Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pandora's Box screens twice in Cardiff

Pandora's Box- the once controversial and heavily censored 1929 German film which introduced the screen's "first unequivocal lesbian," is set to screen twice in Cardiff, England.  

The two screenings, sponsored by Chapter Cinema, are set to take place on February 19 and 21 at Cinema 1. Additionally, each showing of the classic silent film will include a post-screening discussion by Lavender Screen, Cardiff’s lesbian and bisexual movie club.

Pandora’s Box tells the story of Lulu, a lovely, amoral, and somewhat petulant show-girl whose flirtations lead to devastating encounters. Lulu is played by Louise Brooks, an American actress who was recruited for the iconic German role.

Close Up, an English film journal of the time with a keen interest in adventuresome German film, noted "The long search at last is ended. Lulu has been found. . . . Having literally searched the whole of Europe for a suitable type for Lulu in The Box of Pandora (adapted from the book by Wedekind), having interviewed hundreds and tested scores, in Germany, France, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, G. W. Pabst has at last found, in America, the type for which he had been seeking in vain. Lulu will be no other than Louise Brooks, the well-known junior Paramount star. The search for Lulu has been almost the principal topic of interest in Germany for a couple of months. Everywhere one went one heard ‘What about Lulu?’ ‘Is Lulu found yet’ . . . Lulu is found. And now, after long delay, Pandora will be filmed by Nero Film."

In another piece, Close Up observed, "Louise Brooks is not chosen because she is Louise Brooks but because, for whatever reason, she looks likely to find it easier than anyone else might, to sink into and become a visual expression of Lulu in Pandora’s Box."

The film was based on two turn-of-the-last-century plays by Frank Wedekind, a German writer not without troubles brought about by his writings. Wedekind's other major work is Spring Awakening, which recently has been transformed into a rock musical which has also drawn its own share of raised eyebrows.

Lulu has been described, variously, as a vamp or femme fatale, but in fact she is a kind of innocent. As one writer put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” And not just men, as the Cardiff group points out. Lulu’s sexual magnetism knows few bounds, and this once controversial and heavily censored German film features what is described as cinema's first lesbian character. The Countess Anna Geschwitz, a lesser character covertly in love with Lulu, is played by Alice Roberts, a Belgian actress.

The film made its world premiere February 9, 1929 at the Gloria–Palast in Berlin. German reviews of the time were mixed. The same held true when the film played in various European capitals. A large part of the critical disregard for the film stemmed from the fact that it was censored - due to its provocative subject matter. The poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), writing in Close Up, stated the film “ . . . passed by the German censors after a stormy discussion of several hour duration.”

When Pandora’s Box opened at a small art house in New York City in December of 1929, American newspaper and magazine critics were also ambivalent. Photoplay, one of the leading American film magazines, noted “When the censors got through with this German-made picture featuring Louise Brooks, there was little left but a faint, musty odor. It is the story, both spicy and sordid, of a little dancing girl who spread evil everywhere without being too naughty herself. Interesting to American fans because it shows Louise, formerly an American ingénue in silent films, doing grand work as the evil-spreader.”

Another English film journal of the time, The Bioscope, echoed those sentiments. "The picture starts well. Then comes the scene when Lulu refuses to go on the first night of the revue. This is unconvincing. . . . Louise Brooks does all that is possible in the role of Lulu. Her performance, combined with the masterful characterization of the wealthy man by Fritz Kortner, makes the early scenes definitely dramatic and effective."

After more than a few decades of obscurity, Pandora's Box is now regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the silent era. Ticket availability and further information about the Cardiff screening of Pandora's Box can be found at

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