While we’re on, I want to say that lots of people have been kind enough to write thoughtful and positive reviews of the book on Amazon UK and on Goodreads so far – thank you to everyone who did that! And if you want to join them, please be my guest.
Sight & Sound also ran a very nice review of the book in its February 2018 issue: check it out! David Thompson wrote the piece and here are some of the things he said about the book:
highly sympathetic and well researched book … a welcome and long overdue addition to the BFI Film Classics series … particularly valuable in detailing the origins of the film, how it came to be made at all and the striking personalities involved …
Hutchinson takes us through this narrative in unerring detail, underlining Pabst’s significant departures from the original and demonstrating how Wedekind’s palindromic structure is compressed but also heightened through the film’s imagery …
As Hutchinson adroitly points out, it pictures “female sexuality not as moral weakness but as an eruption of pleasure”. She notes that everything turns constantly on how much men’s desire for Lulu is transformed into hate, and how far money potentially poisons all the relationships throughout …
As this book makes very clear, rarely has the blurring of a screen role and real life been so fruitful for a creator and so tantalising for the audience.
“Unerring detail”, eh? Don’t let that put you off. Stick out the “unerring detail” and soon enough you’ll get to that “eruption of pleasure”, I promise.
Hello! To celebrate the fact that my BFI Film Classic on Pandora’s Box is on sale in the US as of today (LINK) I have rounded up some links relating to the book. I’ve been out and about talking about the film IRL but also online, as you’ll see. I’ve included some of the nice things that people have said about the book, too. *blush*
The fantastic Paul Joyce gave the book a great writeup on his site Ithankyou. “Pamela writes with an expert eye, easy wit and steadfast concision; there is much attention to detail in the book but it is all explained with fluid precision. The research is thorough, with revelations both scandalous and surprising and this is one of the best of the BFI’s Film Classics series I’ve read, achieving its key objectives with ease. Pandora’s Box is engrossing, informative and entertaining … it made me experience the film in a completely different way”
Rick Burin was kind enough to write this about the book: “Pamela Hutchinson’s brilliant new study of Pandora’s Box (2017), in the BFI Film Classics series, is an extremely astute, readable reading of a fascinating film, explaining the enduring appeal and allure of both the picture and its heroine, the shimmering, sensual, black-helmeted Lulu: chauvinist avatar turned feminist icon.”
It has been a very special year for this site, and I have been overwhelmed by your support and good cheer in 2017. So, here’s raising a bottle of gin to the festive season, and my very best wishes to you for 2018.
One-hundred-and-eleven years ago, the actress, writer and icon Louise Brooks was born in Cherryvale, Kansas. She danced, she inspired a comic strip, she scandalised people, she acted, she starred, she disappeared … then she came back and told us all about it, in a series of wise and candid essays and some revelatory interviews. Her famous cool look, with those sharp features, glittering eyes and that slick haircut, represent the essence of 1920s chic. Her fame and popularity seem to grow every year. In short, Louise Brooks is hot stuff, even now.
To celebrate the anniversary of Louise Brooks’s birth I want to share with you the first look at my new book on her greatest film, Pandora’s Box (1929). Thanks for all your support along the way to writing this book. It has meant so much to me.
In case you are wondering, this is the correct order of business, in my humble opinion: watch the film, then read the book, then watch the film again. Repeat as required and enjoy!
So I have a few dates and venues confirmed, where you can come along, watch the film, with an introduction or Q&A from moi, and if you feel so inclined, buy a copy of the book (very reasonably priced, lots of pictures). It would be great to see some Silent Londoners in the audience. As more dates are arranged, I’ll add them to this post, but as ever, pay attention to the Silent London social media channels to get the breaking news.
So far, ALL these screenings are 35mm projections with live musical accompaniment. Because if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. And seeing Pandora’s Box on the big screen is definitely a thing worth doing.
Just a short note, to give you a little bit of news. The book I’ve been writing, well actually wrote last summer, has a release date! It’s a short book in the BFI Film Classics series, about one of the most beautiful and fascinating of all silent movies, GW Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), starring the unique Louise Brooks. #pandorasbook
Bad news for now – the book isn’t out until 21 November.
Good news for now – you can pre-order the book already, on Amazon, on the Palgrave site, or in a selection of other bookshops.
Good news to come – I’m talking to several people at venues up and down the UK, about screenings of the film to tie in with the launch. The deal is: I’ll come along, chat about the film, sell you a book and it will be midwinter magic all round. Details of those events to come, so watch this space …
Thanks for all your support. It’s also exactly a year today since I quit my full-time job and I have had a fabulous, busy 12 months of freelance film-related work. It’s enough to make a girl want to dance …
This is an extended version of a paper that I gave at the British Silent Film Festival Symposium at King’s College London on 7 April 2017. My book on Pandora’s Box (1929) is forthcoming from BFI Palgrave.
