Pandora’s Box (1929)

March 30, 2007

I guess it must have been a Louise Brooks documentary that I saw on TV or something, pandora2.jpgbut for a few years now, I have been anxious to see Pandora’s Box (Die Buchse der Pandora). Unfortunately, even though it is considered one of Brooks’ crowning achievements and a classic of the silent era, this is not a film that’s readily available at your neighborhood library or video store. Thus, it wasn’t until recently, with the release of the Criterion Collection edition this past November, that I finally had access to a copy of it. Earlier this month, I received a copy through Netflix and at last had a chance to see it. The verdict? It was well worth the wait.

These days I imagine silent films are more of an acquired taste. With that in mind, if you have not seen a silent film before, you might want to check another one out first before diving into Pandora’s Box, which – at over two hours long – is a rather lengthy silent era piece. On the other hand, if you like silent films and Louise Brooks in particular (by the way, Greenbriar Pictures Show did a really well-done post on Brooks a few months ago that you can find here), then you will likely enjoy this film. The story describes the freespirited Lulu (Brooks) whose beauty incites jealousy in her many admirers which leads, in turn, to her ultimate downward spiral. It’s one of those great gems of early film that demonstrates the medium when it still seemed overly ambitious in its literary intents. It also is still early enough in the twentieth century that it still strongly resembles its Victorian forebears, as the basic plot and most of the cast seems to come straight out of a Dickens novel. Lulu herself in many ways resembles Thackeray’s Becky Sharp in the manner in which she is portrayed as simultaneously repugnant and entrancing, confining and liberating pandora.jpg(in many ways, Brooks herself was viewed in such contradictory terms). The film seems to hover between the Victorians’ conventional moral stand and a more forward-looking feminist view, and it’s interesting to note that this film contains one of the cinema’s first (if not the first) lesbian character in Countess Anna.

Director G. W. Pabst, one of those remarkably influential German directors of early film history, does a splendid job with the film and uses some surprisingly innovative shots. Brooks, as always, is entrancing. The story, while somewhat predictable, is nonetheless engaging. Criterion’s release of the film is of the highest quality and includes a few different styles of accompanying scores. (Apparently, there is a second DVD included in the release that has all sorts of special features.) Overall, I enjoyed this DVD very much and recommend it highly to any fan of silent films.