Monday, 4 June 2018

Once more out of the box… Pandora’s Box (1929), new nation-wide cinema release

Even if you’ve seen it countless times, you just have the cheapie DVD or are new to silent film and want to start with something really special – now’s the time to see Pandora’s Box on the big screen.

This is a stunning digital presentation of the Hugh Hefner-sponsored restoration that combined three-different duplicate copies to present something close to a definitive version of a much -censored film. Louise Brooks and GW Pabst’s masterwork should not be taken for granted and is simply one of the most vibrant of the silent era and beyond.

Every time I watch Pandora I see something new and whether it’s the accompaniment, the audience, the observations of Brooks’ commentators, I understand more about what the story is saying: what was meant and what just happens naturally, Brooksily…

“When I acted, I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was doing. I was simply playing myself, which is the hardest thing in the world to do – if you know that it’s hard. I didn’t, so it seemed easy.” 

Undoubtedly Pabst captures the 22-year old’s unique qualities and brings out an honesty as well as a beauty all too real. Whatever motivation he gave, Pabst also edits so well, creating that high-impact opening sequence when Lulu flows powerfully across the screen with avian grace and that shadow-less smile - the very embodiment of Frank Wedekind’s Earth Spirit. She is an experience beyond words and simply has to be seen to be believed.

This new digital version features an orchestral score by the late German composer Peer Raben who scored for Rainer Werner Fassbinder numerous times. I’ve only ever seen the film with live accompaniment, but this score brings its own flavour to the film with symphonic subtleties that take practiced care not to compete with the narrative. It’s a mammoth task to score 139 minutes of film and Raben does a complex job very well capturing the mysterious spirit of a film that is always more than the sum of its parts and, with some lush, regretful lines, still leaving the space for the drama to breathe.

Which is the way to go… you can’t put Brooksie in a corner and everything about this film is about the projection of her meaning. On every level.

Pandora’s Box is showing at BFI Southbank, Filmhouse Edinburgh, QFT Belfast and selected cinemas UK-wide through June and into the summer.

It’s a great chance for those outside the usual silent film hotspots to watch cinematic herstory and an alternative to this overblown summer of superheroes and sci-fi: if anyone can take down Thanos, Darth Maul and all those CGI supervillains it’s Lulu! Louise Brooks was a special effect all of her own…

There are also three screenings with live accompaniment at the BFI:  Monday 4 June 18:00 NFT1 (by Cyrus Gabrysch), Friday 8 June 17:50 NFT2 (Costas Fotopoulos) and Thursday 14 June 17:50 NFT1 (Stephen Horne)

Please don’t miss this rare opportunity to see one of the great silent films on national release.

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