G.W. Pabst - Director

Nationality: Austrian. Born: Georg Wilhelm Pabst in Raudnitz, Bohemia, 27 August 1885. Education: Educated in engineering at technical school, Vienna, and at Academy of Decorative Arts, Vienna, 1904–06. Military Service: Interned as prisoner of war, Brest, 1914–18. Family: Married Gertrude (Pabst), one son. Career: Actor, from 1906; travelled to United States with German language troupe, 1910; returned to Europe, prisoner of war, 1914–18; directed season of expressionist theatre in Prague, 1919; artistic director Neuen Wiener Bühne also joined Carl Froelich's film production company, 1920; directed first film, 1923; formed Volksverband für Filmkunst (Popular Association for Film Art) with Heinrich Mann, Erwin Piscator, and Karl Freund, 1928; studied sound film techniques in London, 1929; moved to Hollywood, 1933, returned to France, 1935; planned to emigrate to United States on outbreak of war, but illness forced him to remain in Austria; formed Pabst-Kiba Filmproduktion in Vienna, 1949; worked in Italy, 1950–53. Awards: Légion d'honneur, 1931; Best Director, Venice Festival, for Der Prozess , 1948. Died: In Vienna, 29 May 1967.

Films as Director:


Der Schatz ( The Treasure ) (+ co-sc)


Gräfin Donelli ( Countess Donelli )


Die freudlose Gasse ( The Joyless Street ); Geheimnesse einer Seele ( Secrets of a Soul )


Man spielt nicht mit der Liebe ( One Does Not Play with Love )


Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney ( The Love of Jeanne Ney )


Abwege ( Begierde ) [Crisis (Desire)]; Die BĂĽchse der Pandora ( Pandora's Box )


Die weisse Hölle vom Pitz-Palu ( The White Hell of Pitz-Palu )(co-d); Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen ( Diary of a Lost Girl ) (+ pr)


Westfront 1918 ; Skandal um Eva ( Scandalous Eva )


Die Dreigroschenoper ( The Threepenny Opera ); Kameradschaft ( Comradeship )


L'Atlantide ( Die Herrin von Atlantis )


Don Quichotte ; Du haut en bas ( High and Low )


A Modern Hero


Mademoiselle Docteur ( Salonique, nid d'espions )


Le Drame de Shanghai


Jeunes Filles en détresse


Komödianten (+ co-sc)


Paracelsus (+ co-sc)


Der Fall Molander (unfinished and believed destroyed)


Der Prozess ( The Trial )


Geheimnisvolle Tiefen (+ pr)


La Voce del silenzio


Cose da pazzi


Das Bekenntnis der Ina Kahr


Der Letzte Akt ( The Last Ten Days ; Ten Days to Die ); Es geschah am 20 Juli ( Jackboot Mutiny )


Rosen fĂĽr Bettina ; Durch die Walder, durch die Auen

Other Films:


Im Banne der Kralle (Frohlich) (role)


By PABST: book—

Classic Film Scripts: Pandora's Box (Lulu) , translated by Christopher Holme, New York, 1971.

By PABST: articles—

"Censor the Censor!," an interview with Beatrix Moore, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1938/39.

"Le Réalisme est un passage," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), October 1948.

"Ăśber zwei meiner Filme," in Filmkunst (Vienna), 1960.

" The Threepenny Opera ," edited by Roger Manvell, in Masterpieces of the German Cinema , New York, 1973.

On PABST: books—

Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler , Princeton, New Jersey, 1947.

Joseph, Rudolph, editor, Der Regisseur: G.W. Pabst , Munich, 1963.

Buache, Freddy, G.W. Pabst , Premier Plan No. 39, Lyons, 1965.

Amengual, Barthélémy, Georg Wilhelm Pabst , Paris, 1966.

Aubry, Yves, and Jacques Pétat, "G.W. Pabst," in Anthologie du Cinéma , vol. 4, Paris, 1968.

Eisner, Lotte, The Haunted Screen , Berkeley, 1969.

Hull, David, Film in the Third Reich , Berkeley, 1969.

