Friday, 27 May 2011

"...there is only Louise Brooks..." Pandora's Box (1929)

Sometime back there was a bit of a to-do concerning the possible sighting of a woman using a mobile phone at the premier of Chaplin's "The Circus" in 1928. The supposed time-traveller was witnessed on the extras for the DVD of the film and looked fairly convincing as a modern mobile user somehow transported back to the '20s and seemingly chatting away in that incessant manner we're all compelled to do.

It looked striking: the shock of the old. A perfect anachronism that connected you very strongly with the everyday past.

I feel the same way about Louise Brooks.

Last night I went to watch "Pandora's Box" at London's Prince Charles Cinema. The film was ably accompanied in sure-footed (handed?) fashion by John Sweeney and is part of the venue's laudable monthly silent film programme.
This is the film that really kick-started my interest in silents by providing the perfect shock that is Louise Brooks.

So much has been written about "Pandora's Box", about Mr Pabst and especially about Brooks. But just what was it that makes it so appealing and so able to break the complacent, soundless binding of 20's film in order to establish a connection with modern audiences?

It's Louise, it always has been. She's terrific, fully believable as a Pandora able to bend the will of men and women alike through sheer allure. But it's not just beauty. Brooksie can act and how. She's contemporary and timeless. She's now.
Oh. I'm getting carried away. But you have to try work it out. Her style and image have persisted on their own. For many years she was just a postcard to me and a signifier of shared aesthetic with my wife.

Then I saw Lulu and finally realised how amazing she was. Then I watched "Prix de Beauty", "The Show off", "Love 'em and Leave 'em", "A Girl in Every Port"..."Beggars". Then I read Barry Paris, "Lulu in Hollywood" and "Dear Stinkpot".

So, it's always a pleasure. She was a star whose greatness matured over the decades and she had an integrity and rare intelligence, deserved of so much respect.
She berated Kevin Brownlow for leaving Clara Bow out of the Parade and was similarly generous and cantankerous in equal measure to other contemporaries. She was uncompromising and unmatched.
"Pandora's Box" was transfixing again and all the more so on the big screen. Pabst built the film around Louise and there are some shots that burn themselves into the memory and stay there...Lulu's look of mean triumph when discovered with Dr Schon by his fiance, her energy and joy in the opening scenes, her quick changes of manipulative energy in persuading the Doctor, the Countess...anyone, to do just as she wants them to.

Then there's the close, when she literally lures Jack the Ripper to her death...

This film deserves its place in the pantheon but it's probably more important for showing us Louise Brooks. And preserving her for the generations.

In this case, we're the time travellers. Do we go to her or does she come to us? C'mon, it's Brooksie, I think you know the answer to that one.

The full Criterion edition is available here and it's to be hoped the latest clean up is available soon. Blu Ray with all the trimmings please.

For all things Brooks check out the excellent Louise Brooks' Society site. and the societies' blog is here.


  1. I have always been fascinated with Louise, more as a style icon to be honest, but think I definitely need to see Pandora's Box!

  2. Ah, Frau Louise!... This Herr Graf spent many a late Weimar night with such lovely fraulein!...

    Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien

  3. Pandora's Box is one of the best movies I've ever seen, period. Brooksie is a revelation. I'm a little jealous that you've gotten to read "Dear Stinkpot" ;) Still have to get a hold of that one!

  4. Dear Stinkpot is well worth waiting for - it stillpops up in the usual places. A lovely insight into Brooksie as a person from a good writer and friend!

    It available on Kindle now from - first Chapter free on the site!

    She was so extraordinary it took decades for the World to catch up!