Thursday, March 01, 2007

DVD round-up 3: PANDORA'S BOX

PANDORA'S BOX is G.W.Pabst's cinematic interpretation of the Wedekind plays that also became the base of Berg's opera Lulu. (Irrelevant side-note: my favourite opera.) In this black and white film, iconic star Louise Brooks plays the tragic Lulu - a woman with a magnetic hold over men. The tragedy is that Lulu's free-willed and unabashed erotic nature cannot be allowed to exist in the society of the time. When we meet her, she is having an affair with a bourgeois man who dumps his respectable fiance for Lulu only when found in a compromising position. Meanwhile, she is attracting the attentions of an aristo lesbian and the husband's son. Although sexually liberated, the genius of Brooks' performance is that Lulu can also seem innocent because she is by far the most emotionally honest (and perhaps guile-less) character in the film. To that end, I find reviewers who see Lulu as the embodiment of evil - pace the title of the film - as somewhat missing the point. Besides which, the Box in question contained all possibilities - good as well as bad. And that is what Lulu represents for me - the possibility of sexual freedom and choice in an age when that was seen as threatening. It is no surprise that she is eventually put on trial and ends up in a confrontation with Jack the Ripper. But surely we're not meant to see this as a punishment? The film stands up to time very well. The modernity of Lulu - from her short bobbed hair, to the way she is open about her sexual desires - is astounding. And the way in which Louise Brooks acts in close-up is a masterclass. This newly restored print is yet another reason to be thankful for the British Film Institute.

PANDORA'S BOX was originally released in 1929. It was re-released in the UK in December 2006 and is now available on Criterion Collection DVD.

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