Pabst’s film features an enthralling narrative and rich characterizations
Louise Brooks and her tragic character, Lulu, are/were so influential to the time and to cinema lore (see films and outright homages by Tarantino (hair by Uma in pulp fiction), Demme (Melanie Griffith in something wild), Fassbinder (actual film lola– 1981) and Demy (ditto- character and film named lola – 1961)—Brooks herself was a pop icon in the late 20’s and early 30’s from this film
A rich study on the male gaze
The structure of the film is set up in act’s- each scene/setting is an act—if they move from her room to the theater that’s a new act
Great tracking shot in act 1 when she seals the deal (temporarily) on opening seduction
Film and character defined an era—hair, backless dress and scantily dressed clothes
It’s to Brooks’ credit as an actress that you find yourself rooting for her
Endlessly trendy and fashionable- she dances with a woman, who is in love with her- obviously risqué for 1929
Act 3 the variety show and act 4 the wedding is loaded with mise-en-scene- really well done but this isn’t Von Sternberg certainly with what he does with the frame, Murnau with the camera or von Stroheim with the overall obsessive level of detail—as far as comparisons with peers from that era
Love the operatic death scene in act 4- probably the best act- greek tragedy like the actual Pandora—there’s a Han Solo-carbonite-like gorgeous artwork in the backdrop in the frames
Close up in big moments- the film clearly influenced Demme (something wild finale, silence of the lambs)
It’s a large story, ambitious, epic and prophetic
That’s a quick great shot in act 7 of the camera going below deck with the characters as they descent into gambling
Reminds me of greed from von Stroheim—statement on the times of the 20’s- nihilistic
Brooks’ Lulu is likeable but she’s absolutely toxic as well- it’s a story of male gaze and survival for her but it also works as a tale of morality for the men who fall for her— she’s a victim and the culprit
Interesting Jack the Ripper ending- ending in male gaze turned deadly
HR quality stretching to a MS- top 5 of the year- HR/MS border
Interesting movie, i just saw it, i’m not sure how to rate it.
@Matt Harris could you share your thoughts on what makes this movie so awesome?
I was very surprised by this film as well, and I was also utterly mesmerised by Lulu’s character. She is such a tragic figure.
First off, I agree with the comparison here with classic tragedies that I believe is particularly poignant due to the separation of the film in acts. The whole act thing reminds me of Vivre Sa Vie, and I think those two narratives have a couple of things in common, as far as tragedy goes.
So, Pandora’s Box is all about Louise Brooks. She is fantastic here. Lulu is the kind of woman everyone is in love with. The father, the son, the daughter, her Svengali-like patron. She is oozing sensuality, but not only that. She is a comforting presence. As shown in the final act with how, unbeknownst to herself, she manages to make the murderer feel at ease and saves herself some time, she makes others feel good about themselves with her smiles and her enthusiasm. She is the pinnacle of charm and she comes off as a loveable creature. At the very same time, she is self destructive, always acting impulsively, selfish and childish. She is perfectly aware of the influence she has on people and uses it to manipulate them. And in doing so, she kills everything she touches. The character is incredibly complex and Brooks is up to the task, conveying naturally every one of these elements and, as you’ve very well pointed out, having us root for her, even though we’re mostly certain of her inevitable conclusion. Still, even though many of her misfortunes are brought upon her as a result of her own actions, she is eventually dependent on others, which I think is a major issue throughout the film. And, even though she is indeed toxic, everyone around her is using her as well, letting her down and caring much too little for her happiness. They mostly care for the image they have of her in their own minds and how she will fulfill their own fantasies and wishes, and even Alwa, the son, is guilty of this to a certain extent. This goes for all supporting characters, the way I see it, with the exception perhaps of the daughter.
The death scene in act 4 is indeed operatic and the way that Lulu’s character frustrates her soon to be husband, the way that he forces her to shoot herself and her shooting him in the end, as a turn of events, is, I believe, very representative of how pretty much everything unfolds throughout the story. But in my opinion, the best act comes after they reach the hotel with the gambling. The narrative is very rich on its own right, but here is becomes masterful. All the main characters gathered in one place, under severe pressure, all deceiving one another and sketching out ways to profit from the situation at hand, while Lulu tries to survive. I don’t want to get extensively into it, but there’s so much going on, it’s like watching an Altman ensemble going berserk at its finest.
And then, there is the final act. I think act 4 is the most dramatically perfect, the second to last act is perhaps technically the finest and the final act is surely the most poetic. We have the tragic ending I think we’ve expected all along. But I also believe that there is some kind of visual virtuosity in Pabst’s directing here. All the frames are beautiful, wonderfully capturing the gloomy London landscape. The ending struck me as a kind of Jack the Ripper reference as well. I wanted to draw special attention to the scene where they light the candle: they both seem mesmerised by the flame and it appears that Lulu has managed to relate to the murderer (let’s just call him Jack, shall we?) in some way. They are both misfits and as twisted as it may sound, he feels a connection to her and she to him. As she kneels next to the candle, Lulu identifies with it, in the lyrical context of the film. She is completely vulnerable and her flame is put out soon after. More than that, there is a strong sense of interconnectedness, as her first patron tastes Christmas pudding for the last time, with a mistletoe on it, just as Lulu dies with a mistletoe above her head. And Alwa senses her death, coming along with the funeral, at a nearly sleepwalking state.
To wrap this whole thing up, I wanted to talk a bit about the aesthetic merit of the film. I don’t think Pabst reaches the heights of other auteurs of this era, but he certainly does well, himself. I noted how the final act is visually very beautiful, but there are hints of this throughout the movie, capturing light and shadow very poignantly. There is also some very notable mise en scene and obstruction, with the staircase of the hotel, for instance, in the sixth act.
Overall, a great film. Had I seen more movies from 1929 I would be more comfortable rating it, but as it stands, I think it warrantees a MS.
@Georg- this is fantastic- a great read. Thank you for the contribution– happy to hear we’re on the same page