April suggests Pandora’s Box (in the Criterion Collection, but it’s a classic film, and it’s foreign, but
it’s silent….just rent it, will you…). Director: G.W. Pabst. Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer. Henri Langlois said “There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks!” It’s a bold statement that made even Brooks herself raise an eyebrow but if you watch her performance closely in Pandora’s Box you may come away with an understanding of what Langlois saw in her.
Brooks plays Lulu a showgirl and kept woman who exudes sexuality in an innocent and carefree way, never fully realizing that her seduction of those around her is slowly destroying her lovers and herself. We first see Lulu in her apartment surrounded by males on every side who want something from her including her former pimp (Carl Goetz), her new lover Dr. Schon (Fritz Kortner), and a variety performer. The mood is light and playful. She sits in Carl Goetz lap shares a drink with him and dances. But things don’t go well for Lulu. Dr. Schon soon becomes jealous and leaves her for a classier woman. When Lulu slinks her way back into his life he marries her to avoid scandal. From here there is a murder, a trial, an escape attempt, and false salvation. The film also gives us one of cinemas first lesbians in the Countess Geschwitz who dances with Lulu on her wedding night and who clearly would do anything for her as we see later on.
Of course, this being the 1920’s, our girl Lulu must ultimately pay for her crimes of passion. But on the way there we are treated to the beauty of Louise Brooks in her signature film. The ending is a bit murky (Jack the Ripper in 1920’s London! What?!) and at times the pace is a bit slow but if you’re a fan of silent films this is a fun melodrama. On a opinionated technical note I would recommend you watch it with the Modern Orchestral Score by Peter Rabin. It gives the film an intensity that the others don’t. They’re either too over-the-top (the orchestral score) or cartoonish (the cabaret and piano scores). Oh and check out the bonus features on disc 2. There’s a documentary about Louise Brooks and a rate interview with Brooks when she was in her 70’s called Lulu in Berlin about the making of Pandora’s Box.