G. W. Pabst
Georg Wilhelm Pabst's greatest contribution to filmmaking is his not being limited by a dominant style. Though his films have been criticized for their lack of stylistic unity, rather than diminishing their impact, that eclectic approach pushed him beyond the aesthetic norm to break away from convention. This experimentation contributed to the evolution of the "Neue Sachlichkeit" (New Objectivity) in German films, a movement which rejected the extremist values of Expressionism for a less intrusive, quasi-documentary style.
Pabst began his academic career in engineering but his interests gravitated to the theater and in 1904, he entered the Vienna Academy of Decorative Arts. He made his directorial debut in New York in 1910 on a tour with a German-language theatrical troupe. Upon his return to Europe in 1914, he was detained as an enemy alien in a French prison camp, where he organized a theater company. After the war, he directed theater in Prague and later in Vienna. The German cinematographer and film pioneer, Carl Froelich, coaxed Pabst into filmmaking, offering him a job as assistant director.
In 1923, Pabst directed his first film, "Der Schatz/The Treasure." His use of "chiaroscuro" and his ability to arrange physical objects in highly expressive (though seemingly objective) ways demonstrated his technical prowess. His next film, "Grafin Donelli/Countess Donelli" (1924) was a commercial success but it was "Die Freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street" (1925) which established Pabst as an important director. "The Joyless Street" is a gritty look at how the residents of Melchoir Street are affected by the postwar ills of corruption, prostitution and inflation. Among the film's accomplishments is its creation of a prototype for the naturalistic "street film" genre. One of the first directors to shoot on location, Pabst developed a photographic style that effectively depicted the stark realities of the streets. And yet the film also demonstrates touches of expressionism as well, stylistics which would intriguingly recur throughout Pabst's career. Among the cast of "The Joyless Street" was a young Greta Garbo; when Hollywood executive Louis B. Mayer saw the film, he recruited her to a contract with MGM.
Always fascinated by the human psyche, Pabst's next film, "Geheimnise Einer Seele/Secrets of a Soul" (1926) dramatized a Freudian case history. The extraordinary dream sequences, which utilized optical distortion and other special effects, both influenced and were influenced by surrealism. "Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney/The Love of Jeanne Ney" (1927), with its undercurrent of modern angst, marked an important advance in Pabst's technique. The editing reveals Pabst's technical adeptness, the rapid cutting on movement occupying the viewer's attention on movement, thus making the cuts "invisible." This method, especially useful with reverse cuts, where a shift of speaker could be implied, foreshadowed the dialogue cutting of sound film and accounts in part for why Pabst's silent films seem surprisingly modern today. One of his most controversial films was "Die Buchse der Pandora/Pandora's Box" (1928). Criticized for its inconsistent style and its fairly blatant sexuality, including a lesbian scene, the film received a hostile reception. Recent critics have praised the film, especially Louise Brooks' performance as Lulu, whose primitive sexuality is heightened by Pabst's careful closeups. Pabst's masterful direction of actors, especially women, inspired provocative, remarkable performances in many of his films.
The coming of sound further enhanced Pabst's artistry. His ingenuity with the new technology is especially evident in "Westfront 1918" (1930), "Kameradschaft/Comradeship" (1931) and his adaptation of the musical drama "Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera" (1931). The first stands as one of the strongest of anti-war statements, the second was seen as a powerful call for solidarity among workers of all nations, and the third film brought the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill stage original vividly to life.
Although he continued to work in film into the 1950s, making movies in France, Austria, Italy and the United States (the interesting if failed "A Modern Hero" 1934), as well his native Germany, Pabst is best known for his early work. He did garner some acclaim later in life with his "Der Prozess/The Trial" (1948), which denounced anti-Semitism and won him a directing prize at the Venice Film Festival. In general, though, Pabst refused to be defined. His constant drive to experiment reflected his restless vision, a vision which has influenced other directors and produced an inspired body of work.
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Directed first film, "Der Schatz/The Treasure", for which he also co-wrote the screenplay
Major breakthrough film, "Die Freudlose Gasse/Joyless Street"
First sound film, "Westfront 1918/Comrades of 1918"
Left Germany; made two films in France before coming to America
Made one film in Hollywood, "A Modern Hero"
Announced that he was going to move permanently to the United States and seek U.S. citizenship
Retired after suffering a minor stroke; last films, "Rosen fur Bettina/Ballerina" and "Durch die Walder durch die Auen"