Thursday, December 7, 2006

Pandora's Box

Posted on Thu, Dec 7, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Pandora's Box
Studio: The Criterion Collection
WorkNameSort: Pandora's Box

In classical and popular culture, the Greek myth of Pandora's box has become an oft-cited paradigm of the horrors of temptation and morbid curiosity. The box containing all the world's evils isn't the problem ' it's our compulsion to open it, knowing that the consequences lead to destruction. The search 'Pandora's box unleashedâ?� gets roughly 90,000 Google hits, and in movies, the myth has been interpreted as the fatal box of fire in Kiss Me Deadly and the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction, among countless other filmic conceits.

For cinephiles, the myth remains synonymous with star Louise Brooks, director G.W. Pabst and the masterpiece they made together in 1928, Pandora's Box. Loosely based on two scandalous theatrical productions by German playwright Frank Wedekind, Pabst's film grounds the concept of destructive temptation in purely sexual terms. In a move that shocked the German moviegoing populace, Pabst selected inimitable Kansas dancer Brooks, who didn't speak a word of German, as the ultimate pleasure conduit who damns all the men that fall under the spell she doesn't know she's casting.

In the magnetic Brooks, innocence and carnality coexist, but it's the latter that will lead to a climax of psychologically deep, Shakespearean proportions. Pabst's atmosphere of perpetual dread finds death and sex inextricably linked, but it's hard to feel too depressed about this melodramatic tragedy when we get the privilege of watching Brooks' tremendous (non)acting for two hours.

Criterion, too, appreciates Brooks' contributions to this classic, for once devoting more supplemental material to a performer than a filmmaker. Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu is a fascinating if formulaic hour-long biography made for Turner Classic Movies, in which we learn of her molestation at age 9, ascent to dancehall stardom and brief flirtation with silent movies, descent into obscurity and resurrection as a writer. Lulu in Berlin is a rare 1984 interview with Brooks by vérité documentarian Richard Leacock, in which enticing video clips of unavailable movies complement several revealing anecdotes about the enigmatic and promiscuous star.

The replay value of Pandora's Box is extended on Disc One with a commentary track by two film scholars and the option of listening to up to four distinct film scores (the original has been lost). The best feature is the hundred-page book accompanying the two-disc set. Kenneth Tynan's epic 1979 New Yorker essay, 'The Girl in the Black Helmet,â?� reports everything about Brooks the video featurettes do and then some. Brooks may have been one of the many casualties of the conversion to talkies, but as Pandora's Box shows us, she didn't need words.


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