Pandora's Box (Büchse der Pandora, Die) (1929)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 9-Jul-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Looking For Lulu
Trailer-La Dolce Vita, Wages Of Fear
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1929
Running Time 132:42 (Case: 131)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (36:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Studio
Distributor
Nero-Film
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Louise Brooks
Fritz Kortner
Francis Lederer
Carl Goetz
Krafft-Raschig
Alice Roberts
Gustav Diessl
Siegfried Arno
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Peer Raben


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Titling Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Die Büchse der Pandora is based on two plays by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind; Der Erdgeist (1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904). These plays feature the character Lulu, a free spirit who is loved by many but controlled by none, and she brings those who desire her to tragedy. Wedekind's plays were the forerunner of the Expressionist movement in German theatre, and also highly influential in the work of Bertolt Brecht.

    Schön (Fritz Kortner) is a wealthy Chief Editor who has Lulu as his kept woman. He plans to marry a respectable society girl, but his plans are thwarted when she catches him with Lulu in a compromising position, though in keeping with the film's themes this is a misunderstanding. So Schön decides to marry Lulu, but on their wedding night discovers that she has seduced his son Alwa (Franz Lederer). He decides that she should die, but things don't quite turn out that way. And this is just the first half of the film, which also features scenes on a gambling ship, a lesbian Countess, an Egyptian brothel owner and a foggy London with Jack the Ripper in attendance...

    Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst searched throughout Germany and Europe for an actress to play Lulu in his film adaptation. Having seen the American actress Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port, Pabst cabled her studio offering her the role. This cable was given to Brooks just after she had a falling out with the studio boss and was walking out on her contract, so she accepted the offer. Her acceptance of the role came just as Pabst was about to offer it to the little-known German actress Marlene Dietrich.

    Brooks was a pretty, though somewhat flat-chested, wide-hipped dancer with a bobbed hairstyle who practically fell into film acting. A Ziegfeld girl, she was offered roles in films shot in Paramount's Astoria studios in New York. Initially she did not make much impression, though under the right direction she proved herself to be a capable actress, for example in William Wellman's Beggars of Life. However, Brooks loved the high life and hated being constrained by practicalities, which made her relationship with the studio difficult. She leapt at the chance to escape Hollywood and arrived in Berlin in 1928 to a less than rapturous welcome from critics who heaped scorn on the notion of an American playing Lulu.

    What Pabst saw in her was the sort of erotic innocence and lack of artifice that the part needed, and his casting of and handling of Brooks was inspired. She gives a fine naturalistic performance that contrasts with the more cerebral acting styles of the rest of the cast. It is easy to believe that the ills visited upon the men who desire Lulu come as a surprise to her as well. Pabst's triumph is in making her an unwitting participant in proceedings, and in creating a film with a strong erotic undercurrent that is not always apparent on a first viewing. This film can be seen as the zenith of a series of films that pushed the boundaries of sexual content in German cinema of the Weimar era, and in some respects is still shocking today. This is especially so when compared with the somewhat less sophisticated efforts of American cinema, both then and during the pre-code sound era.

    Pabst would make another film with Brooks, Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl), also a classic. Prior to leaving Hollywood she appeared in a silent film version of S.S. Van Dine's The Canary Murder Case, but she refused to return to the studio to record dialogue when the film was converted to a sound feature. This basically killed her Hollywood career, and though she had a starring role in the 1930 French film Prix de Beauté, her remaining films were low budget second features, mostly westerns. She made her last appearance in 1938, and then disappeared. Living in virtual poverty in New York, she even worked for an escort agency. CBS head William Paley, who had been her lover in the 1920s, heard of her troubles and gave her an annual stipend for the rest of her life. She ended up living near the film archive at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, where she was rediscovered by a new generation of film students in the 1950s. At this time she also demonstrated a talent for writing, and a series of essays were published in book form as Lulu in Hollywood in 1982. She died in 1985 aged 78.

    Pabst also had a troubled career, though he continued in the cinema until poor health forced his retirement in the late 1950s. A failed attempt to break into American cinema saw him return to Austria, and he was caught there when war broke out. This did not prevent him from working in Nazi cinema, though he was cleared to resume film-making after the war. His films did not rise again to the heights of his early achievements, though he did direct two fine films about Hitler towards the end of his career: Der Letzte Akt about the last ten days of the dictator's life, and Es geschah am 20. Juli about the abortive 1944 assassination attempt. He died in 1967.

