Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Janus Films

In the late 1920s, German director Georg Wilhelm Pabst, known as G.W. Pabst, undertook an adaptation of playwright Frank Wedekind’s well-known “Pandora’s Box.” Previously presented for theater and film, Pabst worked to reinterpret the material for his 1929 release, not without innumerable problems in casting, shooting, and exhibition. Nevertheless, Pabst’s “Pandora’s Box” now ranks as a silent film masterpiece.

A 4K restoration expands the original exhibition running time from roughly an hour forty minutes to two and a third hours, heightening the bold representation of female sexuality, including a lesbian lover, all disturbingly controversial in 1929. In addition, as press notes explain, Lulu, the central character, is an unrepentant femme fatale in the play, but in Pabst’s interpretation she comes across as a “sympathetic victim of her libidinal energies, misplaced within the exploitative, hypocritical world of bourgeois morality.” This dual social critique of traditional fare caused Pabst financial difficulties, slowly but eventually solved with, most importantly, respect for his artistic integrity.

None of this would matter if this unorthodox film were less powerful. No worries there. Its immense impact comes from the overwhelming magnetism of Louise Brooks as Lulu, the irresistible woman at the center of events. Her erotic, even lascivious appeal lures her defenseless prey into her orbit, primarily respected newspaperman, Dr. Ludwig Schön. No spoilers, but soon tragedy strikes in lurid events with Lulu on a downward spiral. The apt title, “Pandora’s Box,” refers to the Greek myth in which Pandora (her name meaning “all endowed”) opens a forbidden jar (in stories called a box) that Greek gods bequeath to her, thereby releasing multiple evils into the world (gluttony, greed, envy, etc.), with only hope remaining. A morality tale at heart, the film warns about succumbing to desire.

The 4K restoration of “Pandora’s Box” screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, February 16, through Sunday, February 18, at 7:00 each of those evenings. For more information, you may visit the film series website.

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