PANDORA’S BOX – Review by Diane Carson

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Pandora’s Box warns against succumbing to irresistible desire

In the late 1920s, German director Georg Wilhelm Pabst, known as G.W. Pabst, undertook an adaptation of playwright Frank Wedekind’s well-known Pandora’s Box. Previously presented for theater and film, Pabst worked to reinterpret the material for his 1929 release, not without innumerable problems in casting, shooting, and exhibition. Nevertheless, Pabst’s Pandora’s Box now ranks as a silent film masterpiece.

A 4K restoration expands the original exhibition running time from roughly an hour forty minutes to two and a third hours, heightening the bold representation of female sexuality, including a lesbian lover, all disturbingly controversial in 1929. In addition, as press notes explain, Lulu, the central character, is an unrepentant femme fatale in the play, but in Pabst’s interpretation she comes across as a “sympathetic victim of her libidinal energies, misplaced within the exploitative, hypocritical world of bourgeois morality.” This dual social critique of traditional fare caused Pabst financial difficulties, slowly but eventually solved with, most importantly, respect for his artistic integrity.

None of this would matter if this unorthodox film were less powerful. No worries there. Its immense impact comes from the overwhelming magnetism of Louise Brooks as Lulu, the irresistible woman at the center of events. Her erotic, even lascivious appeal lures her defenseless prey into her orbit, primarily respected newspaperman, Dr. Ludwig Schön. No spoilers, but soon tragedy strikes in lurid events with Lulu on a downward spiral. The apt title, Pandora’s Box, refers to the Greek myth in which Pandora (her name meaning all endowed) opens a forbidden jar (in stories called a box) that Greek gods bequeath to her, thereby releasing multiple evils into the world (gluttony, greed, envy, etc.), with only hope remaining. A morality tale at heart, the film warns about succumbing to desire. Pandora’s Box is now available as a beautiful, 4K restored film.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.