Pandora's Box is a silent film that just won't go away.
Largely panned when it debuted in 1929, this German-made film starring Louise Brooks has experienced a decades-long comeback and is now considered one of great films of the silent era. These days, its shown more often than many of the more acclaimed films of its time.
Two screenings of Pandora's Box will take place in the coming days. The film will shown in Toronto, Canada on Sunday, January 26th at the Revue Cinema. And on Monday, January 27th, Pandora's Box will be screened at The Paramount Theater in Seattle.
Directed by G.W. Pabst, Pandora’s Box tells the story of Lulu (played by Brooks), a lovely and somewhat petulant show-girl whose flirtations with members of each sex lead to tragic results. Despite having appeared in 23 other films – some of them quite good, Lulu is the role for which Brooks is best known today.
Others in the 109 minute film include acclaimed German stage star Fritz Kortner, as Dr. Schon, a respected businessman, and Francis Lederer, a dashing young actor who plays Schon's son. Both Schon's fall under Lulu's spell.
Lulu, a iconic character brought into the world by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind, has been described as a femme fatale, but in fact, she is a kind of innocent. As Brooks' biographer Barry Paris put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” . . . And not just men. Lulu’s sexual magnetism knows few bounds, and this once controversial and censored film features what is described as the cinema's first lesbian. The Countess Geschwitz, covertly in love with Lulu, is played by Alice Roberts.
Coiffed in her signature black bob, Brooks inhabited her character thoroughly and effectively. Some say she lived it. The resulting performance in Pandora's Box, called "devastating" by contemporary critics, has become the stuff of legend.
The Toronto screening is part of Silent Sundays series, now in its fifth season; founded by journalist Eric Veillette, the Canadian series is curated by media archivist Alicia Fletcher. In Toronto, Pandora's Box will feature live piano accompaniment by William O’Meara.
The Seattle screening is part of the Seattle Theater Group's series Trader Joe's Silent Movie Mondays. The film is a special pick by the Seattle International Film Festival and their Women in Cinema Festival. In Seattle, Pandora's Box will feature Jim Riggs on the Paramount's Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. A CineClub discussion led by Beth Barrett, SIFF's Director of Programming, follows the screening.
Why these screenings, and why now?
It may be the growing public and media interest in the silent film era in the wake of the acclaim given The Artist and Hugo (the latter contains a shout-out to Brooks). Brooks herself was the subject of a recent best selling novel by Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone. It is in development as a major motion picture.
Or, it may be the actress' own story – the story of her rise and fall and reemergence – not only within the annals of film history but within popular culture and the even larger realm of public awareness. When Barry Paris wrote his outstanding 1989 biography of the actress, he originally titled it Louise Brooks: Her Life, Death and Resurrection. That title suggests something extraordinary, something even mythic.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks' films around the world. In 2010, he edited the “Louise Brooks edition” of The Diary of a Lost Girl - the novel which served as the basis for the other Brooks' film from 1929.