Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Pandora's Box at the Paramount

The San Francisco Film Festival presented the 1929 German silent film classic Pandora's Box at Oakland's Paramount Theater on Saturday, and it was an altogether splendid evening.
The Art Deco movie palace is looking beautifully restored and loved, and it seems a miracle the building was never torn down or disfigured.
The huge theater was almost filled...
...and of course many in the audience were in period costume because that's what you do in the Bay Area.
The two original "Lulu" plays by Frank Wedekind were written and took place in the 1890s, but director G.W. Pabst had updated the setting to 1920s Weimar Germany featuring one sleek Art Deco interior after another.
I recently read the two plays, Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box, for the first time, and my jaw kept dropping. Wedekind was deliberately trying to shock his fin de siècle audiences, and succeeded so well that he was imprisoned for obscenity by the government after Earth Spirit was published.
The material is still shocking, beginning with the publishing tycoon Dr Schön who took Lulu off the streets into his family when she was 12 years old, and at an unspecified juncture made her his lover.
The film adaptation makes a few major changes but is actually more coherent than the original. Deleting the first two husbands from the play, who die onstage of a stroke and straight-razor suicide respectively, the movie begins with Dr Schön trying to get Lulu out of his life so he can marry a respectable woman. This does not work out well.
The movie has been censored, lost, and degraded over the decades, but the current digital restoration combining three different prints from around the world means that this is essentially a new movie, not seen the way it was meant to be for close to 100 years. The major set pieces, such as backstage at a colossal musical review, are astonishing, as is the cast, led by the 23-year-old American ingenue Louise Brooks who is perversely cheerful around all the mayhem that surrounds her.
Best of all, accompanying the film was the Club Foot Orchestra playing their own augmented 1995 score accompanied by six SF Conservatory musicians. With 15 total players, they sounded like a full symphony orchestra at times.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is holding their annual five-day festival at the endangered Castro Theater in San Francisco July 12-16. Let us hope, pray and advocate for that civic treasure before it is irreparably ruined by its irresponsible owners, the Nasser family, and its proposed new managers, Another Planet Entertainment, which wants to turn it into a rock venue.


Lisa Hirsch said...

I was there too, in the same row as Teresa from SFO and friends from a different part of my life.

Kimo C said...

Thanks for the summary, I'm so sorry to miss this.