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Posts Tagged ‘Pandora’s Box’

Never one to miss a chance to see a classic movie on the big screen, this year I have seen more than ever:

Pandora’s Box (1929) – Seminal Louise Brooks movie, the masterpiece of director G W Pabst.  Screened thanks to the BFI in what they call a “New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.  Telling of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Brooks).  It still stands up as a mesmerising film nearly 90 years on with simple modern storytelling, you soon forget you are watching a silent film and just appreciate it as a film.pandorasbox1

Some Like it Hot (1959) – Screened in a stunning 4K restoration as part of the BFI comedy genius season – Two down on their luck musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  They escape town disguised as women with an all female band bound for the Florida sun, where they intend to skip out on the band.  There is however a complication, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  If there is any such thing as a perfect movie, this is it.  Sixty years later the comedy is still relevant and hilarious.  The performances (including Marilyn Monroe’s) are outstanding, but its Billy Wilder’s sharp script and direction that shine through.  What has long been my favourite film plays even better on the big screen with an audience. Some Like it Hot

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – 50 years ago was year zero for the modern zombie movie.  Just about every zombie movie in the past half century draws influence from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  But how does it hold up as a film in its own right?  Shown in a 4K restoration, it was as good as ever, and looked better than ever.  Working as a visceral horror and a allegory of a nation tearing itself apart.  A perfect horror movie. Night of the Living Dead

Halloween (1978) – 40th Anniversary 4K restoration of John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece.  I probably don’t need to give a plot synopsis, but will for those who are new to this classic: As a child, Michael Myers kills his teenage sister on Halloween night, fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown.  Halloween didn’t invent the slasher movie, but it certainly revolutionised and popularised the genre making it a mainstay of horror throughout the 1980’s.  It has spawned multiple sequels (with another due later this month), a remake, and countless imitators, does it deserve all this?  Hell yes, it is a true horror masterpiece.  Modern audiences may find the deliberate pacing slow, they are wrong, not a second of the 91minute runtime is wasted.  Michael Myers is a blank cipher with little back-story and no discernible motive.  He is a classic movie monster, but one all the more frightening because unlike Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolf-Man, he is just a man, he is a real world boogeyman.  The films emotion comes from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, but the Steadicam mounted camera is as much a character as any of these people.  If you haven’t seen it, look it out now before seeing the latest sequel. Halloween 1978

The Fog (1980) – The second in a series of John Carpenter movies to receive a 4K restoration.  A small town celebrating its centenary is enveloped by a fog that brings with it a reckoning from the past.  A spooky almost old-fashioned horror that is relatively tame, but enjoyable none the less.  Notable of the first onscreen pairing of Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh. The Fog

The Evil Dead (1981) – Five young friends unwittingly release and are possessed my daemons while on holiday in a cabin in the woods.  The effects show their budget, the acting isn’t always great and the editing is conspicuous.  None of this stops it being a stone cold classic.  The Evil Dead

Escape From New York (1981) – Another remastered John Carpenter classic.  Made in 1981 and set in the future, 1997 where Manhattan has been turned into a giant maximum-security prison.  Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into the prison to rescue the president after Air Force One is hijacked.  What could have been a forgettable Sci-Fi B-movie is elevated to stone cold classic by the inclusion of the iconic Snake Plissken, and more importantly Kurt Russell’s portrayal of him.  Made in a cynical post-Vietnam war/Watergate American it is strangely and frighteningly relevant today.Escape From New York

Die Hard (1988) – Towards the end of the 1980’s Die Hard rewrote the book on action movies, how has it aged?  The simple answer is very well!  It is made with typical 80’s film stock that is a little grainy and muddy looking (not as bad as 70’s, but not as bright or crisp what came before or after), other than that it is very modern.  If you saw it for the first time many of the story beats may seem a little clichéd, it isn’t, this is the archetype that everything else copied.  A treat to see on the big screen. Die Hard

Audition (1999) – Horror thriller from the prolific director Takashi Miike.  A widower takes an offer from a friend to “audition” girls to find him a new wife.  I hadn’t seen this since watching it at the cinema on its original release, as great as I remember.  What I had forgotten, was how long it took for the horror to begin, and how quickly it became horrific. Audition

