Pandora’s Box

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #358: G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box.

Weimar Vampire

I said I’d fin­ished watch­ing all of the films that I’d seen before, but Pandora’s Box showed up at the Library recent­ly, and I’ve cur­rent­ly got Bicy­cle Thieves in the queue. Watch­ing Pandora’s Box this time around was much more ful­fill­ing than the first time I saw it. I’m a big fan of Weimar-era films and Ger­man Expres­sion­ism in gen­er­al, so an excuse to rewatch this was quite wel­come. The Cri­te­ri­on folks had four sep­a­rate musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment choic­es to join with the film, I switched through all of them dur­ing my screen­ing, and have to say that I liked the piano impro­vi­sa­tion one the best.

Death as Consummation

Pandora’s Box is one of those films that film buffs con­sis­tent­ly praise and place on a pedestal. For its time it was quite frank and racy, and its non-judg­men­tal aspect is some­thing that would become sore­ly lack­ing in Amer­i­can cin­e­ma once the Hays code went into effect. This film is a Ger­man prod­uct, though the main char­ac­ter is played by Kansan Louise Brooks, whose act­ing was pitch per­fect for the tone that Pab­st was aim­ing for in his ren­di­tion of Franz Wedekind’s Lulu saga.

Trials

Lulu is the arche­typ­al whore with a heart of gold, a woman whose free sex­u­al­i­ty ulti­mate­ly ruins her entire world. This part gets men­tioned in just about every review of the film, but what inter­ests me the most is how ahead of its time her char­ac­ter and its por­tray­al appear to be. From one angle Lulu appears to be a misogynist’s dream/nightmare, a woman that affirms the stan­dard anti-woman talk­ing points with no regard to the effects her aber­rant behav­ior has on oth­er­wise “good” peo­ple. The vam­pir­ic shot of Lulu and Dr. Schön is prob­a­bly the ulti­mate expres­sion of this. At the same time, she’s an excel­lent exam­ple of a lib­er­at­ed woman, defined by her sex­u­al­i­ty instead of repressed by it. Count­ess Geschwitz is con­sid­ered to be the first obvi­ous les­bian char­ac­ter in film his­to­ry.

Lesbian Manipulation

Male char­ac­ters are all neg­a­tive, com­plete­ly con­trolled by their own libidos, which are expressed through an obses­sion with Lulu. Because none of the char­ac­ters [except Lulu] retain any shred of inno­cence, there is lit­tle sym­pa­thy for them as they destroy them­selves. The strength of Pandora’s Box lies in this real­is­tic, Mod­ern treat­ment of love and lust. Despite the silence of the film, the act­ing and screen­play ensure that the film will remain tren­chant as long as all is fair in love.

Jack the Ripper

Cri­te­ri­on Essay by J. Hober­man.
• YouTube clips [1, 2].
Some screen­shots.
Guardian Arti­cle.
Louise Brooks Soci­ety.
Louise Brooks Gallery.
• Wedekind play Erdgeist [in Ger­man] at Project Guten­berg.