Sunday, 5 November 2017

Capital Celluloid 2017 - Day 320: Sun Nov 19

Pandora's Box (Pabst, 1928): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 3pm


BFI introduction to this 35mm screening:
Pandora’s Box is a film ‘that bears repeated viewing and obsessive scrutiny’ (Bryony Dixon, ‘100 Silent Films’). Here is a good moment to re-view Pabst’s classic tale of the ammoral Lulu – played beautifully, in every sense, by Louise Brooks – on the occasion of Pamela Hutchinson’s new BFI Classic which challenges assumptions made about the film and its star by previous generations. Introduced by the author.

Time Out review:
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. 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’.

Wally Hammond

Here (and above) is the trailer. 

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