G.W. Pabst's silent masterpiece stars Louise Brooks as Lulu, the femme fatale who causes passions to overheat wherever she goes. The mistress of a Berlin newspaper editor until his untimely death, Lulu subsequently takes up with his son as she seeks to evade the attentions of the law.
Made at the very end of the silent era, Pandora's Box
is one of the last flowerings of German cinema's greatest decade. It also marked the highpoint of two careers: Austrian director GW Pabst and American actress Louise Brooks. A merge of two linked plays by the decadent German playwright Frank Wedekind, it's the story of Lulu, the archetypal femme fatale
(the same plays served as source for Alban Berg's masterly 1935 opera). At once sensual and innocent, a force of uninhibited sexuality, Lulu brings ruin on all her lovers both male and female, and ultimately upon herself.
Hollywood never knew what to do with Brooks who, with her fierce intelligence and her open delight in sex, refused to play the coy flappers then in fashion. In Pabst, whose genius, she wrote, "lay in getting to the heart of a person", she found the director she needed, and he brought out her a screen persona with a depth of eroticism that's still breathtaking to see. The film features some of the finest German acting talent of the period--Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer--but it's Brooks' luminous performance that rivets the eye and makes her a great screen icon.
Though the action is nominally set in the late-19th century--Lulu ends up in a shadowy London where she encounters Jack the Ripper--Pandora's Box breathes the gamey air of the Weimar Republic, vividly captured by Günther Krampf's pungent photography. This release runs well over two hours and includes, for the first time in decades, over 30 minutes of cut footage, restoring the film to something very close to Pabst's original masterpiece.
On the DVD: Pandora's Box on DVD is a clean, crisp transfer in the classic 4:3 ratio, and the mono soundtrack brings out all the detail of Peer Rubens' Kurt Weill-inflected score, stylishly performed by the Kontraste Ensemble. Dialogue intertitles can be read in either English or German. We also get an outstanding 60-minute documentary, Looking for Lulu, about Brooks' life and career: warmly narrated by Shirley MacLaine, it features excerpts from an interview with Brooks from 1976. --Philip Kemp