Pandora's Box is having a good year.
Largely panned when it debuted in Berlin in 1929, this German-made movie starring Louise Brooks has made a comeback and is now considered one of great films of the silent era. These days, it is shown more often than many of the more acclaimed works of its time.
The latest screening of this 1929 silent will take place in Newcastle, England on 28 August. A special out-of-doors showing in the city's Heaton Park will feature live musical accompaniment by acclaimed pianist Neil Brand. Also performing are Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra, a six person group who play an eclectic musical brew steeped in 1930's swing, gypsy jazz, hokum blues, cajun and country.
Directed by G.W. Pabst, Pandora's Box tells the story of Lulu (played by Brooks), a lovely and somewhat petulant show-girl whose flirtations with members of each sex lead to tragic results. Despite having appeared in 23 other films - some of them quite good, Lulu is the role for which Brooks is best known today.
Lulu, a now iconic character, has been described as a femme fatale, but in fact, she is a kind of innocent. As Brooks' biographer Barry Paris put it, her "sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her." . . . And not just men. Lulu's sexual magnetism knows few bounds, and this once controversial and censored film features what is described as the cinema's first lesbian. The Countess Geschwitz, covertly in love with Lulu, is played by Alice Roberts.
Coiffed in her signature black bob, Brooks inhabited her character thoroughly and effectively. Some say she lived it the part. The resulting performance in Pandora's Box, called "devastating" by contemporary critics, has become the stuff of legend.
This week's Newcastle screening is one of handful in 2012. Back in February, Chapter Cinema in Cardiff screened Pandora's Box twice. On March 25th, the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia also screened the film. As did the Classic Cinema Club of Ealing, who presented Pandora's Box on April 13th at the Ealing Town Hall. And in May, the Cinéma du Parc in Montreal, Canada showed it three times over the course of as many days.
Image courtesy Newcastle City Council
More recently, Pandora's Box was screened twice on the same day in the United States. On 14 July, the Music Box Theater in Chicago showed the film at its 800 seat theater. So did the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, who presented a rarely shown restoration of the film at a sold out event at the 1400 seat Castro Theater. Actor Paul McGann (Withnail and I, Doctor Who), a big fan of both the film and its star, was even on hand for that event.
Two additional screenings of Pandora's Box are also set to take place later this year. On 23 September, Pandora's Box will be shown in Denver, Colorado as part of the Denver Silent Film Festival, with live musical accompaniment provided by the renown pianist Donald Sosin. And on November 25, the film will be shown at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta, Georgia (outside Atlanta) as part of that theater's classic film series. Ron Carter will accompany Pandora's Box at the Strand on the Mighty Allen Theatre Organ.
Why all these screenings, and why now?
It may be the growing public and media interest in silent film in the wake of the acclaim given both The Artist and Hugo (the latter contains a shout-out to Brooks). Or, it may be the actress' own story - the story of her rise and fall and reemergence - not only within the annals of film history but within popular culture and the even larger realm of public awareness. When Barry Paris wrote his outstanding 1989 biography of the actress, he originally titled it Louise Brooks: Her Life, Death and Resurrection. That title suggests something extraordinary, something even mythic.