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pandora's box
(1929)

cast
story
background
subtext
verdict

books
dvds
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pandora's box uk dvd review

louise brooks
g.w. pabst

fatty arbuckle
charlie chaplin
d.w. griffith
jean harlow
howard hawks
katharine hepburn
buster keaton
harold lloyd
groucho marx
george raft
robert ryan
jean simmons
josef von sternberg
andy warhol
orson welles

       pandora's
       box


pandora's box


p a b s t  |   m a s t e r p i e c e  ]


"Pandora's Box is in a league of its own due to the miracle of Louise Brooks."
- Paul Page


cast | story | background | subtext | verdict
pandora's box
louise brooks | g.w. pabst
katharine hepburn | harold lloyd | g.w. pabst
jean simmons | andy warhol | orson welles


brooks




    story

      Die Buchse der Pandora/Pandora's Box (1929)


      Cast: Louise Brooks (Lulu), Fritz Kortner (Dr Schon), Francis Lederer (Alwa Schon), Carl Goetz (Schigolch), Krafft-Raschig (Rodrigo Quast), Alice Roberts (Countess Anna Geschwitz), Gustav Diessi (Jack the Ripper), Sig Arno (Instructor), Daisy D'Ora (Charlotte M.A. von Zanik), Michael von Newlinsky (Marquis Casti-Piani)

      Crew: Director G.W. Pabst, Writers Joseph Fleisler, G.W. Pabst, Ladislaus Vajda, Plays Frank Wedekind, Producer Seymour Nebenzal, Cinematography Glinther Krampf, Production Design Andrej Andrejew and Gottlieb Hesch


    Metropolis, a film by Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927
    Reconstructed & restored 2010
    150 minutes Available (22nd nov. 2010):
    Amazon.co.uk | Metropolis Microsite


    Story: Lulu is a woman of outstanding beauty that no man (or indeed woman) can resist. At the start of the film she is the mistress of Schon, a media tycoon, who puts her up in a flash penthouse. However, Schon is not the only visitor to Lulu's flat. Enter Schigolch, a disgusting drunk who lives off handouts from Lulu and who is introduced to Schon as her first protector. Schigolch has a proposition for Lulu. He claims that the world should know of her beauty, that she should take to the stage with a colleague of his, Rodrigo. But Schon has a better idea. He convinces his son to give Lulu the lead in his song and dance show. Lulu is ecstatic, but her happiness is soon swept away. Schon informs Lulu that he is to marry and that he must end his affair. Lulu will not accept his decision. He brings his wife to be to the opening night of the show. When she sees the other woman Lulu flies into a rage, refusing to take the stage. Schon is called to her and as he orders her to go on she sulks like a child, demanding that he come back to her. Eventually he is unable to resist her charms. They kiss and at that very moment Schon's wife to be turns up and sees the couple embracing. Lulu has achieved her aim. The wedding is off. Schon now realises that he will never escape Lulu and so he accepts his fate, as if he were accepting a death sentence, and marries her. At the wedding, the sense that Schon is heading towards his own destruction overcomes the man. Pulling out a gun, he begs Lulu to kill herself so that they might both be free. She refuses and as they struggle the gun goes off and Schon is killed. Attorneys hear all kinds of similar stories about how an accidental murder occurred. In Lulu's case, any Cincinnati criminal defense attorney would probably advise her to plead not guilty to the charges.

    We next see Lulu dressed in widow's weeds on trial for her husband's murder. Although the defence makes an impassioned plea for her innocence and even calls upon Schon's son as a witness (he is also in love with her), the jury find her guilty. Before she can be led away Alwa sets off the fire alarm and Lulu escapes in the chaos. She rushes back to Schon's house, where she meets Alwa again and begs him to help her. He cannot resist her and so organises their, as well as Schigolch and Rodrigo's, escape to Paris. On the train they are recognised by a man who offers them help by putting them up on a secluded gambling ship he knows of. Here they spend the next three months.

    By now things are beginning to go sour. Alwa has apparently gambled away all their cash and Rodrigo is starting to turn nasty, ordering Lulu to 'get' 20,000 Francs so that he can set up his own vaudeville show. The only hope on the horizon is the arrival of the Countess Geschwitz, a close friend of Lulu. It becomes almost immediately clear that Geschwitz feels a great deal more than friendship for the woman. She too has fallen for Lulu's charms. However, Lulu's moment of happiness is almost immediately shattered. Now Alwa has run out of money, the owner of the gambling ship has no reason to keep Lulu. He could simply turn her over to the police and get the reward but he has had a more lucrative offer from an Egyptian brothel owner who wants to buy her for his place in Cairo.

    Getting desperate. Lulu borrows money from Geschwitz which she gives to Alwa. In a final attempt to recoup his losses he cheats at cards but is discovered before he can collect his winnings. A riot breaks out in the gambling hall. Alwa runs away and in the melee Lulu and Schigolch escape.

