We strongly recommend that you keep the evening of Friday 24th November free in your diaries! Why?! As we are offering, for our second silent film event at the Cube Cinema, Bristol, a very rare treat indeed. As not only do you have a chance to see G. W. Pabst’s masterpiece that is Pandora’s Box (1929), starring the incredible Louise Brooks on the big screen (on 35mm film from the BFI Archives we should add). But this rare treat will also give us a chance to welcome back to very good friends of South West Silents.
While Pamela Hutchinson (Silent London) is not only introducing this great film for us, but Pamela will also be armed with copies of her brand new book which showcases this classic film from the silent era. Published under the famous BFI Classics book series, Pandora’s Box by Pamela Hutchinson sheds new light on not only the production of Pandora’s Box but how the film now speaks to modern audiences. Copies of this long awaited book (which is released the same week as our event) will be available on the night and Pamela is more than happy to sign copies to any budding silent film fan!
But before this exciting night can take place we had a quick sit down with Pamela to discuss her own thoughts about the film and the people involved with the making of the classic of all classics of silent film, Pandora’s Box:
SWS: We are always in need of film books about particular silent films, so why G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929)?
Pamela Hutchinson: I’m glad you agree that several silent films are worth delving into in detail. We could write a long list and that would be fun. Pandora’s Box, in particular, is a very rich film, one that I do think bears re-watching (and re-watching). It’s always beautiful, occasionally funny, and it stirs up such powerful emotions, yet it’s still occasionally puzzling or oblique. The plays it is based on are really quite unusual, with characters declaiming long speeches to explain their eccentric actions. It’s no surprise that a silent adaptation would be perplexing, but Pabst really shakes things up: chopping and changing and cleaning up the story, as well as making his Lulu so much more natural and attractive than the monster in the play. Even after watching the film several times, I had many questions about Pandora’s Box – so in this book I have tried to answer them.
SWS: What sells the film for you? Is it Brooks? Pabst? Or both? (You might give your reason above; but just in case)
PH: It’s the combination of two unique talents, seemingly incompatible at that. G. W. Pabst’s fine control, and Louise Brooks’s ability to appear completely at ease on screen. Pabst was a genius, and he is talked about too little these days. He has not quite been forgotten, but he should be talked about up there with Murnau, Lang, Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Griffith … all the great directors of the silent era. He said “realism is a means, not an end” and you can tell that he is always working to liberate the truth, to be honest about the world: about capitalism, about sex and men and women. And cinematically, his films are phenomenal. Visually, Pandora’s Box is a brilliant film, and full of movement. Brooks, of course, is mesmerising and without this film, there’s a risk that she would also be a neglected figure too. She’s brilliant as Lulu, completely incandescent, but she’s also one of the most fascinating figures in film history. The relationship between Pabst and Brooks was very tricky, as he wanted to control her career, put an end to the behaviour he considered self-destructive. He was probably had the best intentions, but Brooks had to follow her own path. Their collaboration produced great cinema, however, and I think she was really fond of him to the end.
SWS: Many books have been written about Brooks, what makes this different to past publications?
PH: The simple answer is that this isn’t a book about Brooks, it’s a book about a film that she made, and I bring everyone else in, to draw out their contributions to Pandora’s Box as well. Of course, that’s a bit glib. A book about Pandora’s Box is inevitably a book about Brooks as well. She is the voice of the film – she’s been interviewed about it, written about it, more than anyone else involved. And there is a case of repeated mistaken identity afoot, whereby people find it hard to draw a clear distinction between Lulu and Brooks. So I went down two paths. First, I tried to interrogate Brooks’s statements about the film – sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they’re not – rather than take them at face value. But I also wanted to look at why the Lulu/Brooks idea resonates with people. Why, despite everything that happens in the film, people are still seduced by Lulu.
SWS: There is something quite impressive about how audiences are always drawn to Brooks? Why do you think modern audiences are still fascinated in her?
PH: We love her naturalism, her sexual honesty, her beauty, her style. On screen she’s a beautiful young starlet, but we know her also to be a profoundly intelligent woman. Brooks plays Lulu as a modern woman, in control of her own sexuality. That’s still quite a daring thing to show. There was an article in the Guardian very recently about the new “golden age of slutty cinema” (that’s surely a word Brooks would have approved of by the way), which shows we still find Lulu types challenging and new. Imagine the prop room scene in a modern film – there would be outrage, and endless think pieces.
SWS: If there is one other Louise Brooks film people should see what would you suggest?
PH: Why would you ask that? It’s so difficult! I’m going to assume that if someone has enjoyed Pandora’s Box they don’t need me to encourage them to see Diary of a Lost Girl, the second film she made with Pabst. So, I will point people in the direction of Beggars of Life, her best Hollywood film. She’s fantastic in that, and it’s a rare thing to see her as a romantic lead. That should lead people to her other extant Hollywood films too. There should really be a box set. It would sell like hot cakes.
Can I recommend another Pabst film too? I feel I should, even though that is even more difficult. It’s hard to go wrong with most of his silents and his early sound films, but why not give The Love of Jeanne Ney a spin? It stars Brigitte Helm, who was almost certainly his first choice to Lulu, which is something to think about …
Our thanks to Pamela Hutchinson for taking some time out to chat with us about her great new book. Pandora’s Box will be released on Tuesday 21st November.
Also, a special thank you to illustrator Isabel Krek who has supplied us with the new artwork for our poster for the Pandora’s Box event; a taste of which can be found at the top of this page. The poster itself will be on display in the next few days at the Cube Cinema and throughout Bristol. Do keep an eye out for it.
As for the event itself; we strongly recommend that you book your tickets in advance for this very special screening to avoid disappointment as we only have a limited amount of tickets and our last screening sold out a week before. See you on the night!