Pandora's Box Reviews
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 Schön (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 Schön 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.
The sequence opens up as Brooks' character, Lulu, finishes "entertaining" a man. Lulu is a high end escort who has caught the eye of one rich man. The rich man is engaged and wishes to break off his relationship with his mistress Lulu. As hard as he tries, he ends back up in the arms of Lulu. At the beginning, Lulu's former agent/pimp shows up to lure her into show business. From then on, her former agent and hopeful show business partner remain attached to Lulu hoping to live from her success. Eventually Lulu becomes a fugitive of the law and must try to survive from Germany to France to London.
Lulu is a character that knows how to flirt and get what she wants from men. Ultimately, her childish innocence in her adult promiscuous life style proves her downfall. Brooks portrays Lulu as vivacious, seductive, immature in a highly lauded performance. The characters are not simple two dimensional, but all have their deep complexities brought out successfully in this silent era film. The director Pabst makes perfect use of the camera close-ups and full angle shots to present Lulu as adorable yet also dangerous. His direction is masterful as he carefully unravels the sexually manipulative success of a perfect woman created by the gods but who also unleashes great evils on those who come into contact with her.
Her self-worth becomes numb as she uses and fulfills her desires and emotions through her sexuality.
Her life is clouded by this philosophy and starts a downward spiral.
Her dreams become reality and life as a mistress begins to tear her apart.
Her charm is seductive and you feel there is a chance for her.
She is cursed with beauty and everyone wants to take this from her. They become perversely infatuated and drain her out of all that is good inside her.
She becomes her own victim.
It saddens me that her character ends with misfortune.
A film to be appreciated within the literary and theatrical tradition of melodrama, quite daring for its time.