Battle Royale (2000) – Set in a near future, Japan to help suppress a problem of rising crime amongst teenagers, a class of students is randomly selected each year and sent to an island, where they are forced to fight to the death.  A modern classic that has been the benchmark for teenage dystopian movies for the past eighteen years.Battle Royale

Martyrs (2008) – Around ten years ago I watched Martyrs on DVD based on multiple recommendations. I understand it had a cinema release but certainly not at any of my local multiplexes (I didn’t visit independent cinemas often back then). My feeling at time was that I thought the film was excellent, but I didn’t want to see it again. Fast forward a decade and one of my local independent cinema’s, the Mockingbird in Birmingham advertised a 10 year anniversary screening. Never one to pass up the opportunity for seeing a classic on the big screen, how could I refuse!  On a second viewing the film is just as powerful and disturbing as before. Whereas first time around I was unsure of what to make of the ending, I now believe it is intentionally left open to interpretation. I have a stronger view on the meaning of the ending but would rather people drew their own conclusions. After all, the meaning is probably as influenced by what the viewer brings to it as what they see on the screen.Martyrs Lucie

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I have been a little selective with my movie going this month, I could have seen a lot more.  On the whole I chose well with three fantastic films that will be in contention for my year end top ten.  A couple of really solid and enjoyable films.  One disappointing but still not bad sequel.  The weakest film was the one I expected least from, the latest YA dystopian yarn, that provides further proof that the genre ran out of ideas a long time ago.  Here are the contenders:

Ant-Man and the Wasp – Lighter and more comedic than the rest of the MCU, Ant man is never going to be the best of the franchise but it is always fun.  Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are both excellent in their own right, but have little to no chemistry together.  Walton Goggins is as great as ever, but seems to be in a different movie to everyone else.  Michelle Pfeiffer is underused.  Michael Peña offers his usual comic relief.  Rising star, Hannah John-Kamen provides an interesting and compelling antagonist. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Pandora’s Box – Seminal Louise Brooks movie, the masterpiece of director G W Pabst.  Screened thanks to the BFI in what they call a “New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.  Telling of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Brooks).  It still stands up as a mesmerising film nearly 90 years on with simple modern storytelling, you soon forget you are watching a silent film and just appreciate it as a film. Pandora's Box

The Equalizer 2 – Denzel Washington’s first ever sequel see’s him returning as Robert McCall, the character inspired by the 1980’s Edward Woodward TV show.  The set pieces are all excellent, but the story that links them is disjointed and inconsistent.  Not as good as the first film, but not without enjoyable moments. The Equalizer 2

In The Fade – If you exclude Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this is Diane Kruger’s first German-language film.  I went into it having read a synopsis and heard a brief review; this is too much information, as it gave me an impression of what to expect, a false impression. A stunning film largely thanks to Diane Kruger amazing performance.In The Fade

A Prayer Before Dawn – The true story of Billy Moore based on his book A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand; a British boxer who finds himself in a brutal prison in Thailand. Much of the dialogue is in Thai without subtitles leaving the audience only understanding as much as Billy, a disconcerting but effective choice.  Often hard to watch, it is an unforgettable film that will haunt your mind for days after seeing it, Joe Cole, best known for Peaky Blinders is exceptional.  A Prayer Before Dawn

Unfriended: Dark Web – A sequel to Unfriended (2014) dips its toe into the burky world of the dark web.  As before, all the action takes place on a computer screen.  Effective but unoriginal horror. An interesting idea, I understand there are two different endings. Unfriended Dark Web

The Darkest Minds – The latest in endless stream of YA dystopian future set movies.  Totally derivative of everything that has gone before particularly Divergent and the Maze Runner.  Amandla Stenberg (who was in the first Hunger Games movie when she was 13) makes a likeable lead. The Darkest Minds

BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee is back on form with the true story of a African-American policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s.  John David Washington has all the charisma of his famous farther and is well supported by the always excellent Adam Driver.  Lee’s attempt to juxtapose the narrative with recent events isn’t subtle, but it is extremely effective. BlacKkKlansman

The Children Act – This is the second film the year with a screenplay from Ian McEwan based on on his own book.  Despite excellent performances the inner monologue of On Chesil Beach failed to translate to the screen.  The Children Act centres around Emma Thompson as a family court judge forced to make life changing decisions for other people while seemingly oblivious to the crumbing state of her own marriage.  Thompson is outstanding in the lead elevating the film way above what it could have been, she works best when playing against Stanley Tucci as her husband, who is also brilliant in a smaller supporting role. The Children Act

