This is my fractal hommage to Louise Brooks as Lulu, in Pabst’s great film, “Pandora’s Box.” Louise Brooks, icon of the Jazz Age, goddess of the silver screen, role model to millions of free-spirited flappers, and possessor of one of the most iconic hair-dos in history, the brunette, helmet bob. Her presence on the screen is riveting, so much so that one French director, after reviewing a retrospective of her work in the 1950s was heard to utter, “There is no Bardot, there is no Garbo, there is only Louise Brooks!”
Ms. Brooks was a free-spirit, and had little patience for the industrial business of movie making, and it had little patience for her, or her alcoholism, which by some accounts, was well developed early in her career. Her greatest roles were in Pabst’s films made in Germany at the end of the silent era. Perhaps he understood her better – perhaps he was sympatico for her, given her supposed predilection for deep thoughts and reading Schopenhauer. Here, we see her deep in thought, as the director passes on his suggestions. Often this photo crops Pabst out, and captions it as showing her musing on Germanic philosophy during a lull in the filming.
In Pandora’s Box, Brooks plays Lulu, a prostitute who, at the beginning of the film, is comfortably esconced in a beautiful apartment as the mistress of a bourgeois newspaper publisher. He is to be married to a Teutonic ice-princess and wants to break off the affair, but she will have none of that. Brooks conveys tremendous erotic power in her role, making this one of the sexiest films ever, despite, of course, the complete lack of nudity or any explicit scenes. The film also brilliantly conveys the classes clashing, as Lulu allows her lowlife entourage to follow her into the wedding party in the house of her haute-establishment hubby, including her original pimp-protector, a troll with a taste for whisky. She even dances with a lesbian admirer, shown here being cut out of a dance by the groom. The admirer is the only one to understand her mix of femme fatale and pixie nature. After all, she says, she was brought up in cabarets and brothels – how would you expect her to turn out?
But I get ahead of myself here, and I have passed over the absolutely best scene in the movie. The publisher has a son who is producing a vaudeville review, the costumes being designed by the lesbian admirer. In order to get Lulu off his neck, the publisher suggests that the son make Lulu the star of the show, and he will guarantee its success with his newspaper’s support. Lulu will rise to fame, and leave him to his bourgeois marriage and career. Lulu is enthralled at the prospect, and, of course, the son, Alwa, is also smitten with her. He asks Dad, “Why don’t you marry her?” “Men do not marry such women! That would be suicide.” He warns his son to be wary of her.
Everything is ready on opening night, and the publisher comes for a backstage visit to urge on his son and the performers before Lulu goes on. He brings his wife-to-be. Bad move. Lulu sees her, throws a fit, refuses to go onstage
with her in the audience, and disaster threatens. Her former lover sequesters her in a room to try and intimidate her into going on with the show. He hectors her (see fractal Lulu at the top), he grabs her and shakes the life out of her, he yells and glowers, but she just throws herself onto a couch and wails, kicking her feet. He is at a loss, overcome with desire, sinks into a laughing fit, and embraces her, mocking himself and his future ruin. When his fiance walks in on them together, he knows the entire jig is up, and the scene, shown here, captures Lulu’s smirk of triumph and confidence in her sexual dominance. This scene alone is worth the film.
he leaves the room in her wake, as she moves to the triumph of the stage, he says to his son, “This is my execution.” Well, he’s done for, so he marries her, and at the wedding, after she dances with the costumer woman, Lulu begins petting with her husband’s son who is about to leave on a “long trip.” The husband comes in and pointedly remarks to the boy, “You’ll miss your train!” After he’s pushed out the door, hubby gives Lulu a gun and orders her to shoot herself – “It’s the only way to save both of us!” [Ha! Easy for him to say!] They struggle, the gun goes off, the son runs back in, and the father, before he dies says, “Alwa, you’re next!”
The trial follows. At the trial, the lesbian admirer upbraids the prosecutor and tells of Lulu’s exploited youth, Alwa testifies in her defense, the defense attorney flirts with her, and the prosecutor, asks for the death penalty, even though he implies that she did not murder her husband. No, she must hang because she is like Pandora, and all these ills are to be laid at her door, she is the root cause. She is convicted of manslaughter, and her riff-raff entourage stage a fire alarm to hustle her away to safety.
She is on the run, spends months on a gambling barge as Alwa descends into utter degeneracy, and escapes being sold into sexual slavery in Cairo at the last minute by her female admirer/lover. She ends up in London, freezing in a garret with Alwa and her old pimp. Walking the streets to get money, she picks up a man who happens to be the modern incarnation of Jack the Ripper, and takes him to her room. He has no money to pay her, but she takes him up anyway because, “I like you.” Charmed by her innocence, the Ripper throws away his murder weapon, but once upstairs, as they embrace, the glint of a paring knife blade is too much for him, and he kills her as they kiss. As the murder slinks down the stairs, he pauses to let a parade of the Salvation Army go by, playing Christmas carrols with a brass band. And it’s Christmas Eve.