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Pandora’s Box

Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst

Germany, 1929

Music by Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Gudnadóttir

RNCM Concert Hall, 2 November 2012

Pandora's Box

As film-going experiences go, this one ranks as being very, very special indeed.

Pabst’s classic film was shown with a scintillating new score, which was performed live.

The music was splendid and, moreover, it set the pace for the film, quickening it where necessary and heightening key moments of decision and psychological tension, and of dramatic climax.  If cinema can be said to have its own grammar, then music – certainly music of this quality – provides the punctuation together with an arsenal of rhetorical devices.

It remains a potent film even now, due mainly to a rare gloria duplex: a vision of evil and venality coupled with an acute awareness of human frailty.  Louise Brooks’ performance is legendary, and I can report that it is as remarkable as its reputation.  There’s her sensuality and ingénue charm, the way she effortlessly assumes the role of a woman who evokes obsessive desire in men (and at least one woman too) while remaining so carefree and easygoing.  There’s that incorruptible generosity which is yet intensely provocative.

All this, one could argue, is present in Frank Wedekind‘s Lulu plays (the source texts for the film) but Brooks’ accomplished acting brings it to startling life.  Her graceful movements always involve a dance and end with a pose.  Lulu becomes a mythic force like Beauty, Joy, Life.  No, scrub ‘mythic’: these are actual forces and powers, for they effect behaviour, history even.

There’s a tenebrous atmosphere to the film and that’s not completely due to the expressionistic cinematography or the locales, such as foggy old London town.  This is a film about Evil after all, the evils lying curled snakelike in the human heart.  Men want to use and possess Lulu, as they covet any creature so startlingly alive.  So Evil enters the world.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made.

My review of Frank Wedekind’s Mine-Haha, or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls can be read here.

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