surrounds. No hiss or noise is audible.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:26s
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsA moving German social drama, sadly not in the best of condition, but a must-have addition to any silent film collection. Certainly one of the highlights of 1920s cinema, it is wonderful to have a print with an additional nine minutes restored. The bonus short is a splendid extra. Now, where is Pandora's Box?
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