Atwell, Lee, G.W. Pabst , Boston, 1977.

Brooks, Louise, Lulu in Hollywood , New York, 1981.

On PABST: articles—

Bryher, "G.W. Pabst: A Survey," in Close Up (London), Decem ber 1927.

Moore, John, "Pabst, Dovjenko: A Comparison," in Close Up (London), September 1932.

Potamkin, Harry, "Pabst and the Social Film," in Hound & Horn (New York), January-March 1933.

G.W. Pabst
G.W. Pabst

Rotha, Paul, "Pabst, Pudovkin, and the Producers," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1933.

Bachmann, Gideon, editor, "Six Talks on G.W. Pabst," in Cinemages (New York), no. 3, 1955.

"Pabst Issue" of Filmkunst (Vienna), no. 18, 1955.

Card, James, "The Intense Isolation of Louise Brooks," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1958.

Stanbrook, Alan, "Brecht et le cinéma," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1960.

Luft, Herbert, "G.W. Pabst," in Films in Review (New York), February 1964.

Brooks, Louise, "Pabst and Lulu ," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1965.

Rotha, Paul, "Thoughts on Pabst," in Films and Filming (London), February 1967.

Eisner, Lotte, "Meeting with Pabst," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1967.

Stuart, John, "Working with Pabst," in Silent Picture (London), Autumn 1970.

" Loulou Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 December 1980.

Petat, J., "Pabst, aujourd'hui?—une réévaluation nécessaire," in Cinéma (Paris), April 1981.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Lulu and the Meter Man," in Screen (London), July/October 1983.

Castoro Cinema (Firenze), special issue, no. 104, 1983.

Horak, J.C., "G.W. Pabst in Hollywood, or Every Modern Hero Deserves a Mother," in Film History (Philadelphia), vol. 1, no. 1, 1987.

Pacewicz, T., "Powrot do tworczosci Georga Wilhelma Pabsta," in Iluzjon , April-June 1991.

Pacewicz, J., " Paracelsus oraz niezrealizowane projekty filmowe G.W. Pabsta w Trzeciej Rzeszy," in Iluzjon , April-June 1992.

Hale, C., "1282 G.W. Pabst," in Film Dope (Nottingham), April 1994.

Koch, G., "Treppensturr ins Exil: du haut en bas," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt/Main), December 1992.

Rauger, J.-F., "Cinémathèque française" un Pabst retrouvé," Cinémathèque (Paris), November 1992.

Landrot, Marine, "Sur la piste de Pabst," Télérama (Paris), 29 June 1994.

* * *

Bryher, writing in Close Up in 1927, noted that "it is the thought and feeling that line gesture that interest Mr. Pabst. And he has what few have, a consciousness of Europe. He sees psychologically and because of this, because in a flash he knows the sub-conscious impulse or hunger that prompted an apparently trivial action, his intense realism becomes, through its truth, poetry."

G.W. Pabst was enmeshed in the happenings of his time, which ultimately engulfed him. He is the chronicler of the churning maelstrom of social dreams and living neuroses, and it is this perception of his time which raises him above many of his contemporary filmmakers.

Like other German directors, Pabst drifted to the cinema through acting and scripting. His first film, Der Schatz , dealt with a search for hidden treasure and the passions it aroused. Expressionist in feeling and design, it echoed the current trend in German films, but in Die freudlose Gasse he brought clinical observation to the tragedy of his hungry postwar Europe. For Pabst the cinema and life grew closer together. In directing the young Greta Garbo and the more experienced Asta Nielsen, Pabst was beginning his gallery of portraits of women, to whom he would add Brigitte Helm, Louise Brooks, and Henny Porten.

Geheimnisse einer Seele carried Pabst's interest in the subconscious further, dealing with a Freudian subject of the dream and using all the potential virtues of the camera to illuminate the problems of his central character, played by Werner Krauss. Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney , based on a melodramatic story by Ilya Ehrenburg, reflected the upheavals and revolutionary ideas of the day. It also incorporated a love story that ranged from the Crimea to Paris. Through his sensitive awareness of character and environment Pabst raised the film to great heights of cinema. His individual style of linking image to create a smoothly flowing pattern induced a rhythm which carried the spectator into the very heart of the matter.

