Pandora’s Box / Lulu (1929)

“You’ll have to kill me to get rid of me.”

Synopsis:
A beautiful, sexually liberated nightclub dancer (Louise Brooks) inadvertently shoots one of her admirers, lands in jail, and turns to prostitution to survive.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary offers an excellent, in-depth analysis of this classic silent film in his GFTFF, describing Lulu as “the victim of the weak men around her rather than the traditional vamp who causes (with pleasure) their downfall”. As with so many other sexually active females in the movies (i.e., Janet Leigh in Psycho, Blythe Danner in Lovin’ Molly — not to mention the doomed heroines of countless teenage horror flicks), Lulu must pay dearly for the “sins” of her attractions. It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Louise Brooks — surely one of the most beautiful and distinctive screen actresses of all time — in the lead role. As Peary notes, she “gives Lulu intelligence, spirit, and dignity, even in debasement.” He argues that while men may view her as a femme fatale, she is ultimately a “vivacious innocent” who “means no harm.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Louise Brooks (nominated by Peary for an Alternate Oscar as best actress of the year) as Lulu
    Pandora
  • Gorgeous, expressionistic cinematography
    Pandora
  • A creepy, horror-inspired ending
    Pandora

Must See?
Yes. This silent masterpiece is essential viewing for any film fanatic. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Pandora’s Box / Lulu (1929)”

  1. Yes, an essential for film fanatics. Directed with panache by Pabst (who is particularly good with the larger-scale crowd scenes): ‘PB’ is almost continuously visually striking, with impressive/expressive sets, composition, lighting, costume design – all used to make this tale of jealousy, lust, greed and other no-nos seem like gothic horror…which it eventually becomes.

    Many memorable images, but the one I find most arresting occurs during the wedding: Lulu is in a chair comforting the grown son of her husband, who has slumped in despair, his head in her lap. The husband enters, stands in shadow, and focus is on the gun in his hand as Lulu looks toward him.

    Brooks is indeed stunning here – but I don’t feel Lulu is a victim, or one who “means no harm”. Note in the courtroom when she is compared to Pandora: “…beautiful and charming and versed in the art of flattery”. Just then we see a shot of Brooks, quietly brazen, her face precisely capturing duplicity. The fact that Brooks looks like an angel and tends to act the “vivacious innocent” is what dupes men (and women) – and I think that’s Pabst’s (and Brooks’) point: Lulu is essentially a user and, although she’s not outright evil (and at one point gains a touch of humility), she knows she can use what she has to get what she wants.

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