I don’t include re-releases in contention for movie of the month, that rules out Pandora’s Box leaving a straight fight between: In The Fade, A Prayer Before Dawn, and BlacKkKlansman.  As well as being the best films of the month, they are also the hardest hitting and most memorable, films that you will still be thinking about days or weeks later.  The movie of the month is:In The Fade poster

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pandoras-box-1929-poster-1000x750SPOILER WARNING – this article contains spoilers for a ninety year old movie, and a three thousand year old myth – SPOILER WARNING

I think everyone knows the story of Pandora’s Box from Greek mythology.  Pandora  was created by various gods on the orders of Zeus to punish humanity after Prometheus stole the secret of fire.  She was given “a shameful mind and deceitful nature” and had the power to seduce and felt compelled to do so.  The gods gave Pandora a gift of a pithos (a jar, mistranslated as box a few thousand years later) containing all the evils of the world.  She could not resist the temptation, and opens the jar/box thus releasing evil on the world.  In some versions of the story, a dove remains representing hope (more on that later). Pandora

So why am I telling a well known story from around 8th centuries BC?  I have just watched G W Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece Pandora’s Box at the MAC in Birmingham, thanks to the BFI in what they describe as ” New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.

For those who don’t know, Pandora’s Box tells of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Louise Brooks). origonal poster

Both an artistic and technical masterpiece, the film draws on the contemporary (German) studio realism, and French (Impressionist) as well a recalling earlier Expressionism.  There are numerous standout scenes, the backstage at cabaret performance is a master class in editing.  But all this disappears into the shadow of the film’s star Louise Brooks, with her iconic haircut, hypnotic eyes and enchanting smile.  Made during the final death rattle of silent cinema, Pandora’s Box Premiered less than two years after The Jazz Singer (1927).  At 23 Brooks gives a career best performance, but like the silent movies she appeared in her time was up.  Her career was all but over two years later. lulu

Today’s screening started with a caption explaining that no known original negatives survive.  This definitive restoration is made up of three early prints.  This made me look into different versions of the film.

Wikipedia describe a French version: the film was significantly re-edited, making Alwa’s secretary and the countess become Lulu’s childhood friend. Lulu is found to be not guilty at her trial, and there is no Jack the Ripper character, as the film ends with Lulu joining the Salvation Army.

IMDB describes an American cut: the film was released in a heavily censored 90-minute version, with a happy ending. This ending – in which Lulu joins the Salvation Army – was so unconvincing that when the film played in New York, its distributors placed a disclaimer at the beginning, emphasizing that they were not responsible for the censorship forced upon them, and they apologized for what was termed “an added saccharine ending.pandoras box louise brooks Alice Roberts

The current version isn’t the first attempt to restore the film, an attempt was made in the 1980’s but was around 20 minutes shorter than the original version.  This could be due to missing scenes, or running it at 24 frames per second, not 20.

I have seen the film three times before, the first time was in the early 90’s, I think possibly the American cut described above.  It therefore came as something of a surprise on my next viewing when Jack The Ripper entered the story.  My most recent viewing came on DVD five or six years ago, the same or similar to the cut I saw today, it sounds like this version described on IMDB: A 133-minute version, distributed by Janus Films from Film Museum München, was broadcast in America on the IFC channel in 2006. It has an unidentified orchestral score, including a 2-minute overture at the start, and it listed the credits in German, some of which were translated into English. With German inter-titles and English subtitles. This version was released on a British Region 2 DVD).Louise Brooks Lulu

The final act sees Lulu living in destitute squalor in London with Alwa and Schigolch.  Encouraged by Schigolch, and with only the weakest of protest from Alwa, Lulu resorts to prostitution.  Her first customer is Jack the Ripper, who appears to be fighting a losing battle with his sanity and urge to kill.  As he climbs the stairs to Lulu’s lodgings we see Jack drop his knife, but in the closing scenes he spots a knife (in true Chekhov’s gun style we saw Lulu us it earlier).  This is the last we see of Jack or Lulu.  Why don’t we see her die?  Is it the sensibility of the time and the censors, or did she survive?  As long as we don’t see her die, there is hope! pandoras box lulu and jack

