Rediscover one of the greatest silent films this June with the re-release of Pandora’s Box

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Director: G.W.Pabst

Germany 1929| 129m| U

RATING: ★★★★★

Find out more about the reissue at the BFI website.

Here we have a sumptuously shot and deliriously melodramatic Weimar-era silent film from G.W. Pabst, that is a superb showcase for the luminous 22-year old star Louise Brooks, who plays a call girl and chanteuse called Lulu in late 19th century Berlin who maintains a unashamed taste for champagne, parties and sex. This film, now regarded as one of the greatest silents, can be seen in a restored edition across the UK now via the British Film Institute. It plays as part of Big Screen Classics: It Girls which runs throughout June.

The film is surprisingly frank about Lulu's predilections; she seems to be carrying on at least two affairs at the start of the film with men of very different ages and social status, and seems adept at keeping a court of admirers hanging on her every whim. But the fear of a scandal causes the famous newspaper owner she eventually marries to dementedly try to force Lulu to kill herself (didn't I tell you this film was melodramatic?), and his accidental death in the struggle leads her to flee with the magnate's son across the world using, intriguingly, the passport of a German countess who also seems infatuated with her (one of the first onscreen appearances of a lesbian character). A somewhat bizarre riches-to-rags tale develops in the later acts, taking in the unlikely figure of Jack the Ripper at one point, but Louise Brooks' incredible on screen magnetism and style and some striking cinematography (check those moody, fog-shrouded London streets) make for a irresistible watch...even if the final moral of the screenplay seems to be a warning that this kind of free-spirited behaviour gets you punished in the end.

There is no original negative or print of Pandora’s Box in existence. In the years since its release, prints were often cut or edited for censorship reasons. Three different duplicate prints were the basis for this digital restoration, which was sponsored by the late Hugh Hefner. Previously only shown on the big screen in the UK on 35mm, with cinemas having to hire a pianist or musicians to perform a live score, this new digital version features an orchestral score by the German composer Peer Raben, known for his work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

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Owen Van Spall

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