    We next see Alwa, Lulu and Schigolch living a pitiful existence in London during the height of Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. It is Christmas time, Alwa and Schigolch are doing nothing. Although Schigolch in particular always seems to be able to get whiskey, he can never apparently find any food. What he wants more than anything is to taste Christmas pudding.

    So Lulu goes out to earn some money on the streets. In a cruel twist of fate she picks up Jack the Ripper but even he would not seem to be able to resist her charms. As she stares into his eyes the man is overcome with emotion and drops the knife concealed behind his back. She takes him back to his room where the couple embrace. As he holds her he sees a knife glistening on the table next to him which he grabs - the rest is inevitable. Lulu is dead. In the last shot of the film we see Schigolch sitting in a bar, tucking into a large Christmas pudding.


    background


    This is undoubtedly Pabst's most famous film, although when it was first released it was slammed by critics. The film has reached classic status, due in no small part to the American actress Louise Brooks' performance as Lulu. The film shot Brooks to stardom, putting her for a brief period of time on a par with the likes of Joan Crawford. But the stardom didn't last and after a brief spell in Europe working with Pabst she returned to Hollywood where she only managed to get bit parts. She made her final film Overland Stage Raiders with John Wayne in 1938, after which she faded into obscurity until Die Buchse der Pandora was revived in 1955 in Paris by Henri Langlois at the Musee National d'Art Moderne. This exhibition was dominated by huge posters of Brooks as Lulu. The enthusiasm for the actress and the film aroused by the exhibition gave birth to what has become today a Louise Brooks cult. With her perfectly formed black bob, and childlike innocence Brooks as Lulu has become, along with Marlene Dietrich, a central icon of the Weimar period, the femme fatale, a symbol of the loose morality of the roaring 1920s - curiously, Dietrich was up for the role, until Pabst vetoed the choice. Brooks acts very naturally in the film - the antithesis of the exaggerated performances we see in most Expressionist films. The turn towards realism continues, but as we have already seen in Pabst's other films, there is still the thumbprint of Expressionism here, most obviously in his use of chiaroscuro lighting and sharp camera angles, but also in the film's subtext.


    subtext


    In this film, we see an exploration of the fear of female sexuality. While on trial the prosecution compares Lulu to the figure of Pandora from Greek mythology who unleashed disaster and destruction into the world. On one level, Lulu is constructed in the film not so much as a woman but as a mythical force who destroys everyone who comes into her path. Like the evil Maria, she can be seen as evidence of the destructive power of liberated sexuality and as in Lang's Metropolis, although Lulu would seem to be at the centre of the narrative, the film would seem to be more about male sexuality. Lulu is the ultimate passive aggressive, an idea which is communicated in Pabst's use of the gaze as a thematic strand of the film. Throughout the film she transfixes her conquests with her gaze. Although she might seem to control the various men she stares at, from Schon to Jack the Ripper, she only stares to invite others to stare at her. If we look at the end of the film and Lulu's encounter with Jack the Ripper, we seen a magnificent shot/reverse shot sequence between Jack and Lulu in which Pabst gradually zooms into the characters' eyes until finally Jack releases the knife. Throughout, Lulu's eyes communicate an innocence and her willingness to give herself to this man, a look which he finds irresistible.

    Lulu is a catalyst for the unleashing of the male libido (even Geschwitz, a woman enamoured of Lulu, is clearly a 'masculine' lesbian). After her death we see Jack the Ripper (a figure which recalls Leni's Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) walk past Alwa, giving him a knowing glance, perhaps suggesting that he has ultimately done Alwa a good turn. The man is at last free of Lulu, Jack has resealed Pandora's box. But working against this image of Lulu as the destroyer of men is the social critique of the film, a critique which echoes Pabst's Die freudlose Gasse. As Geschwitz points out in the courtroom scene, Lulu, having been brought up on the streets, has no choice but to live the life she does. Lulu has nothing to offer but her body. As she slips down the social strata the naked economic reality of her position becomes more and more obvious. Her status as a femme fatale who can destroy men with her wiles disappears. On the gambling ship she is reduced to a commodity, sold against her will into slavery, and then finally in London she is reduced to the level of a street prostitute. The femme fatale is a victim of male society.


    verdict


    Again Pabst shows himself to be a consummate editor, but this film is in a league of its own due to, as Eisner puts it, the 'miracle of Louise Brooks.' 5/5

  • Pandora's Box UK Dvd



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metropolis

a film by fritz lang, germany, 1927

reconstructed & restored 2010
150 minutes

available (22nd nov. 2010):
amazon.co.uk | metropolis microsite


metropolis





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cast | story | background | subtext | verdict
pandora's box
louise brooks | g.w. pabst
katharine hepburn | harold lloyd | g.w. pabst
jean simmons | andy warhol | orson welles

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