The only time I have discussed the film or its meaning at any length was after seeing it at university.  I went into the debate knowing less than nothing.  Those who hadn’t seen the film before knew nothing, I knew less than nothing as I went in thinking I knew the film having seen it a couple of years before, but the rug was pulled from beneath me as I saw a different version.  Others came with an agenda to argue; sexual, feminist, political, socio-political. It was suggested that Lulu was punished for her wicked ways, or at least her refusal to conform to social norms.  Or that she was punished for her sexual liberation and ambiguity.  Those that argued on both sides saw this as a positive and a negative, does the film condemn or lament her? I wouldn’t argue with any of these, but I read it a different way, as mentioned above, as a message of hope.  Lulu, made mistakes, and refused to conform, but no matter how low things get, there is always hope, if she could be the one woman who encountered and survived Jack the Ripper, she could survive.  To be fair and give context, to this argument, I was in a class where truth and reality came a distant second to how well you argued your point, and as a cock eighteen-year-old I revealed in disagreeing with everyone else in the room.  However, two further screenings and twenty years later, I still see a glimmer of hope. 

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Having already seen a handful of Louise Brooks movies it now seems strange that I have only just got around to watching her most iconic Pandora’s Box but as with so many others, silent cinema has been a blind spot for me for a long time.  It is a sad fact that most people I know have no idea who Louise Brooks was, those that have heard of her know little beyond her iconic haircut.  With the renewed interest in silent cinema after the success of The Artist I can only hope that more people people discover Brooks’ movies.  I have certainly seen more silent films in the last couple of years than at any time since I was a student.  pandoras box poster

Based on two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind; Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904) and written/directed by Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst. Brooks plays Lulu a former dancer and mistress of wealthy middle-aged newspaper publisher, Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner). Schön announces that that he is going to marry Charlotte von Zarnikow (Daisy D’ora). Lulu agrees to perform in a musical production produced by Schön’s son Alwa (Francis Lederer). Schön brings Charlotte to a performance where she walks in on Schön and Lulu embracing in a store cupboard, she breaks of the engagement. Schön then agrees to marry Lulu. Events at the wedding that a series of events resulting in a downward spiral for Lulu and those around her.pandorasbox1

I’m glad that I didn’t see the movie in the early 90’s when I first saw Brooks’ other seminal movie Beggars of Life, as it would have been a very different film to the I have just watched. When the film first came out there were different versions shown in different territories. By changing the dialogue cards, the relationship between the characters was changed. some versions also included an unconvincing but redemptive happy ending. The 131 minute version I saw is believed to be the closest to the directors original.Pandora's Box

Silent cinema can be a little alien to modern audiences, Pandora’s Box is surprisingly accessible. The acting although within the traditions of silent movies is more naturalistic than you would expect. Brooks’ performance is expressive and alluring. The character is often described as a femme fatale, but she often comes across as too innocent for this moniker. More reminiscent of the Jessica Rabbit line “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” She isn’t looking to hurt others, she just wants a good time and doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions or allure. This combination of innocence and sexuality is something that no one before or since has been able to portray like Brooks. It could have all been so different, director Georg Wilhelm Pabst nearly cast Marlene Dietrich to star, that would have made a very different film. Brooks remains an alluring and engrossing screen presence, it is a tragedy of cinema that she didn’t have more great parts.Louise Brooks  Pandora's Box

The appeal of the film is more than just its star. The themes of the carefully and cleverly constructed story are classic, they had been seen in theatre for years and would become a mainstay for cinema for a generation or more. The photography is brilliant making the film look fantastic. Unlike so many movies of the time that look like they have failed to move on from their theatre origins use a small number of similar looking sets, Pandora’s Box makes use of different styles depending on the setting and tome of the scene. The Berlin apartment sequences at the start of the movie are bright sharp. As the film gets progressively darker, the images do too, culminating in the oblique angles and long shadows of German Expressionism. Despite these dark tones and themes the film isn’t without humour, there are many funny moments. Ahead of its time in so many ways, it is often quoted that Countess Anna Escheats (Alice Roberts) is considered by historians to be cinema’s first lesbian character.Louise and Alice Roberts

I am sometimes hesitant to recommend silent films to people who aren’t used to watching them. A little like foreign language films, if not attuned to the style you may struggle to get into the rhythms of the movie. Pandora’s Box, however is probably accessible to far more film fans than other silent films.

Click HERE for other November Blind Spot Movies. 

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