A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pandora's Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929)

Louise Brooks left a legend far greater than her real achievement as an actress, but even today few people have seen her films. In our own time, the fascination with Brooks seems to have begun in 1979 with a profile by Kenneth Tynan in the New Yorker, which revealed that the actress who made her last movie in 1938 was alive and living in Rochester, N.Y. Such was the power of Tynan's prose that people began to seek out her existing films, primarily this one, to discover what the fuss was about. What we see here is a healthy young woman -- she was 23 when the film was released -- with whom the camera, under Pabst's influence, is fascinated. There is a deep paradox in Brooks and her career: the American girl who found success in the troubled Europe between two wars; the vivid personality who briefly dazzled two continents but faded into obscurity; the liberated woman who had affairs with such prominent men as CBS founder William S. Paley as well as with women including (by her account) Greta Garbo but wound up a solitary recluse. And all of this seems perfectly in keeping with her most celebrated role in this film. For despite her bright vitality, her flashing dark eyes and brilliant smile, Brooks's Lulu becomes the ultimate femme fatale, careering her way toward destruction, not only of her lovers but eventually of herself. The story has it that Pabst was so infatuated with Brooks in her Hollywood films that he insisted on her for the part but Paramount wouldn't release her from her contract, so Pabst tried to cast Marlene Dietrich before Brooks up and quit the Hollywood studio. It's hard to imagine Pandora's Box with Dietrich, as the film is so built around Brooks's liveliness as opposed to Dietrich's sultry languor. The screenplay, by Ladislaus Vajda from two plays by Frank Wedekind, tosses us right into the middle of Lulu's affair with Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner), the executive editor for a newspaper. Eventually, she goes on trial for Schön's murder, but escapes with the help of his son, Alwa (Francis Lederer), and her trio of oddball cronies, the grotesque Schigolch (Carl Goetz), who may be her father or just her pimp (the film leaves many such questions tantalizingly unanswered), the lesbian Countess Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), and the acrobat Rodrigo Quast (Krafft-Raschig). She comes to a bad end in London, where she turns to prostitution and is murdered by Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl). The acting is terrific throughout, as is the atmosphere created by Günther Krampf's cinematography. The film has been admirably restored, but with one reservation: a terribly obtrusive score by Gillian Anderson (not the actress) that's meant to reproduce what a high-end European movie house with full orchestra would play to accompany the film. That may be the case, but it's a pastiche of themes from classical music that don't always echo what's being shown on screen.  It's the only version I've seen on TCM, though the Criterion Collection DVD contains three alternative scores, which I would like to hear.

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