Pandora's Box (Criterion Collection) [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Fast dispatch from UK mainland-DVD Boxed Set (2 DVD's) complete with 98 page booklet from my own private collection in very good condition-PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE REGION 1 DVD'S & A MULTI REGION PLAYER IS NEEDED TO WATCH THESE DISCS.
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LuLu (Louise Brooks) an amoral entertainer in 1928 Berlin, is having fun taking men for all they have and snubbing those that may care for her. After moving to London she is still in the habit of entertaining men at her place. She is about to open Pandora's Box as she has no idea who she has lured up to her place.
If you are looking for an ending with a moral statement you will be disappointed as it is more of a Quid pro quo.
If it is not already included on the media you picked for this film there is an available separate documentary Produced in 1998 for Turner Classic Movies called "Looking for Lulu", narrated by Shirley MacLaine, which is almost as interesting as this film.
Louise Brooks - Looking for Lulu
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G.W. Pabst already had a reputation as a director of German neo-realism thanks to the 1925 Greta Garbo film THE JOYLESS STREET (influenced by D.W. Griffith's ISN'T LIFE WONDERFUL of 1924). In the sound era he would make the film version of THE THREEPENNY OPERA (1931). PANDORA'S BOX mixes realism and German expressionism in equal amounts to tell the story of a naive dancer/prostitute and the tragedy she brings to everyone who tries to become close to her. It's amazing how Pabst saw something in Louise Brooks that no one else did and then brought it out so effectively onscreen. From the performances to the lighting, the editing and the camerawork, to the relentlessly downbeat mood, PANDORA'S BOX is a true landmark of the cinema (silent and sound) that anyone seriously interested in film should experience.
Finally available in the U.S. on DVD, this Criterion 2 disc set is all that you could ask for. The print for its age (1928) looks great and you get the choice of 4 different background scores which show how important music is to silent cinema. Each one makes it a different viewing experience. My personal favorite is Peer Ruben's modern orchestral score although you also get classical, cabaret, and piano to choose from. It also comes with 2 documentaries on Louise Brooks, informed commentary, and a 90 page booklet. Now that's the way to treat a cinema classic!
To start with just picking this set up is impressive in itself!It comes in a handsome light and dark gray cardboard slip case almost an inch thick and inside it contains a two disk set absolutely loaded with fabulous and unexpectedly surprising extras AND a thick booklet!
The two disc set itself has the nice light and dark gray theme carried on for IT'S covering.When you slip the DVD into your player the screen gives you the usual surround and stereo audio options.However it also gives you your pick of FOUR(yes FOUR!!)different scores in which to choose from when viewing the movie.This is totally unprecedented in my experience.The scores are piano,orchestral(an approximation of what the late 20s European theater goer might have experienced),cabaret(a light and whimsical small band style) and modern orchestral.All these choices are absolutely wonderful but my favourite is the piano.However just having these options in the first place helps place this collection right at the top of the heap.
And if this wasn't enough film studies professor T.Elaessan and author Mary Ann Doanne together offer up a nice and very informative optional commentary on the film....one which I recommend at some point you give a listen to.And things don't stop there my friends!!
Two wonderful documentaries are also included.First is one I had heard of but had never seen called "Lulu in Berlin" produced back in 1984 by Richard Leacock and Susan Woll.It's a delightful film and mainly revolves around an interview of Louise in her home in Rochester,N.Y. a few years earlier.This comes in at around 48 minutes.
The other documentary is one that many Brooks fans will know that has come and gone on both DVD and VHS called "Louise Brooks:Looking for Lulu".That's right the self same documentary made by Hugh Hefner back in 1998 with commentary by Shirley MacLaine!!!This finishes in at about 60 minutes.
If this hasn't put you flat on your back by now I'm going to execute the coup de'gras.There are also two other interviews included here.One is with Richard Leacock the co-producer of "Lulu in Berlin" and the other with G.W.Pabsts' son Michael.Criterion went back about a year ago and interviewed these two just for this upcoming collection!
Next is the astounding and beautifully bound 98 page(from inside cover to inside cover) booklet.The booklet contains information relative to the movie plus three super articles.The first is by Village Voice film critic J.Hoberman,the second a reprint of Kenneth Tynans'article on Brooks "The Girl in the Black Helmet" first published in "Sight and Sound" magazine in June/79 and lastly Louises' own piece titled "Pabst and Lulu" taken from her own book "Lulu in Hollywood".The booklet throughout is lavishly illustrated.A great primer for the novice or a great read for the seasoned Brooksie fans!
