Devious

I got an email from my New York chum Jaime Christley about GW Pabst’s ABWEGE, streamed from Pordenone, and I liked it so much it put me off writing anything about the film myself, so I’m just publishing it here.

Frame-grabs are by Jaime and also Mark Fuller, who can get them to work even though I can’t, suddenly.

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I forgot I’d already seen ABWEGE but yes, it looked great. One of Pabst’s most haunting images is the junkie at the party – MORE haunting after she’s had her fix than before. Pabst can go toe to toe with anybody in depicting the gilded rot of the continental leisure class of that era, but even with his talent for vivid, packed images, he’s a lot more sly than he lets on. Plenty of “let the audience put 2 and 2 together.”

Maybe too much Gustav Diessl and his furrowed brow? Lang knew well enough in THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE that a little Diessl goes a long way. (Actually, looking at what I’ve seen him in – several Pabsts! – I tend to like him. I don’t know what makes him come across like a paperweight here….. might just be my mood.)

Jaime N. Christley

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DC again. Note: Diessl famously plays Jack the Ripper in PANDORA’S BOX, and Louise Brooks always claimed that Pabst cast him in that role because he was “her type.” Psychological manipulation being Pabst’s metier.

The only other thing I wanted to talk about in this louche and lustrous presentation was the dancing. First we get Lutz and Lola doing their celebrated Intrepid Crouch —

Then there’s Brigitte Helm doing a startling visualisation of what it means to literally melt in a man’s arms. Impossible to represent this in still images but worth trying anyway. Sorry, I don’t know who I’m stealing this frame-grab from:

Wait, yes I do, Donna Hill. Thanks!

Helm’s entire form becomes snakelike, bending seductively in places it shouldn’t be able to bend, like the serpentine woman in THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, then she takes it further and becomes a snake made of butter dancing in an oven. It is something to see.

7 Responses to “Devious”

  1. Thanks for fixing my accursed typos!

  2. I think there was only one!

  3. I was bowled over by the junkie too. Not so much by Helm. She did have these startling physical paroxysms, but otherwise the emotional tone she emitted was a ceaseless, uncommunicative, undifferentiated drone of hatefulness, and not just directed at the husband. I couldn’t figure out why her fungirl friend would want to be around her, or why anyone would.

    But props to that crazy hat! You know the one I mean.

  4. I think the main issue I would take with the film, and it’s a big one, is that there was a really interesting glimpse into a mutually assured destructive relationship, but the strategies that went into telling that story were all a little bit Off. Ultimately I ended up putting the movie in the plus column, but it was more due to an accumulation of details that I enjoyed than an overarching sense of triumph. Take something like DIARY OF A LOST GIRL as contrast – a Pabst special that not only shimmers with freaky energy but has a confident, sober strategy as counterweight.

    As such I can’t bring myself to prosecute Helm for failing to deliver on her remit. I’m projecting this notion that, circa 1927/8, one watches her performance in METROPOLIS – specifically, the naughty Maria, the decadent machine fake, the herky-jerky sex robot out painting the town – and said “We haven’t got 3-D, but…. what if we pushed in on her gyrations and flailing limbs, 3-D-ishly?” That’s kind of a big sunk cost and I don’t think it paid what they expected.

    But 2nd-seat Pabst is still 1st seat almost everybody else!

    Did anyone else think of THE PALM BEACH STORY when or after watching this?

  5. Helms’ almost non-sentient quality — you don’t feel that she’s thinking; she projects a static consciousness — is baffling in the context of this story. But individual scenes and even gestures are arresting. It’s an eyeful.

  6. Now we know what a Pabst “comedy of remarriage” would look like, I guess…

    Pabst’s Queen of Atlantis (or whatever name you know it by) is maybe the ultimate Helm role, and should be better known. Hypnotic stuff. I guess, having been discovered by Lang as a teenager, the style of acting she learned (follow the chalk marks on the floor) really stuck.

    A shame neither version of Alraune is great, or available in a great copy, because she had the “artificial woman” thing nailed.

  7. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Beigite Helm won cinematic immortality for “Metropolis” but she’s in many was more impressive in Marcel L’Herbier’s masterpiece “L’Argent.”

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