Saturday, December 30, 2006

Clothes on Film -- Pandora's Box

Oh, I love the history, art and style of the 1920s. That's the wonderful decade that gave us Fitzgerald and Hemingway in Paris (just typing those words makes me want to read "The Sun Also Rises" again), jazz, Art Deco, Cubism, the wits of the Algonquin Round Table, bootleggers, flappers, bobbed hair and fabulous, fabulous, fabulous clothes.

This week the Independent Film Channel (IFC) broadcast a beautifully restored version of "Pandora's Box," staring the ultimate flapper, Louise Brooks, as Lulu. Besides staring the divine Ms. Brooks, "Pandora's Box" is about as 20s as you can get: made in 1928, just months before the Great Depression and a few years before Germany put a 12-cylinder Mercedes engine in its handbasket and drove it straight to hell, it's a German Expressionist film set in Weimar Berlin about a beautiful but damned street girl who drives the Bürgers to hell through the sheer force of her sexuality. The film features an aged and decrepit sexual predator, a Lesbian countess, an obsessed father and a faithless son, high and low-class prostitution, adultery, blackmail, murder and the chicest wardrobe east of Paris, all those decadent things that make for bad society but great art. It's no surprise that it was banned in Germany from 1933-1945.

The restored film is so sharp that you can see the seams in the clothes and how the panels of the dresses were cut to fit the body. I was so busy staring at the well-dressed extras that I at times I lost track of the action. I think I'll invest in the Criterion DVD so that I can stop action and drool over the lamé cocoon coats and hankerchief-hemmed dresses at my leisure. In meantime I'll just have beautiful black and silver dreams of slender satin-clad girls dancing on the edge of the abyss.

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