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On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
An exotic vaudeville dancer and prostitute travels to London where she meets the darkest of strangers. Silent thriller starring Louise Brooks, co-written and directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Although she's most famous for her German movies - principally Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl - Louise Brooks was born in small-town America.
Raised in rural Kansas, Brooks joined dance troupe the Ziegfeld Follies before signing up with Paramount. Disenchanted with making movies in America, she relocated to Europe in the late 1920s where she was immediately trumpeted as an exotic beauty. Her arrival made a particular impression upon writer-director GW Pabst who'd been prepared to cast a striking young German actress in his new film, Pandora's Box, before he heard of Brooks' availability. The disappointed performer was none other than Marlene Dietrich.
Famous for her face, Brooks was also universally recognised for her distinctive bob haircut, the influence of which extended to the 'do sported by Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. But unlike, say, Jennifer Aniston, there was a lot more to Brooks than heavenly hair. Evidence of this is to be found in Pandora's Box, her finest film and one of the greatest European pictures of the silent era.
Brooks stars as Lulu (a name with which she remained synonymous until her death in 1985), a prostitute and dancer interested only in pleasure. To know Lulu is to be in the company of the most stunning jazz baby of them all. But all who cross her path come unstuck. All, that is, except for the most famous resident of Whitechapel...
A wonderfully daring drama, Pandora's Box was considered such strong stuff that it was banned in Scandinavia. Naturally the film now feels pretty safe, though it's still easy to see what the censors balked at. Not only is the film set amidst a world of sleaze and cheap thrills, Louise Brooks is almost impossibly sexy. Waif-like and boasting that celebrated, boyish haircut, you'd imagine Brooks's appeal would be a product of its time, yet her allure is undiminished.
Writer-director Pabst certainly realises what he's dealing with and never fails to make his leading lady look anything short of ravishing. Indeed, after watching him direct Brooks in Pandora's Box and Lost Girl, it's all the more frustrating that the German genius didn't get the chance to cast Brooks in the role he believed she was born to play, Helen Of Troy.
Like all silent movies, Pandora's Box feels alien to modern audiences. But if the style is outdated, the fact that Pabst was way ahead of the game in terms of content means that his film has aged nowhere near as badly as some American silent films. Lesbianism, stripping serial killers - yes, there is so much of modern movie life here that the picture, like Brooks' beauty, defies the ravages of time.
The Greeks were wrong - Pandora's Box should be thrown open by all serious movie fans.
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