G. W. Pabst’s Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1929) is an adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays, but in many places a very loose one. Those German plays are about thirty years older than the film, a Weimar-era classic that marries traces of Expressionism with the late-1920s sobriety of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Pandora’s Box was filmed in Berlin, or at least in a former zeppelin hangar in Staaken, and its American star Louise Brooks identitfied its depiction of divergent sexualities and the sex trade with the city’s glamorous, permissive nightlife. Her evocative description of the city during the shoot, when she was staying at the famous Eden Hotel, begins: “Sex was the business of the town …”
“At the Eden Hotel, where I lived in Berlin, the café bar was lined with the higher-priced trollops. The economy girls walked the street outside. On the corner stood the girls in boots, advertising flagellation. Actors’ agents pimped for the ladies in luxury apartments in the Bavarian Quarter. Race-track touts at the Hoppegarten arranged orgies for groups of sportsmen. The nightclub, Eldorado, displayed an enticing line of homosexuals dressed as women. At the Maly, there was a choice of feminine or collar-and-tie lesbians. Collective lust roared unashamed at the theatre.”[i]
There is only one named location in the film, however, and it is in this place that the fictional narrative bumps into historical circumstance – so in this case, geography carries crucial meaning. The final act of Pandora’s Box the film, just like the final act of Wedekind’s play of the same name, takes place in London – in a slum district most likely in the east of the city. Jack the Ripper walks these streets, and our heroine Lulu, reduced to prostitution, encounters him with fatal consequences. This murder is her dramatic destiny, and to understand the film more fully, which was possibly the first cinema adaptation of the plays to feature London and the Ripper, we need to think about the British capital rather than the German one. To explore this topic I am going to examine three disappointing “misadventures” in London: the visits made by Frank Wedekind, Louise Brooks and the film itself.
Silent London may be a little neglected over the summer, because I am writing a book. Yay! Just a little one. The site won’t entirely close though: I hope to pop back here occasionally to update you on the progress of the book, and my research, and maybe to find a little company during my summer hibernation.
The book will be a BFI Film Classic, on a very special and beautiful movie. I’ll be writing about … Pandora’s Box (1929), GW Pabst’s dazzling take on Wedekind’s Lulu plays, starring the endlessly fascinating Louise Brooks. I know that many of you love this film – and quite right too. So I am very pleased to be spending the summer with Georg and Louise and Frank, sweating happily over a hot keyboard.
Film Classics are short and sweet as you may know, but I will still be working full-time so it may take me a little while to get there. And I will probably still be writing elsewhere. As always, the best way to keep up with the other things I write is here on my portfolio site, or by clicking on the “More by me” tab at the top of the site.
Obviously, in what feels like the dim, distant future when the book is published, I’d love it if you could buy it, or put it on your Christmas lists, or borrow it from your library, or just tell some interested friends about it.
But that’s not the request I want to make today. It’s simply this: don’t be a stranger! Bear with with Silent London while it is on a go-slow – I’ll still post here, and on Facebook and Twitter sometimes. And please be patient if all I seem to talk about is Neue Sachlichkeit and Brooks’s razor-sharp fringe for a while.
This is a guest post for Silent London by Peter Baran. You can follow Peter on Twitter at @pb14.
Louise Brooks and GW Pabst, an irresistible combination? Certainly Pandora’s Box (1929) caught lightning in a bottle, creating one of the most iconic female roles in all of silent cinema. In Pandora’s Box, Pabst and Brooks tease eroticism out of a certain ingenue naivety, whereas in her previous US films (A Girl In Every Port and Beggars of Life in particular) Brooks had offerede a slightly more world-weary sensuality. So it is no surprise that Pabst saw Brooks as the perfect person to play Thymian, the sheltered girl who will drop through the cracks of life via a workhouse for fallen women and prostitution.
This new Blu-Ray transfer of Diary of a Lost Girl (Tagebuch einer verlorenen, 1929) by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label is a crisp and beautiful version of what is clearly an exploitation movie. As in Pandora’s Box, Pabst’s walks the tightrope of commenting on eroticism and sensuality; too often he falls off the tightrope into titillation. The film is set up for us to rue the difficult circumstances that lead to Thymian’s journey from a fine middle-class household down into poverty and eventually to selling her body. Except everything is still a bit clean. The reformatory is horrid, but only in comparison to her comfortable home – and its horridness is more due to a Miss Hanniganesque management rather than something inherent in the system. And there isn’t really too much criticism of Thymian’s shaming (AKA rape), and pregnancy. You get the sense that the original author (the film is based on a popular Margarete Böhme novel) and the film-makers are just following through the logical conclusion of these incidents. Instead, we end up with a somewhat warped fairytale, a slow-burn Snow White where the dwarves run a brothel full of happy hookers, or Cinderella with calisthenics.
There is a sensuality and rawness in Pandora’s Box, coming from Lulu’s naivity, which Thymian doesn’t share at all. At least by the time the film has put her through her paces as part of the reformatory’s physical education routine, she has no sense of wild abandon. It is a wholly more sinister erotic thrill, underlined (perhaps a bit too heavily) by the matron whipping her gong and clearly getting far too much pleasure out of the whole affair. This part of the film could be subtitled Reform School Girls do gym:
Time for some exclamation mark abuse, I feel. Louise Brooks! In Pandora’s Box! On the big screen! For free!
It’s true. The Prince Charles Cinema has generously donated a pair of tickets to see Pandora’s Box on 26 May to one lucky reader of this blog. All you have to do is answer a simple silent film question and drop me an email. This is the question:
Louise Brooks made one more film with director GW Pabst after Pandora’s Box. What was it called?
Know the answer? Then email both your answer and your full name to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11 May 2011. When the closing date rolls around I will pick one correct answer at random and the fortunate emailer will receive two free tickets to the Pandora’s Box screening on 26 May. Simple as that. Good luck!