Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pandora's Box (1929) NYFF 2017

The standing ovation that followed the NYFF screening. (Note the first five rows were intentionally left empty because the orchestra blocked the sight lines otherwise it seemed to be a near sellout)

Tuesday night there was a screening of Pabst’s PANDORA'S BOX with Louise Brooks at the New York Film Festival. The classic film was digitally restored using three surviving prints to create the most complete version of the film possible. It was screened with an orchestra performing a newly written score. It was for the most part magical experience.

The film is the story of Lulu a beautiful girl who is the ruin of everyone who comes into her life. She has a series of lovers, the most prominent is a doctor. When the doctor comes to her and announces that he is getting married to someone else things begin to go out of control as Lulu’s life, and the lives around her, go into a death spiral.

Seeing the film for the first time in several decades and  big was a revelation. Details I had missed, the menorah in the background of Lulu’s apartment for example,added shading to the story. The details firmly planted the film in Germany between the wars not only for the social mores but also because no one was making films quite like this other than the German directors. This is melodrama raised to the level of high art.

Watching the film now the film occasionally seems silly. The heavy brooding and silent movie style of presentation brought some knowing chuckles from the audience. Watching the film some 90 years since it was made I was left to wonder if Pabst knew how campy some of this is. This is one of the most extreme femme fatale stories you’ll see and it’s pushed to the point of parody with Lulu’s end at the hands of mad killer. It’s tragic but it’s almost too much.

What I find interesting is how naive Lulu is. She is both aware and not. How could see be so clueless? I’m not sure. She drifts through life seeing but not. Perhaps it has to do with the way she lives her life- as one to which everything is given to her. She just has to be nice to men (and women) and things come her way. She does very little other than react. When she finally does something-turning a trick- it costs her her life. Seeing this twist after the fact makes me want to go see the film again. (Actually I want to see the film again and follow some threads)

The new score is for the most part excellent. While it seems in the opening minutes to be working against the film, it suddenly marries itself to the film and it drove the viewing experience as much as Pabst’s images.

Definitely worth seeing when the film appears either in a theater near you or on home video

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