Pandora’s Box (1929)

I watched Pandora’s Box again this evening.  It is upon this film that I base my love of Louise Brooks, and I consider it to be the finest silent film I have ever seen:

"No smoking in here!"

I read Barry Paris’ quintessential biography of Louise this past summer, which included an insightful anecdote about the making of Pandora from one of Louise’s articles written for the film journal Sight and Sound:

My final defeat, crying real tears, came at the end of the picture when he [director G. W. Pabst] went through my trunks to select a dress to be “aged” for Lulu’s murder as a streetwalker in the arms of Jack the Ripper. With his instinctive understanding of my tastes, he decided on the blouse and skirt of my very favourite suit. I was anguished. “Why can’t you buy some cheap little dress to be ruined? Why does it have to be my dress?” To these questions I got no answer till the next morning, when my once lovely clothes were returned to me in the studio dressing-room. They were torn and foul with grease stains. Not some indifferent rags from the wardrobe department, but my own suit which only last Sunday I had worn to lunch at the Adlon! Josephine hooked up my skirt, I slipped the blouse over my head and went on the set feeling as hopelessly defiled as my clothes.

Louise’s anguish in this scene translates into Lulu’s most vulnerable and, ultimately, redemptive scene when on the brink of death at the hands of Jack the Ripper.  Lulu offers herself entirely without affectation, without the coy flirtation that colors her previous history with both men and women alike.  Jack is without his knife, and Lulu is unable to advertise her sexuality.  They are reduced to the basest form of humanity — mere survival — but offer each other a sympathy and understanding they are unable to find elsewhere.


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