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The Criterion Collection presents
Pandora's Box (1928)

"You'll have to kill me to get rid of me."
- Lulu (Louise Brooks)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 28, 2006

Stars: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Goetz, Alice Roberts
Other Stars: Daisy d'Ora, Gustav Diessl, Michael von Newlinsky, Siegfried Arno
Director: G.W. Pabst

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:11m:02s
Release Date: November 28, 2006
UPC: 715515020626
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B+ A

DVD Review

Actress Louise Brooks has evolved into one of the great icons of the silent screen, even though she wasn't quite appreciated as such in her time. Much of that reputation stems from her indelible performance as the doomed Lulu in Pabst's adaptation of Frank Wedekind's plays, Pandora's Box. It has been a long wait for this silent classic, but Criterion does a superlative job on the release, a fine way to commemmorate Brooks' 100th birthday.

Lulu (Brooks) is the kept woman of Dr. Schön (Fritz Kortner), pushed into jealousy when he announces that he is engaged to another woman (Daisy d'Ora). Lulu arranges for him to be caught with her in a romantic embrace by the fiancée and Schön's son Alwa (Franz Lederer), who also loves Lulu. Forced into a marriage, the doctor accepts his fate with poor graces, but the doctor is shot in a struggle with a gun at the wedding party. After a trial and a series of misadventures (including being sold into sexual slavery to an Egyptian), Lulu makes her way to London with Alwa to live in destitution while she works with the Salvation Army. Unfortunately for her, she moonlights as a streetwalker at the same time as Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl) is making a name for himself.

The title refers to a speech offered by Lulu's defense counsel at her trial for murder, but it has a broader application to Lulu's life as she unintentionally creates chaos among men and women, destroying people left and right. But she's not the typical silent screen vampire, scheming to bring about the ruination of the men to whom she appeals. Instead, she does so through frivolity and a careless attitude that seals their fate, and finally her own. Even though she carries a responsibility, it's often not one of intent, so she stays rather sympathetic despite the havoc she wreaks. Her careless ways of course bring about her ultimate undoing; she takes Jack back to her rooms even after he tells her he has no money, simply because she likes him.

Pabst was heavily criticized in Germany for casting an American actress as Lulu, but Brooks does a marvelous job with the role. She has a blithe charm and winning smile; her dark eyes give hints of an intelligence behind the impetuous façade. Her interactions with the various other characters enamored of her are kaleidoscopic, as she shifts subtly to appeal to their interests in turn: coquettish with Schön, dominant with the weak Alwa, childlike with the old pimp Schigolch (Carl Goetz), feminine with the lesbian Countess Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), vulnerable to the extreme with Jack. Eager to please, she leaves one wondering exactly who the real Lulu is, and there is a definite feeling that she more than welcomes her coming death so that she no longer has to keep up these shifting faces for the benefit of others. That point is underlined by one of Lulu's last acts as she sits in Jack's embrace, literally burning a candle at both ends.

The picture is shot beautifully, with elements of Expressionism visible in the shadows that dominate many scenes. The settings are evocative as well, with Lulu's Deco apartment in sharp contrast to the high Empire style of the bourgeoisie and the upper crust. While there are symbolic parallels to the varioius moral viewpoints, it's not always consistent. Even though the picture has a reputation of being a modern expression of sexual libertinism, it does have a Victorian streak behind it, culminating in Lulu's bad end. Yet many of the characters willingly sacrifice themselves for her in one way or another. The complexity and psychological richness of the relationships provide a depth that allows revisiting the picture again and again.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The 35mm source materials are in slightly mixed condition that is not surprising for their age; the reel heads have some significant wear in spots, but long stretches look absolutely pristine. Blacks are strong and the greyscale range is excellent, with plenty of fine detail. Brooks is shot in an affectionate soft focus, and it's rendered quite well here despite the difficulties that such material presents for a compressionist. No artifacting was observed, nor any edge enhancement. The German intertitles are preserved, with optional English subtitles available in a thoughtful touch.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)yes
Dolby Digital
5.1
(music only)yes


Audio Transfer Review: The original score for Pandora's Box is not known to exist, so Criterion offers the next best thing: four quite different musical scores, each in their own way evocative, which are freshly recorded and sound excellent. Gillian Anderson contributes a traditional orchestral score that is presented in both 2.0 and 5.1 versions. It's quite moving and supports the picture exceptionally well. The other three scores are provided in 2.0 only. One's a Weimar-style 'cabaret orchestra' score by Dimitar Pentchev, which gives an appropriate Jazz Age feel to the proceedings; another a modern score for small orchestra by Peer Raben; and an improvisatory piano score by Stephán Oliva. Each provides a quite different mood and makes each viewing novel.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Production Notes
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film processors Thomas Elsaesser and Mary Ann Doane
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:26s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
  2. Book of essays
Extras Review: Criterion has whipped together a wonderful package of extras in support of this long-awaited release. Disc 1 includes a commentary by a pair of film professors who discuss various ways of looking at the picture, including its treatment of image and feminist theories of agency, and they disagree sharply with each other on occasion, making it more interesting than the typical dry professorial disquisition. The second disc is packed as well, starting with the excellent Hugh Hefner-produced biographical documentary, Looking for Lulu (1998). Particularly fascinating is Lulu in Berlin (1984), a film that incorporates a 1971 interview with Brooks, one of the few long interviews she gave on film. Brooks holds forth with great wit and sharpness about working with Pabst, the studio system, and Riefenstahl among other topics. It's accompanied by a 2006 reminiscence of interviewer/director Richard Leacock (5m:10s) of how he managed to get the reclusive Brooks to open up to him, and the actress' fondness for gin. Michael Pabst, son of the director, also contributes recollections of his father in an interview (34m:28s) shot this year (although he was born well after Pabst's most famous pictures were filmed).

The box also includes a substantial 96-page book, Reflections on Pandora's Box, which is packed with essays—including a classic by Kenneth Tynan and a substantial reminiscence by Brooks herself—and photos. More photos are found in a still gallery on Disc 2.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

One of the great classics of the silent screen finally arrives for the Louise Brooks centennial, and it is certainly worth the wait. The transfer is lovely and there are a ton of lavish extras, including your choice of four different musical scores.

 


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