Two Pabst films have a special significance. Die BĂĽchse der Pandora and Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen featured the American actress Louise Brooks, in whom Pabst found an ideal interpreter for his analysis of feminine sensuality.

Between the high spots of Pabst's career there were such films as Grafin Donelli , which brought more credit to its star, Henny Porten, than to Pabst. Man spielt nicht mit der Liebe featured Krauss and Lily Damita in a youth and age romance. Abwege , a more congenial picture that took as its subject a sexually frustrated woman, gave Pabst the opportunity to direct the beautiful and intelligent Brigitte Helm. His collaboration with Dr. Arnold Fanck on Die weisse Hölle vom Pitz-Palu resulted in the best of the mountain films, aided by Leni Riefenstahl and a team of virtuoso cameramen, Angst, Schneeberger, and Allgeier.

The coming of sound was a challenge met by Pabst. Not only did he enlarge the scope of filmmaking techniques, but he extended the range of his social commitments in his choice of subject matter. Hans Casparius, his distinguished stills cameraman and friend, has stressed the wonderful teamwork involved in a Pabst film. There were no divisions of labor; all were totally involved. Westfront 1918, Die Dreigroschenoper , and Kameradschaft were made in this manner when Pabst began to make sound films. Vajda the writer, cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner (who had filmed Jeanne Ney ) and Ernö Metzner, another old colleague, worked out the mise-en-scène with Pabst, assuring the smooth, fluid process of cinema. With Pabst the cinema was still a wonder of movement and penetrating observation. The technical devices used to ensure this have been described by the designer Metzner.

Westfront 1918 was an uncompromising anti-war film which made All Quiet on the Western Front look contrived and artificial. Brecht's Die Dreigroschenoper , modified by Pabst, is still a stinging satire on the pretensions of capitalist society. Kameradschaft , a moving plea for international cooperation, shatters the boundaries that tend to isolate people. All these films were studio-made and technically stupendous, but the heart and human warmth of these features were given by G.W. Pabst.

When Germany was in the grip of growing Nazi domination, Pabst looked elsewhere to escape from that country, of which he had once been so much a part.

L'Atlantide was based on the Pierre Benoit novel of adventure in the Sahara. The former success of Jacques Feyder, Pabst's work featured Brigitte Helm as the mysterious Antinea. Don Quixote with Chaliapin did not fulfil its promise. A Modern Hero , made in Hollywood for Warner Brothers, had little of Pabst in it. On his return to France he handled with some competence Mademoiselle Docteur, Le Drame de Shanghai , and Jeunes Filles en détresse. In 1941 circumstances compelled him to return to his estate in Austria. He was trapped, and if he was to make films, it had to be for the Nazi regime. Komödianten was a story of a troupe of players who succeed in establishing the first National Theatre at Weimar. Its leading player was Pabst's old friend Henny Porten, who gave an excellent performance. The film won an award at the then Fascist-controlled Venice Biennale. Paracelsus , again an historical film, showed Pabst had lost none of his power. For his somewhat reluctant collaboration with the Nazis, Pabst has been savagely attacked, but it is hard to believe that any sympathy could have ever existed from the man who made Kameradschaft for the narrow chauvinists who ruled his country.

After the war Pabst made Der Prozess , dealing with Jewish pogroms in nineteenth-century Hungary. It was a fine film. After some work in Italy he made Der letze Akt , about the last days of Hitler, and Es geschah am 20 Juli , about the generals' plot against Hitler. Both were films of distinction.

Pabst died in Vienna in 1967, having been a chronic invalid for the last ten years of his life. As Jean Renoir said of him in 1963: "He knows how to create a strange world, whose elements are borrowed from daily life. Beyond this precious gift, he knows how, better than anyone else, to direct actors. His characters emerge like his own children, created from fragments of his own heart and mind."

—Liam O'Leary

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