blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Pandora’s Box (1929, Georg Wilhelm Pabst)

I think there’s one bad shot in Pandora’s Box. Maybe not even bad. It’s one of the standard silent one-shots, where the person is shot from low, disregarding the continuity of the scene (i.e. he or she is standing too close to another person). There’s one of those shots in the film and it’s the bad shot. It’s not even bad as compared to another film… but in Pandora’s Box, even a good shot would look bad. All of Pabst’s other shots are perfect, whether they’re somewhat standard composition or if they’re the awkwardly angled close-ups. The film’s amazing to look at.

The film’s split into two distinct sections. First, Louise Brooks ruins Fritz Kortner’s life. Second, she ruins everyone else’s. The film is oddly split into “acts,” which are really nothing of the sort. There are seven or eight of them and for the most part, they could be replaced with fade outs. But that strange choice of segmenting the film really doesn’t hurt it… Instead, Pandora’s Box is most hurt by how traditional a story it turns out to be in the end. It’s a morality story about the dangers of loose women (ignoring, strangely since the film didn’t even need to introduce it, all of Brooks’s problems can be traced to criminal parenting–something even furthered at the end, when her father sends her out on to the London streets looking for a john, just so he can have some Christmas pudding). It’s kind of strange how Pabst doesn’t stick with her, instead going with Kortner’s son, played by Francis Lederer, for the lovely close.

The performances are all great–Brooks establishes herself from her first moment on screen, so maybe a minute into the film, and she never lets up. She’s probably best during the second half, when her life has gotten complicated and difficult, but not yet impossible. Kortner is excellent too, even if his monocle makes him a little hard to take seriously. It’s enormous and takes up most of the side of his face… hard to believe the character would wear such a visibly uncomfortable eyepiece. Lederer is good as the son, though he has little to do but fall from grace. Carl Goetz and Krafft-Raschig are a great pair, funny a lot of the time, but always with the hint of evil below.

It’s a beautiful looking film, slow but rewarding through most of it. The ending falls apart, but not completely, with Pabst giving himself an elegant exit. That exit’s also strange, because he gives it to the film and not to Brooks, who made the film work.

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