Friday, October 13, 2006

Art House Films

This article appeared in today's Chicago Sun-Times. Louise Brooks has certainly getting her fair share of press coverage lately. I especially appreciate the last line of the article.
Art house films

Here's a look at some of the arthouse films opening today:

"Pandora's Box" ("Die Buchse der Pandora") 3 stars

Revived in a new black-and-white print, this classic from the end of cinema's silent era pairs German director G.W. Pabst with American actress Louise Brooks. Ladislaus Vajda's screenplay blended two plays by Frank Wedekind to track the amoral career of dancing gold-digger Lulu (Brooks).

When a newspaper executive (Fritz Kortner) ends his affair with Lulu, he tells his son Alwa (Francis Lederer): "Men don't marry such women. It would be suicide." One gunshot later, a prosecutor likens Lulu to Pandora, "well-versed in the infatuating arts of flattery."

Falling for his late father's mistress, Alwa serves as her character witness. She escapes a manslaughter sentence and hides on a gambling ship. Next she escapes a fate of white slavery in a Cairo brothel and lands in a wintry London garret. Christmas Eve finds her under the mistletoe with Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl). Only a psychopath would not succumb to her charms.

The Pabst touch is seen in his kinetic crowd scenes: backstage at Lulu's theater before the curtain rises, and the courtroom she flees after a false fire alarm triggers pandemonium. Pabst also excels at canted expressionist close-ups of faces. Brooks overwhelms the lens with her magnetic eyes. Her signature coiffure looks like a black patent-leather bathing cap.

After shooting a second Pabst film in Berlin, Brooks' star fell. The February and March 1934 headlines that she made in Chicago evoke a Lulu in exile: "Scion of Old Family Makes Debut With Wife at Chez Paree Club."

(No MPAA rating. Running time: 110 minutes. Screens at Music Box tonight with live organ accompaniment by Dennis Scott and Sunday with Jay Warren at the keyboard.)

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