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falderal : a moving images blog
Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) ; 1929  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst (G.W. Pabst)
Actors: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Francis Lederer, Carl Goetz, Alice Roberts, Gustav Diessl
Country: Germany

First of all, rest in peace Pabst. Your films are much loved by film enthusiasts, scholars, and most people who have watched your films. You will never be forgotten.
I watched Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, another Brooks film, without knowing it was the day of Pabst’s death until afterwards. Sad but somehow fitting. It’s a great film that I’ll post about next.

Since I’m a huge whiner, I want to start this post with a complaint: the Janus Die Büchse der Pandora DVD in the Essential Art House DVD set has a terrible score. I honestly wanted to stop watching the film because the music was so bad and half the time, I turned it off. It’s the score by Peer Raben, which is also available on the Criterion DVD, and the stupid score made me on the verge of tears (due to frustration) and I couldn’t help but think how much it ruined the film. I’ve watched it before without the music and it was quite enjoyable that way and I was excited to watch it with music, but alas, what a disappointment.

Other than that, I want to start with my honest opinion that I might get shot for: I think that this film isn’t exactly the best out of Pabst’s silents. Die Büchse der Pandora always gets the most attention along with Die freudlose Gasse and while I think it’s a film that deserves recognition, I don’t see all the hype about it. Yes, I like the film, but I would give it probably a 8.5/10 THE HIGHEST. Maybe I’m just bitter because this film gets so much attention, but I just don’t think it lives up to its hype. Hm, maybe I should take back everything I typed. I think I have more problem with the story that I’m just really angry. The film was beautifully directed and the ending was absolutely perfect, but my sense of justice made me aggravated with it. I hated that Lulu had to die, but then again, that is probably the only way to escape her dreadful life. She died in the hands of someone who she liked whereas her relationship with her previous lover was pretty much dead. Whenever I read about this film, people always say that it’s a film about a woman who brings the demise of anyone around her and that Lulu is a femme fatale, yet I do not see it that way at all. I can see the point in the argument because she is a gorgeous woman, and everyone enamored by her are like moths to a flame, and I purposefully use that idiom because while a flame can be beautiful and something that attracts you, it can also hurt you. I want to deemphasize the fact that she brings destruction to the people around her because the question is, does she really destroy the people around her? I think that she doesn’t because while people put her in this box of a “femme fatale”, I feel like a woman pursuing what she wants is always seen in a bad light when I don’t see anything wrong with it. Is it that wrong to be selfish? Was Lulu truly trying to hurt the people around her? I do not think so and I am incredibly sympathetic of Lulu. She didn’t deserve to be in prison because she didn’t mean to kill her husband and it was really Alwa’s fault that she had to live in a terrible state and eventually even prostitute herself. Rather than seeing Lulu as bringing ruin to everyone around her, I see her as a victim of circumstances. I believe that she was looking for love and some place where she would truly belong. In the end, she found it in Jack the Ripper (Diessl) and while it is twisted and tragic, it is as if she got her happy ending.

The ending for this film was perfect. Pabst did such a wonderful job directing everything and the mood of the last shot evokes so many things: loneliness, the meaning (or lack of) of life, death, continuation of time… it’s just so much that I can’t put it in words. In my opinion, from the scene of Lulu’s death to the end is probably one of the most powerful scenes in cinema. When I saw Schigolch (Goetz) eating the Christmas pudding, Alwa ignorant of Lulu’s death, and the Christmas parade, it made me think about how insignificant a life can seem or even be and how life goes on despite deaths. Lulu’s death seemed so insignificant especially when I saw Schigolch with the pudding because the only reason she went out to sell herself was because Schigolch guilt tripped her into it by saying how he would like a taste of pudding before he died and in the end, he got his pudding anyway. Instead, Lulu died and she could have escaped her fate if she didn’t go out. Some people say she deserved her death to stop the cycle of destruction, but I don’t see why. I don’t think she deserved death, although it could imply that it’s the only way to be happy for her. Rather than a cycle of destruction for the people around her, I felt as if Lulu was in a state of self-destruction due to the people around her. Speaking of the ending, the chemistry between Brooks and Diessl was perfect. Brooks did say that she was attracted to him and I could see why. I’ve seen Diessl in another Pabst film and didn’t find him to be attractive, but he was kind of handsome in this film. And seeing Kortner in this film made me laugh because I just find him to be really funny looking and a terrible actor. Funny that he didn’t respect Brooks as an actress when I think she was so much better. Although that can be based on what good acting was back in the 20s, Asta Nielsen was respected for her natural acting.

Louise Brooks has been immortalized by this film and I think that overall, she did a great job. The scene when she is in the courthouse (ref. Picture 3) and the ending is when I thought Brooks’ talent came out. She portrayed a beautiful, tragic, and sympathetic character to perfection and her presence on screen was great. Brooks said that she wasn’t a wonderful actress and that she was just being herself and I’m not going to complain because she was terrific. Many people credit her for natural and nuanced acting, but to me, I thought that she still had a very noticeable American style of acting of that time. Comparing her to Asta Nielsen (interesting fact: Asta is probably the first actress to portray Lulu on film), I would say that Asta is the one who truly acts in a nuanced fashion. While Brooks does so in certain scenes, when she is excited, she reminded me of Clara Bow in It rather than any European actresses in European silents. It’s not a criticism, but I just thought that Brooks didn’t live up to her reputation, but nonetheless I really admire her. She is such a charming person in the film and in her interviews and it’s such a shame that most of her films aren’t available. As much as I love Marlene Dietrich, I’m so glad that Louise Brooks was cast; I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job. I watched a short American sound film with Brooks in it and I felt like her acting wasn’t that great (neither was the film), which led me to my conclusion that Pabst brought the best out in her. But don’t take my word since I haven’t watch any other Brooks films and I heard Beggars of Life is another film that Brooks is great in. Of course, being a fan of Pabst, I can be totally biased.

IMDb Link: Die Büchse der Pandora
Where to buy: Amazon.com, Criterion Collection

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