The lesbian, Countess Geschwitz, dances tango with Lulu, in ‘Pandora’s Box’ 1929
Ray Batchelor writes:
What should we make of this 1929 queer tango from Weimar Germany? https://youtu.be/ecd0OV4E1YA
The clip shows Lulu dancing with Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Louise Brooks and Alice Roberts) and is probably the earliest film showing a lesbian dancing tango with another woman.
Was it a tango they danced? Almost certainly – Wikipedia says: “In shooting the film, Pabst drew on Brooks’ background as a dancer with the pioneering[American] modern dance ensemble Denishawn, “choreographing” the movement in each scene, and limiting her to a single emotion per shot. Pabst was deft in manipulating his actors: he hired tango musicians to inspire Brooks between takes, [and] coached a reluctant Alice Roberts through the lesbian sequences…”
According to a comment on YouTube left by a contributor styled as “Haplessasshole” the Belgian actress, Alice Roberts “…character was “changed” from a very out, very butch woman dressed in guy-drag to an extremely repressed woman. Pabst, the director…used her horror and anger, which was largely directed at Brooks, to give the scene the remarkable sexual charge it still conveys today.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecd0OV4E1YA While a blogger whose blog includes this image of Roberts in a man’s evening dress notes that “Roberts herself wasn’t comfortable with shooting such scenes. (She didn’t find out about the nature of her character until filming began. Pabst convinced her to direct the sexual passes for Lulu to him when they shot such scenes. Yeah.)” http://movienut14.blogspot.co.uk/…/the-silent-cinema-blogat…
The contrast between this complex, artistic representation of same sex tango between women with its (queer?) smouldering sexuality and the “gay abandon” and jollity of the of the 1928 amateur video of men dancing tango with each other on a picnic near Montevideo could not be more stark.
What, if anything, does it tell us?
“The particular image and the following text is taken from an academic paper, ‘Screening Modernity: Cinema and Sexuality in Ann-Marie MacDonald’s ‘Fall On Your Knees’ by Candida Rifkind of York University
“When Wedekind constructed his dramatic Lulu, Ellis’s theories had been expanded by other sexologists and had entered popular cultural discourse to the extent that Wedekind’s construction of Lulu as a narcissist is matched by his creation of a lesbian, Countess Geschwitz, as her constant companion and shadow (Hart 51). Andrea Weiss contends that these psychosexual theories are dramatized by the two female characters in Pabst’s film of the Wedekind play:
“The character of Lulu, played by Louise Brooks, is the embodiment of ‘primitive,’ polymorphous sexuality which brings about the ruin of herself and everyone she comes near, while Countess Geschwitz, played by Alice Roberts, is a lesbian artist who takes a passionate interest in her. Lulu’s innocence about her own sexuality and those around her makes her susceptible to, yet ambivalent towards the Countess’ overture (21).
“The Countess, often cited as cinema’s first explicit lesbian character, is a version of the predatory lesbian Ellis believed would try to recruit other women to homosexuality.”
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