DIE BÜCHSE DER PANDORA
(Pandora's Box; Lulu)
Director: George Wilhelm Pabst
Production: Nero Film A. G. (Berlin); black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 140 minutes originally, other versions are 131 minutes and 120 minutes; length: 3254 meters originally. Released 30 January 1929. Filmed 1928 in Berlin.
Producer: George C. Horsetzky; scenario: Ladislaus Vajda and Joseph R. Fliesner, from 2 plays, Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora , by Frank Wedekind; photography: Günther Krampf; editor: Joseph R. Fliesler; art direction: Andrei Andreiev and Gottlieb Hesch; music: Curtis Ivan Salke; costumes: Gottlieb Hesch.
Cast: Louise Brooks ( Lulu ); Fritz Kortner ( Dr. Peter Schön ); Franz Lederer ( Alwa Schön, the Son ); Carl Götz ( Schigolch, Papa Brommer ); Alice Roberts ( Countess Anna Geschwitz ); Daisy d'Ora ( Marie de Zarnika ); Krafft Raschig ( Rodrigo Quast ); Michael von Newlinsky ( Marquis Casti-Piani ); Siegfried Arno ( Stage manager ); Gustav Diessl ( Jack the Ripper ).
Vajda, Ladislaus, and Joseph R. Fliesner, Pandora's Box (Lulu): A Film by G.W. Pabst , New York, 1971.
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Paris, B., "Our Wild Miss Brooks," in American Film , November 1989.
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* * *
Pandora's Box brings to mind familiar questions about film-asart—whether the art arises from the director's work, from the performances, from the editor's decisions, or from a combination of all these elements. Pandora's Box might well be an unremarkable film without the magnificent presence of Louise Brooks, but then again, this presence was never evoked by any director other than G. W. Pabst. The source of the magic is elusive.
Nothing about the film is obvious, least of all Pabst's technique. Pabst is known for having promoted the practice of cutting on movement as a means of minimizing the jarring effect of editing. Rather than carry the practice to a lyrical extreme, Pabst exercised restraint and made only subtle use of the technique. Yet, in his hands, cutting on even the slightest movement can communicate significantly and almost subliminally. For example, after Schigolch gives Alwa cards to put up his sleeve during the gambling ship sequence, Schigolch begins to creep away screen-right. As the scene changes, his movement is continued by Rodrigo as he creeps in the same direction towards Lulu in another part of the ship. Above and behind Rodrigo is a sculpture of a crocodile mounted high on the wall. With great economy Pabst has identified to Schigolch and Rodrigo as slimy beasts of prey. At no time do the camera work and the editing call attention to themselves. Even when watching with the express purpose of detecting technical patterns, one must constantly pull back from the hypnotic fluidity of the film. Pabst weaves the perfect story-teller's spell with his technique.
The film's style is as elusive as its technique. Pandora's Box seems to be composed of several segments, each with its own distinct style. Lulu's relationship with Dr. Schön is psychologically realistic. Expressionistic elements darken and distort the London coda with
This same sequence illustrates another notable quality of the film—a closeness or an inwardness which confines without being oppressive. During the revue we see the action on stage from the wings and once from the front of the stage itself, but never from the audience's perspective. Space is claustrophobic in this film. The rare outdoor scenes are hemmed in by night and/or fog, as in the London Salvation Army scenes and the escape in a rowboat from the smoke-filled gambling ship. This sense of closeness is heightened by Pabst's avoidance of any but the most sparing and economical use of camera movement.
The camera is restricted in terms of mobility, but its perspective of Lulu is privileged. Rarely is she observed from another character's point of view. The camera is a separate party in the action, a witness to all aspects of Lulu's behavior. She is watched both as a participant and as an observer, giving the viewer a rich sense of personal knowledge of the character, a familiarity which far surpasses the surface acquaintanceships secured with the other characters.
The film was not received with any enthusiasm in its debut. Perhaps its proximity to the two Frank Wedekind plays on which it was based, Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora , prevented viewers from approaching the film on its own terms. The character of Lulu in the plays was characterized through her speech, while Pabst's and Brook's Lulu was presented in a manner appropriate to the film medium, in a performance which today is recognized as one of the finest, most provocative in all of film.