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Pandora's Box

  • Film

Time Out says

It’s hard to say quite how much one of the great, late masterpieces of the silent era, GW Pabst’s extraordinary, erotic and tragic adaptation/conflation of two Wedekind plays, ‘Pandora’s Box’, owes to the electrifying, photogenic and iconic presence of Louise Brooks, the Kansas-born actress who is subject to a month-long season at the NFT this month. It’s an Expressionist-Realist walk with love and death, as the sensual and erotic charge of a Berlin prostitute and Kurfürstendamm revue artist sets herself and all who come in contact with her into a destructive social, emotional and physical spiral, ending with her swooning embrace of Thanatos in the person of a mythical, murderous Jack the Ripper. But it may not have seemed quite so modern, vital and powerful, had Pabst chosen, say, Dietrich, or any of the rumoured 2,000 others who the German director screen-tested for the role of the arch femme-fatale, Lulu.

In the words of German critic Lotte Eisner, Wedekind’s Lulu was endowed with an ‘animal beauty, but lacking all moral sense, and doing evil unconsciously’. Brooks had the animal beauty alright – and a modicum of self-destructiveness, as her biographical writings testify – but it is her qualities of intelligence and sheer vitality as Lulu, not her putative ‘reflective passivity’, that ensures that her performance seems as exciting and fresh, as well as disturbingly enigmatic, transgressive and deeply moving, today as it did in 1928. That does not diminish, however, the importance of Pabst’s artistry: his psychological insights, atmospheric use of chiaroscuro lighting and thrilling mise-en-scène, not to mention his taboo-breaking audacity in flaunting this ‘corn-fed Hollywood flapper’ and exposing the dark appetites and hypocrisies found in the dank, pansexually decadent salons of Weimar Berlin. All offer a perfect context in which Lulu can dazzle and entice, if not – to borrow the line Nic Ray coined in 1949’s ‘Knock on Any Door’ – ‘to live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse’.

If this early epitome of essentially challenging youthful rebellion refuses to, as it were, lie down, it must be said, few of her other performances in this ten-film season can fully match it. Pabst first spotted Brooks’ iconic blue-black Dutch ‘bob’ in Howard Hawk’s enjoyable early buddy movie ‘A Girl in Every Port’, in which Brooks’s cloche-hatted beauty is disappointingly sidelined. She’s cross-dressed and engaging in William Wellman’s adventurous ‘Beggars of Life’ and androgynous in Pabst’s excellent social-melodrama ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’. The season also includes a new print of the last movie in her all-too-short 13-year career, ‘Overland Stage Raiders’, a B-Western made in 1938, with Brooks starring against a young John Wayne.
Written by Wally Hammond

Release Details

  • Rated:PG
  • Release date:Friday 8 December 2006
  • Duration:120 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:GW Pabst
  • Screenwriter:Ladislao Vajda
  • Cast:
    • Louise Brooks
    • Fritz Kortner
    • Franz Lederer
    • Carl Goetz
    • Krafft Raschig
    • Alice Roberts
    • Gustav Diessl
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