Film 19: Pandora’s Box

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Pandora’s Box (1929) dir. G.W. Pabst.  Germany.

Louise Brooks regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her. Her beauty was “almost impersonal,” Pauline Kael wrote; she carries it like a gift she doesn’t think much about, and confronts us as a naughty girl. When you meet someone like this in life, you’re attracted, but you know in your gut she’ll be nothing but trouble.

Life cannot permit such freedom, and so Brooks, in her best films, is ground down–punished for her joy. At the end of “Pandora’s Box” (1928), she’s killed while in the embrace of Jack the Ripper, and the audience isn’t even asked to accept her death as punishment for her wicked ways. It’s more a settling of scores: Anyone who looks that great, and lives life on her own terms, has to be swatted down by fate or the rest of us will grow discouraged.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail: This felt like a horrible mishandling of a pretty good story.  It dragged through unnecessary character development, seeming not to trust the actors to do their jobs, and then rushed through plot, making it hard to follow.  There were some truly inspired shots – i.e. Louise Brooks holding a literal smoking gun – but they were swallowed by a sea of mediocre ones.  This was overall a bit of a bore, despite its exciting subject matter of sex and violence and even Jack the Ripper.

Forrest: I understand why Clara Bow is a star. There’s something magical about her. She walks onscreen and you WATCH her. You’re compelled to. I don’t understand why Louise Brooks is a star. She’s a capable actress, was apparently a colorful woman, but I felt no compulsion to watch her. I’m clearly in the minority on that, but there it is. As this is the sort of movie that exists only to showcase a star, my lack of engagement with Brooks proved a crippling problem. Unlike Murnau and Dreyer and Chaplin and Keaton, Pabst isn’t a natural storyteller. The action of the film was muddled and the pacing was atrocious. It suffered from its lack of dialogue in a way no other silent we’ve yet watched has. At 2:10, it was also far too long.

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