Pandora's Box (1929)

Pandora's Box (1929), directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst.

I was only vaguely aware of Louise Brooks, a silent film beauty with a brief career who people often confuse with the roles she played, and maybe with good reason. She sometimes has a striking resemblance to later actress Isabella Rossellini:

We drop into the story and try to catch up: she is a "mistress", a kept woman whose distinguished client is about to marry someone more acceptable. Maybe that won't be allowed to happen and we will have a different wedding. Then death, trial, jail break, flight, suffering in wintry London and a final tragic scene with a character credited as "Jack the Ripper".

Plenty of business to watch and the actors are all fine, but Brooks is the shining light, a woman of sexual freedom with a slim dancer's body and inviting smile that makes all the men around her feel special. She even stops the prosecutor at her trial for a moment, even as he understands what she's doing.

We have a lesbian character, sympathetically treated, who also loves Lulu. The actress didn't want to do it so she is a repressed lesbian, which heightens the drama.

The film was not well-received at the time, partly because it was a big silent effort just as talkies were coming in. Audiences probably didn't warm to the story: we try to figure out these people, watching them without ever really knowing them. Lulu lives in the moment and seems to have no calculation, so we see only her surface.

It was rediscovered decades later and Brooks became a film icon, the beautiful sexy Kansas girl in a German film that winds up in London. Google for her nude poses.

Criterion DVD. They provide four scores: an interpretation of what audiences at the time might have heard, something they call "cabaret-style", a more modern interpretation, and a piano improvisation.

This is a fascinating experiment: each score gives you an entirely different movie. I cycled between them all every few minutes. Each seemed "best" at different moments.

We also have an academic track by two film scholars. This film, Louise Brooks, and Weimar cinema have been intensively studied for decades and the weight of theory becomes oppressive. This is too deep into the LitCrit weeds for me.