The only soft spot in this entire release is on the techincal side.Even though it could be considered minor or "picky" by some I think in all fairness it should be brought to your attention.The print itself I don't think is quite as good as it could have been.It is a composite print from the Munich Film Museum/Pabst Collection who's two main sources seem to be Nero and Janus films.When I saw Janus appear on the screen my heart sank because I have never known Janus to release anything but severely slashed and inferior product.In fact the 1986 VHS release by Embassy was a Janus print and it came in at about 110 minutes.
The blurb in the included booklet reveals just a small portion of the restoration process on the print which included removing dust and dirt but that's about all.It's a shame the same care that was lavished on Kinos' "Metropolis" release(see my review on that) wasn't extended to this one because it would certainly have made a difference.While this print does show its' age with the usual scratches and streaks evident in many films of this era(maybe a bit more than I'd like!) the most disappointing defect however is the recurring problem of the film going in and out of focus periodically.This is usually a sign of film shrinkage and its' uneven traversing during processing.I have only seen prints of this film like this and was hoping that this release would somehow come from another superior source which would have no such problem.While the Munich Museum doesn't seem to have such a print in its' hands it certainly doesn't totally rule out its' existence.Having said that however I must admit that they certainly did the best they could with what they did have on hand and they have also released the longest print of Pandoras Box I have ever seen which comes in at two hours and 11 minutes!! All inter-titles are in German with English sub-titles.
In conclusion Criterion,as usual,has gone the extra mile and delivered a product everyone at every level of its' issue can be proud of.The above mentioned technical flaw aside this release is to me without doubt the BEST release of 2006.This is a higher priced set to be sure as are most of Criterions' products but you can be sure that a Criterion product is a superior product and with all the extras you are getting in this release in many ways it is a steal.And it is a release that no serious collector should be without!
The plot begins with Lulu leading a comfortable life as the mistress of newspaper mogul Dr. Peter Schön. A vivacious and unapologetic flirt, she also tantalizes Schön's naïve son Alwa and the mannish Countess Geschwitz, but she becomes determined to marry Peter when he announces his engagement to the respectable daughter of a government official. As she readies to take the stage in a musical revue, she jealously throws a temper tantrum to prevent Peter from marrying, an overlong episode that exposes his lustful feelings for Lulu in front of his fiancée. Through this twist of fate, Lulu becomes socially prominent, but fate deals harshly with her as she is arrested for murder and sentenced to prison. She manages to escape to a gambling boat where shorn of her famous pageboy bob, she is blackmailed and then winds up walking the streets of London where she eventually meets her destiny.
As Lulu, the stunning Brooks is credible as a tart though not quite to the Shakespearean degree demanded by the story. She has moments of enigmatic power when Pabst's vision becomes palpable, but she never quite transcends the tawdry dimensions of the story. Her severe coquettish look has inspired subsequent generations of actresses from Liza Minnelli in "Cabaret" to Drew Barrymore in "Fever Pitch". The supporting cast is filled with typically excessive performances, in particular, Carl Goetz as the gargoyle-like pimp Schigolch and Alice Roberts as the smitten Countess. The expressionistic look of the film adds invaluably to the story's emotionalism thanks to Günther Krampf's striking cinematography and Andrej Andrejew and Gottlieb Hesch's modernist sets. The first disc has a satisfactory print with some overexposure evident at key moments.
There is an informative if rather academic commentary track by film scholars Thomas Elsaesser and Mary Anne Doane. You can listen to their comments or select among four different musical scores (although the orchestral accompaniment tends to be too overpowering). On the second disc are three solid documentaries - an hour-long 1998 TCM biography, "Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu", narrated by Shirley MacLaine; a new feature, "Shadow of My Father", where Pabst's son Michael discusses his father's idiosyncratic filmmaking techniques; and a fascinating 48-minute interview with a particularly tough-minded Brooks produced a year before her death in 1985 by filmmaker Richard Leacock and Susan Steinberg Woll. The best extra is the 98-page booklet which includes noted film writer Kenneth Tynan's 1979 New Yorker essay, "The Girl with the Black Helmet", which launched Brooks' renaissance.