German 43: Exiles and Émigrés

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Photo of G.W. PabstPabst, G. W.

(Raudnitz, Austria 1885–Vienna 1967)

Director. Film history's ultimate nowhere man, as Eric Rentschler called him, G. W. Pabst has had a most confounding and confusing career. A celebrated left-wing auteur in Weimar cinema for his psycho-sexual realism, his early masterpieces include the melodramatic street films The Joyless Street (1925) with Greta Garbo and Pandora's Box (1929), starring Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner and Franz Lederer; the mountain film The White Hell of Piz Palü (1929); the anti-war film Westfront 1918 (1930); and The Threepenny Opera (1931) after Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill. In French exile he made the low-budget Don Quixote and De haut en bas (both 1933). His only US film is Modern Hero (1934), the story of a social climber, for Warner Bros. Pabst found the three-year sojourn in Hollywood a profoundly disappointing experience and in 1936 he returned to France. During that time he resolutely turned down all work offers in Germany. Having already booked passage for his family and himself on the "Normandy" for New York, he was detained when suffering a hernia while visiting in Austria when the war broke out. Having thus literally missed the boat, Pabst stayed in Nazi Germany—a turn of event which became for many film historians and critics the sign of opportunism, and Pabst would never regain the respect and renown he had previously enjoyed. Avoiding Berlin, he worked for Bavaria in Munich and directed Komödianten (1941) and Paracelsus (1943). His postwar career in Austria and West Germany was prolific yet without critical success.

GERMAN 43: Exiles and Émigrés
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