Kino on Video presents “Prix de Beaute” for the first time on DVD, but the dearth of extras diminishes this 1930 French feature. If ever context and commentary were needed, it is for this Louise Brooks movie, which deftly showcases the Kansas beauty who fascinated 1920s Europe yet was ignored in America because her natural, non-theatrical style was ahead of its time. Still, the pic is worth seeing for its mesmerizing, iconoclastic star and oddly entrancing visual style.
The advent of sound destroyed Brooks’ career (her Midwestern English didn’t work in European films and she was already a pariah in Hollywood), but before her death in 1985, Brooks was rediscovered as one of the great stars. Her reputation rests with three films: the two she made in Germany for G.W. Pabst, “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary of Lost Girl,” and this film, signed by Augusto Genina though actually developed and partly directed by the far more distinguished Pabst.
As in “Pandora’s Box,” Brooks sports her trademark pageboy haircut and plays a character named Lulu, who, this time, does not become a femme fatale.
“Prix de Beaute” concerns an office worker who ascends to stardom after winning a beauty pageant. The first half of the film traces Lulu’s rise and resembles a cinema verite documentary about pre-World War II Paris. The riveting second half (the Pabst section) depicts Lulu’s tragic downfall with haunting expressionist techniques.
Kino does a laudable job with the transfer of elements, yet, regrettably, this DVD is the “talkie” version rushed out after the longer, better silent original had already been shot. Despite the filmmakers’ attempt to sync post-dubbed dialogue to the moving lips of the actors, “Prix de Beaute’s” sound scenes have a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” quality. Moreover, the legendary Edith Piaf “ghosts” for Brooks, and that’s just too much diva to handle during the musical interludes.
The special features consist of a gallery of stills and press book excerpts. If a commentary track was unfeasible, at least it would have been helpful to include the 1984 documentary, “Lulu in Berlin,” in which the elderly Brooks discussed her career.