Pandora's Box Reviews
German silent classic directed by Georg Whilhelm Plabst. The libertine and na´ve spirit of seductive Lulu is a potentially fatal trap to any man or woman who crosses paths with the young dancer. Seemingly unaware of the consequences of her actions, Lulu drifts at the mercy of events in a melodramatic adventure marked by strong sexuality and deviltry. Lulu's treacherous spell will be her doom; she will fall into misery and despair, and will meet a tragic fate at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Lulu personifies the Greek myth of Pandora on which the movie is thematically based. Pandora's Box is notable for lifting Louise Brooks into stardom, and for, presumably, being the first movie in the history of cinema to deal with the lesbian theme. This is a must-see for fans of Louise Brooks, fans of silent cinema and to whomever wants to see how homosexuality was treated on the screen in a period where it was still a taboo subject. The ludicrous pathos lends a funnier quality to the movie than it is supposed to be, but this doesn't hinder the cinematic experience. Wonderful cinematography and camera work. Supremely fun and naughty movie. Recommended.
Overall, an excellent film, complex, erotic, and unforgettable. Essential viewing.
So. No. Pabst did not create Lousie Brooks. Pabst made Lousie Brooks what she is today; an ultimately tragic relic of a bygone age. I cannot believe how astonishingly perfect Pandora's Box was conceived. Pabst is a true nobleman of the cinema for a number of reasons, my confidence will never sway in that regard. Pabst made the perfect film. A rarity, a pleasure, and a true art. His direction, the key to the enigma, only comes out of its perpetual hiding after a few viewings. It is Louise Brooks, and only Louise Brooks, that your eyes and heart feast on during the first time you watch Pandora's Box. Brooks was the most enchanting, dazzling, and transcendental of the silent screen goddesses. In the scene where Shon's is caught making love to her by his fiancÚ and his son, Brooks delivers the greatest facial expression ever captured on film. An act of dominance and sexual achievement. A grin that is truly timeless, as if she's staring through time and space, testing your wildest urges, daring you to love her, and begging you to beg to forget it. Although Brooks didn't know then, or even cared to know at the time, soon she would have Pabst all figured out. She realized that the greatest performance of her career, and one of the most legendary in all of cinema, was not a performance at all, it wasn't even acting. It was her. It was documentary. I was real. Perhaps the greatest invention belonging to G. W. Pabst was the invention of truth. Things look different when they are being filmed, it is a natural reaction to put on on an act of sort when one knows he or she is being watched. Pabst bypassed that fault in cinematic realism and created reality. Untouched by fabled hands, pure and innocent, L. Brooks. Arguably, Pabst is the only director who has ever accomplished such a remarkable feat.
I had somehow gotten the impression that this movie was lost. Clearly, it is not; the Criterion Collection has put out a fairly impressive release of it. However, I do not know if it was formerly lost and has since been found or if I was wrong that it was lost in the first place. Possibly, this information was in the hefty booklet included in the DVD box, but I didn't actually read it. This is largely because I'm not sure it actually matters one way or another, and it's also true that there was unlikely to be a segment in the booklet that said, "No, you're an idiot. You're thinking of a different German film with homosexuality in it!" Which is why I thought it was lost--there's an obviously lesbian character, and I had the impression that the Nazis had destroyed all the copies they could get their hands on. It wouldn't be the only time that happened, after all, and that may be why I'd gotten confused. If I was.
Anyway, this is the story of Lulu (Louise Brooks), a vamp in the high vamp style of 1920s Germany. She is the mistress of Dr. Ludwig Sch÷n (Fritz Kortner), a newspaper publisher. She is the kind of woman who can destroy a man's reputation, and he decides that he can't remain with her. He decides to marry Charlotte von Zarnikow (Daisy D'Ora), who is better suited to German society. He sets Lulu up to be in a show produced by Rodrigo Quast (Krafft-Raschig), but he then makes the mistake of bringing Charlotte to her show. Lulu has a great screaming fit and won't go on, which eventually ends with her seducing Ludwig. On her wedding night, he finds her in a room with his son, Alwa (Francis Lederer), and a man of her acquaintance, Schigolch (Carl Goetz). Ludwig kicks them out, then tells Lulu to kill herself, because the other alternative is that he will kill her. They struggle. The gun goes off. He is killed. She is convicted of manslaughter, but Alwa and Schigolch spirit her away, and things go rather downhill from there.
To be honest, the lesbian character, Countess Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), was such a minor character that she isn't necessary to a reasonable plot summary. Lulu uses her passport to get out of Germany, but that's about the extent of things so far as I can tell. She's also there to provide a certain titillation to the story--she slouches about in mannish clothing and so forth, and she leers over Lulu. Before Lulu is caught with Alwa and Schigolch, she is seen dancing--at the reception to her own wedding, yes--with the countess. I think we are supposed to see her as shocking, and I think the flirtations with a lesbian are supposed to further that. I don't think it contributes to the plot, though, and if Roberts was going to cry over being forced to show sexual attraction to another woman, it wasn't worth the effort. It's not much of a story in many other ways, but the lesbianism is not merely token but unimportant even to the standards of tokenism.
And, of course, we never do find out for sure who Schigolch is. Lulu claims at one point that he is her father, but it is uncertain that she is telling the truth. There is also considerable speculation that he had been her pimp, before she met up with the Sch÷n family. I believe she refers to him at one point as having been her first patron, but from things the countess says at Lulu's trial, that doesn't preclude either possible explanation. Or, indeed, the possibility that he isn't either. He's a seedy person, and I have little doubt that the prison break is his idea--though of course it's also a bad one, given the life she leads afterward--and that it's largely his fault that things go quite as badly as they do. Honestly, Lulu would have done better just be serving her prison time, but she seems to be incapable of thinking of the future, much less preparing for it. The whole of the story would be changed if Lulu planned ahead even once.
The thing I find worrying, however, is the idea that Lulu is the container through which evil enters these men's lives. This is expressly stated in the trial by the district attorney (uncredited). Her own attorney (also uncredited) plays up the fact that she herself did not intend to kill her husband. That it was an accident caused by her husband. This is, broadly, true. However, the prosecutor follows it with a statement that the Pandora's Box of the title is Lulu herself, that without her, everything would have gone just dandy for her husband. I don't know if that's true or not. what I do know is that no one was forcing him to get involved with her in the first place. I know that some people are worse around each other than either would be alone, but the impression I got was that Ludwig wanted the perks of having such a beautiful woman as Lulu around, but he didn't want to accept any of the consequences of having someone as undisciplined as Lulu around. He had his own evil inside him before he ever met her.