Circle Cinema screened this classic silent film as part of their Silent Saturday series.
Every second Saturday of the month, local independent theater Circle Cinema shows a classic silent film accompanied by live organ music. The organ is an authentic 1928 fully acoustic organ originally used when Circle Cinema showed silent films.
This month, Circle Cinema showed G.W. Pabst’s 1929 drama “Diary of a Lost Girl,” an adaptation of the 1905 novel of the same name by Margarete Böhme. Louise Brooks plays Thymian, a young girl who runs away from her family after being taken advantage of by her father’s assistant. She is tossed between a home for troubled girls and a brothel without anyone to care for her. Eventually, she is able to escape the cycle and rescue one of her friends from a similar fate.
The historical importance of this film is quite notable, particularly because of Brooks’s character. The actress became an international star after the release of this film and “Pandora’s Box,” another film directed by Pabst. She came to symbolize the Flappers of the 1920s with her bob haircut and liberated ideas about women’s roles. Many critics of the time took issue with the film and its depiction of such a character like Brooks’s for the same reasons many Flappers were looked down upon.
Tragically, Brooks’s life seemed to somewhat imitate the plight of Thymian in the film. Both are victims of sexual assault. After her film career had ended, Brooks was a prostitute for a period of time. Of course, Brooks’s personal experiences may have helped guide her acting in the film, contributing to the authenticity of her acting. Thankfully, before her death, her films came to be greatly admired by cinema aficionados across the globe.
“Diary of a Lost Girl” was heavily censored upon its original release due to its overtly sexual content. It was even taken out of theaters for a time in Germany, where the film was made, so it could be censored before re-release. The film was also censored for its American release, but the censored cuts would vary depending on which city it was showing in.
Eventually the MPAA adopted the Hays Code for films, which created a more regulated and centralized logic toward what would and what wouldn’t be allowed in pictures shown in America. Ironically, as Bill Rowland, Circle Cinema’s organist, pointed out, the film would probably only receive a PG rating if it was released today. Luckily, Circle Cinema was able to show the full, uncensored cut. It just goes to show how much the public’s sensibilities have changed over time.
The film still mostly holds up to a modern viewing, though some peculiarities of silent films do get in the way of enjoying it. Of course, Brooks’s performance more than compensates for these problems. She was perfectly casted for the role of an overwhelmed yet strong young woman. You really find yourself rooting for her through all of her journey in the film. Of course, Thymian’s struggle is still strikingly relevant today. Even almost a century later, Thymian embodies a female identity crisis decades before Anna Karina (“Vivre Sa Vie”) or Barbara Loden (“Wanda”).
Next month’s silent film will be “The Great K&A Train Robbery,” a classic western starring Tom Mix. The show is on March 14 and the tickets will be free!