G. W. Pabst's Westfront 1918 on MoMA's Inside/Out

08/04/2010 02:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When we last encountered G. W. Pabst (1885--1967), he had made the startling Die Buchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box). He then directed two more silent films, another Louise Brooks vehicle, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl) and (collaborating with Dr. Arnold Fanck) the "mountain film" Die Weisse Holle vom Pitz Palu (The White Hell of Pitz Palu), starring Leni Riefenstahl. His first sound film, Westfront 1918 (released in May 1930), was based on Ernst Johannsen's novel Vier von der Infanterie. Unfortunately, both book and film were inundated by the international wave of acclaim for the Remarque novel/Milestone film All Quiet on the Western Front (shown last week in this series). This is too bad, because Pabst's film is arguably better than Milestone's. Both films are revisionist and unbridled in their pacifist propaganda, but as critic Siegfried Kracauer suggested in a 1930 review, Pabst's film goes beyond conventionally slick cinematic exposition to give an almost documentary look at the horrors and claustrophobic tedium of World War I.

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