Austrian film director George Wilhelm Pabst (1885-1967) had a talent for developing the acting talent of others, and for featuring the plight of women, and this was showcased in his early and most famous films, including the two silent ones he made in 1929 with the stylish and strikingly beautiful American actress Louise Brooks, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl.
With the advent of sound Pabst turned his attention to making two highly-rated anti-war films. Westfront 1918 (1930) followed a group of four German infantrymen as they experienced the horrors of the WW1 trenches and the ultimate futility of the war their politicians were forcing them to fight. Audiences in 1930 were only just learning what the front line was really like, 12 years after the event, and Pabst’s film, using low tracking shots wide over the no-man’s land put them in the middle of the slaughter to be shocked and involved enough to endorse Pabst’s plea for universal brotherhood.
In similar vein, though with a different subject, is Kameradschaft (Comradeship) made in 1931 and featuring the horrific Courrieres mine disaster of 1906, this set by Pabst in the 1930’s, after the end of WW1.. The mine complex was situated one mile east of Lens in the Pas de Calais, Northern France, and early on the morning of March 10 1906 an underground fire and a series of explosions, thought to have been caused by ignited coal dust, buried 1,200 miners alive, killing 1,099 and injuring hundreds more. Rescue attempts started immediately but were hampered by the lack of trained French rescuers, so the central theme of Kameradschaft was the fact that rescue teams arrived from Germany to help. their fellow miners in what was and has always been Europe’s worst mine disaster.
The two films featured the work of master cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner and are being released as a set later this month by Eureka Entertainment in a Dual Format Blu-Ray and DVD edition as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The first 2,000 copies will be presented with Limited Edition O-card packaging and there is a 44-page booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, Pabst – A Flawed Genius. This points out that Kameradschaft was Pabst’s last good film before he started making mediocre nationalistic films for the Nazis that torpedoed his ideals of universal brotherhood.