The white hell of Pitz Palu


 During the production of a film, the director, the cast and the crew are too much occupied with the business on hand to linger over some completed film. The filming of G. W. Pabst’s The diary of a lost girl was an extraordinary exception. Pabst had just finished directing The white hell of Piz Palu; our camera man Sepp Allgeier had photographed it; and its stars, Leni Riefenstahl and Gustav Diessl occasionally visited the Diary set. Immediately they would gather together to talk and laugh about the filming of Piz Palu. Not like professional film-makers, but like children reviewing a dangerous adventure in which they had all behaved with great good will and even greater courage. They laughed about the good-natured Diessl being almost frozen to death while he was photographed through a slab of ice. They could never praise enough the courage of Ernst Udet, the pilot of the aerial shots whose plane was lashed about like a splinter in the wicked mountain air currents. Sepp Allgeier never thought to add that he and his camera were also in the plane.

Sepp was Austrian, blonde, bronzed, handsome and a champion skier – the most unlikely man I ever saw behind a camera. For, in my time, camera men were a grim and critical lot who acted as if they accomplished their task in spite of crazy directors and actors who should be photographed through burlap. Sepp was happy and relaxed, always smoking his pipe, never arguing with Mr. Pabst about setups. In fact he was so relaxed that on one hot July day he came on the set wearing only sneakers and shorts. Mr. Pabst threw a fit. Although Sepp argued that if I could be photographed wearing a bathing suit he ought to be allowed to photograph me in shorts, Mr. Pabst made him go and put on pants and a shirt.

Gustav Diessl, who played Jack the Ripper in Lulu, was the best actor I ever worked with. In Six talks on G. W. Pabst (1956), one of his assistants, Paul Falkenberg disagrees with my opinion and makes Pabst look rather a fool for having used Diessl more than any other actor. (From 1928 till his death in 1948, Diessl worked in seven of Pabst’s nineteen German language films). Falkenberg says “Pabst had a difficult time with Diessl who was rather good-looking, by no means a born or trained actor. He had no acting tecnique”.

Pabst loved Diessl because he did not muddy direction with some private ‘acting tecnique’. Pabst loved Diessl’s ‘rather good-looking’ face for its arresting quiet. It was a portrait face like the faces of those other Pabst favorites, Greta Garbo, Brigitte Helm, Valeska Gert and Fritz Rasp.

Leni Riefenstahl’s face was neither beutiful nor arresting. She had no impact on the screen as a face; and in Piz Palu the movements of her beautiful body were bundled up in bloomers. But when I met her on the set of Diary I found that in real life she had plenty of impact, both of face and body. Her eyes were brilliantly intelligent and she moved about with the dancer’s grace which always bewitched Mr. Pabst. (His next-to-last film, Rosen fuer Bettina [1956] was about a ballerina).

Listening to the anmated conversation between Leni and Pabst, measuring her fine legs, I was violently jealous until I realized that she did not visit the set as an actress looking for a job, but as a future director looking for instruction in her craft. And nobody who has seen Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia can doubt that she was a brilliant pupil.

Louise Brooks, The white hell of Piz Palu, “Toronto Film Society”, February 1968

Index ] Pagina superiore ] Louise Brooks, Actors and the Pabst spirit ] Louise Brooks, Stardom and Evelyn Brent ] Louise Brooks, Funny screen experiences - No no Nanette ] Louise Brooks, Ein wenig Louise Brooks ] Louise Brooks,Marlene ] Louise Brooks, Letter to Andrew Sarris - Checklist nr. 27 ] Louise Brooks, ZaSu Pitts ] [ Louise Brooks, The white hell of Pitz Palu ] Louise Brooks, Mr. Pabst ] Louise Brooks, Why I will never write my memoirs ] Louise Brooks, Buster Keaton ] scrittifundamentals.pdf ] Louise Brooks, Joan Crawford ] Louise Brooks, Charlie Chaplin remembered ]