Perhaps one of the most iconic film actresses of the silent era remains
Louise Brooks. She achieved notoriety in the late 1920s in German films
under the direction of G.W. Pabst before fading into obscurity in the 30s.
After a brief return to her Kansas home, Brooks landed in Manhattan where
she worked as an actress in radio soap operas before landing as a salesgirl
at Saks Fifth Avenue. Several love affairs (including three concurrent ones)
allowed her to live in style, but by the mid-50s, she was once again down
on her luck. She was saved in 1955 when Henri Langlois, the director of
the Cinématèque Français famously wrote: "There is no Garbo! There is
no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!" The following year, the actress
moved to Rochester, New York where she lived out her days working on
film preservation at the George Eastman House and penning articles and
books about her life and career. Kenneth Tynan's famous 1979 profile of
Brooks in
The New Yorker reignited interest in her and her films and with
the advent of video and DVD technology, audiences can still be enthralled
by her work.

     Since 2006 marks the centenary of her birth, Kino International
has reissued a restored 35mm print of
PANDORA'S BOX (DIE BÜSCH DER
PANDORA
) to mark the occasion. The film enjoyed a run at NYC's famed
Film Forum where Steve Sterner performed an original live musical score
nightly and at matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. (At all other times,
Sterner's score was played back by a Yamaha Disklavier Mark IV Pro grand
piano.)

      
PANDORA'S BOX was the actress' apotheosis. Her performance
as Wedekind's Lulu was nothing short of astonishing and although it wasn't
appreciated at the time of its initial release, the film has more than
withstood the test of time. Credit for that has go to Pabst's superlative
and atmospheric direction and to Brooks' performance. A mere 21 at the time
of filming, she projects a mix of eroticism and insouciance that defined the
character. Over the course of the film, Lulu goes from being the mistress of
wealthy man (Fritz Kortner) to his wife to the lover of his adult son (Francis
Lederer) to the object of lust of several others (including at least one woman).
Her Lulu is an amoral devotee of pleasure, but one who eschews malice. It's
a fine line to walk but Brooks does it and her performance remains fresh and
exciting after close to 80 years.

      Indeed Pabst's film is one of the masterworks of the silent era. He
painstakingly crafts the world inhabited by the characters with small details
and atmospheric lighting and fluid camera work. The film retains its ability
to shock and its sexual frankness is a marvel not only for its time but in
today's climate as well. While Brooks has received the lion's share of the
acclaim for the movie, actors like Kortner and Lederer as well as Kraft Raschig,
Alice Roberts and Carl Götz should not be overlooked.

     Special kudos should also go to Steve Sterner for his wonderfully
evocative score that perfectly complements the on screen action. This
restored classic is a must-see for aficionados of great movies.


              Rating:                  A
              MPAA Rating:          NONE
              Running time:         110 mins.


                              Viewed at Film Forum
Pandora's Box
Die Büchse der Pandora (1929)
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.