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Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher
Lucienne, typist and gorgeous bathing beauty, decides to enter the 'Miss Europe' pageant sponsored by the French newspaper she works for. She finds her jealous lover Andre violently disapproves of such events and tries to withdraw, but it's too late; she's even then being named Miss France. The night Andre planned to propose to her, she's being whisked off to the Miss Europe finals in Spain, where admirers swarm around her. Win or lose, what will the harvest be? Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I just saw MoMA's restored print of the silent version of Prix de Beaute. FAR better than the sound version, which is badly post-synched, shorter, and poorly paced. Bravo to the crew of restorationists who've given us back this fine film! (Trivia: The contract that Lucienne receives from the movie studio says on its letterhead, "Films, silent and talking" - an indication of how some studios were still hedging their bets in 1929-30.)
Brooks' performance is very much of a piece with her work in the Pabst films, but takes it in some interesting new directions - whereas Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl are about the demimonde, Prix de Beaute is about a humble young woman's introduction to the bright, shiny new world of the media, modern technology, and the fame machine that they created.
The collaboration of Pabst and Rene Clair on the screenplay is every bit as intriguing as it sounds. The first half, centering on Lucienne and her friends at the newspaper (she's a typist, her beau a linotype operator), is the Clair part - showing a fascination with recording equipment, movies, and the way the media manufactures icons. There's a sense optimism and a tremendous vigor to the life of working Paris portrayed here.
The second half is the Pabst part, where everything turns dark as Lucienne's fairy tale as a beauty queen ends and she faces life as a working class housewife. She makes her escape only to have that life catch up with her. The ending is unforgettable, forcing the viewer to consider the ways that illusion and reality become confused in modern life, sometimes tragically. Clear through, the film shows a fine sense of class distinctions - how modern life can break them down and the traps they still set. Aside from Pabst's and Clair's own films, Prix de Beaute calls to mind Dreiser's novels, particularly An American Dream and Sister Carrie. Sunset Boulevard is anticipated as well. Makes one regret all the more American studios' indifference to Brooks - there was so much she could have done with any number of classic American roles.
Brooks' work here is easily as good as her performances in the Pabst films, and Mate's and Nee's cinematography renders her stunning to look at. What a supremely expressive face! Too bad that this would be her last great film - not a full-blown classic, but a real gem.
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