Monday, February 18, 2008


This week’s movie:

I have a copy of Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”.

Every once in a while I flip through it when I’m looking for a movie recommendation. I cross off the films I’ve already seen - one, to not repeat films that I already saw, and - two, to see how much longer I’ve got to live (assuming that the title implies that when I complete the list, I can safely - and finally - die). I’ve resisted renting PANDORA’S BOX for some time because I have somewhat an aversion to old silent movies. It was the very early days of film making and I feel they hadn’t quite got it right yet - they hadn’t quite figured out what to do with this new medium. The plots were flimsy, the acting was melodramatic - it’s as if they’d figured that the audience were so wowed by moving pictures that all you needed to do was put a picture up on the screen, and what happened up there didn’t much matter. Also, it’s rare to find a copy of a movie that’s still in watchable condition, having not aged gracefully over the past 80 or so years. But, as I’ve found in the past, there are exceptions to this rule.

PANDORA’S BOX, released in 1929, is that exception.

The Criterion Collection, which re-releases both early and modern classic films, does a pretty good job of restoring older movies. The DVD version currently available is bright and smooth and has several available audio soundtracks (you can chose among at least two symphonic scores, a jazz score, a kind of honky-tonk thing, piano accompaniment (likely close to what was actually presented in theaters that originally showed this film). The film now has a sort of modern look. If you follow the IMDB link above, you notice that the page has a German title. It’s a German film. “OMG Frank, not another foreign movie!” Yes it was made in Germany, but does that matter if it’s a silent film?

Now, I could say that first of all, this movie is an important view for anyone seriously interested in the history of film. I could also say that the movie is one of the first good examples of early German neo-realism – I wouldn’t say that – but I could – if I knew what that meant. I could even say that you should see it because it’s on Steven Jay Schneider’s “1001 Movies…”book. But, when you get right down to it, the reason that you absolutely must see this film, and you will absolutely love this film can be expressed in one single word – Louise Brooks. OK, so I guess that’s two words.

In Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods”, one character declares Louise Brooks to be “…the greatest American actress of all time”. I could argue against this – but not convincingly. She is, without a doubt, one of the most influential actresses of all time. The look she popularized in PANDORA’S BOX defined the term “flapper girl”. Her signature short bob haircut has come in and out of fashion every decade or so that she always, even in an 80 year old film, looks modern – not like an “old movie actress”. PANDORA’S BOX looks like it might have been made 10 years ago, not 80 …………..except for that silent film thing.

Louise Brooks is probably the greatest cultural influence that you may never have heard of. Liza Minnelli’s character in the film Cabaret is modeled after Louise Brooks, as is Melanie Griffith’s character in the film Something Wild, named Lulu – after Brooks’ character in PANDORA’S BOX. She was the inspiration for the comic strip Dixie Dugan, as well as Guido Crepax’s erotic comic Valentina. Other influences include Cyd Sharisse, Madonna, Dr. Who (the character, Romana, is based on Brooks), rock bands, and a number of present day fashion models.

Louise Brooks certainly has an appeal that can’t be denied. There is a smoldering sensuality about her that’s very subtle, and yet ultimately powerful. There really is no modern day equivalent of her. In PANDORA’S BOX, she plays Lulu, an innocent and free-spirited girl who lives under the auspices of men who fall for her. They can’t help themselves – she ……I don’t know …..does something with her eyes, I think – and they become insane with desire. She lets them, of course. She’s not a manipulator; there is no malice in her. When they tell her they love her, and she returns it – she means it. I’m not sure what it is about her – I think it’s maybe something she does with her eyes, but she exudes innocence. She may be a prostitute, but she’s an innocent one.

The story follows her downward spiral after an unfortunate incident in which a boyfriend, totally destroyed by jealousy for her, kills himself. There is a entourage of men who try to protect her – but they just want her too – kind of like There’s Something About Mary. I suppose this film could be called “There’s Something About Lulu – I Don’t Know ……Maybe It’s Something She Does With Her Eyes ……Or Something”.

So I’m giving silent films another chance, as should you. I do like some of them, and maybe I’ll discover more. But for your benefit, here is a list of my top 10 favorite silent movies in no particular order.

  1. PANDORA’S BOX - of course I’m going to list this one - I mean, it’s got Louise Brooks in it - I mean ……. I don’t know ……I mean I think she does something with her eyes …….or something…….
  2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - One of the very first psychological thrillers creates an eerie ambiance that was well ahead of its time.
  3. Modern Times - Charlie Chaplin’s last “Little Tramp” movie is not really silent, but the main characters act as if it were. Genius level funny.
  4. Play Time - Jacques Tati’s masterpiece is visual and physical comedy on a grand scale. Not really a silent movie but, like “Modern Times”, it’s in the spirit of a silent movie.
  5. L’Iceberg - Again, not technically a silent movie, but it might as well be. Very funny film with a lot of visual-based comedy. I think comedy is the only genre that can get away with that these days.
  6. Silent Movie - The Mel Brooks comedy. It IS a silent movie - sort of by definition.
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Other than HAL, the computer, I don’t remember any dialog - do you?
  8. The Number 23 - The Jim Carey Psycho-thriller. I know it’s technically not a silent movie ………but I watched it once with the sound off and ………………better.
  9. The Wizard of Oz – I did the Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon thing with the sound off. I didn’t work for me – but I did like the Pink Floyd music … there was that …….
  10. Evita – Not a silent movie …….but it ought to be!

PANDORA’S BOX scores 91% on the tomatometer.

Open it and enjoy.

view video


At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup, I liked it too.

It was her sexuality that the men could not own or control....the 'hook' that undoes men. The Salvation Army at the end illustrates the death of female sexuality as a way to survive. The road Lulu did not take.
Yup, I liked it too. And Louise Brooks is another of brave few females who are both sexy and intelligent, she went on to become a writer.


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