    A number of Brooks' films are now or have been available on DVD in other regions, but this seems to be the only one released in Region 4 so far. Hopefully it will not be the last. In the meantime, you will have to look to Region 1 for Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, while both Pabst films and Prix de Beauté have been released as a box set in France. Her early silent The Show Off is also available in Region 1, but a grey- market DVD release of A Girl in Every Port is no longer available.

    There have been some rumours that a biographical film was to be made about Louise Brooks with Neve Campbell in the leading role. It appears to be just a rumour at this stage.

    This film is a classic of the late German silent cinema, and should be seen by anyone with an interest in film as art in addition to mere entertainment.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. While the case advertises it as a restored version, the restoration seems to be of missing footage to bring the film up to the original running time, not a restoration of the film per se.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1 and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    This a very sharp transfer for the most part. It certainly looks as if it comes from 35mm material given the clarity and level of detail visible. There are a few sequences where the transfer fades in and out of focus, such as from 34:31.

    Greyscale is very good, with some nicely solid blacks and occasionally pure whites in the mix. Brooks' lustrous black hair is vividly portrayed.

    There are problems with interlacing artefacts in the transfer. Frames with motion show some ghosting, which contributes to a slight blurring in some scenes. Otherwise there is nothing in the way of film to video artefacts.

    There are however a lot of film artefacts, and virtually every frame has some sort of minor damage, such as scratches, flecks or dirt. There are splice marks and one or two examples of decomposition. The image flickers due to variations in contrast between frames, and there are some jumps from time to time as well.

    The film comes on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change positioned quite early in the film at 36:19. The layer change occurs in the middle of a scene while Schön is pondering something, and is a little disruptive because of the gap in the soundtrack.

    What we now call titles or intertitles on silent films were originally called subtitles. That is, they appear after the opening titles on the film (this was in the era when titles were simply replaced for non-English language versions, and there was no concept of providing translations in the lower portion of the screen). This transfer has the original German titles, and English-language translations as a subtitle stream. However, the subtitle stream is not formatted like the usual subtitles, appearing at the bottom of the screen. Instead, the subtitles cover the entire screen with a black background and the text presented in the form of titles. Thus, the original German titles are covered completely, so the appearance is given of two different titled versions of the film being present on the disc. Even with the English subtitle stream selected, the German originals appear if you fast-forward through the film.

    The subtitles are well done and are very easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    While the case says that the audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, it is in fact in stereo, but it has no surround encoding.

    Being a silent film, there are naturally no issues with dialogue. The music score is by the German composer Peer Raben, who regularly worked with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and was created for this restoration of the film in 1997. It is a score in modern style played by a chamber ensemble with percussion, brass and stringed instruments. While the score is pretty good there are a few sequences where I thought the music was acting against the scenes on screen rather than in support. The recording of the score is very good too.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Documentary - Looking For Lulu (59:49)

    This documentary was produced by the Playboy company for the Turner Classic Movies cable channel in 1996, one of a number of documentaries on silent screen actresses produced by this company. Narrated by Shirley Maclaine, it takes a linear approach to telling Brooks' life story, though it concentrates on her screen career of course. Apart from excerpts from 1976 interviews with Brooks herself, there are bits from friends and acquaintances, such as Roddy McDowall and composer David Diamond. Dana Delany is also interviewed, though she seems to be just a fan. We also get a couple of grabs from an aged Franz Lederer, then well into his nineties (he died in 2000 aged 100). An interesting documentary though not always accurate. For example, The Canary Murder Case is described as the first modern detective film, conveniently ignoring the early Charlie Chan and Boston Blackie efforts. The case also says that this documentary contains never before seen interviews of Brooks, though if like me you have seen the 1985 documentary Lulu in Berlin, you have seen these interviews before.

Umbrella Propaganda - Trailers-La Dolce Vita, Wages Of Fear (4:16)

    The first of these trailers is an original Italian theatrical trailer. The second, running 2:14, is simply an excerpt from the film with mainly English dialogue (it is not dubbed).

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This release is identical to the UK Region 2 release, even down to the error concerning the soundtrack on the cover. The only difference is the artwork, the inclusion of the trailers and a better placed layer change.

    The film is available without English subtitles in France, as part of a 3 disc set called Coffret Louise Brooks, which also contains Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen and Prix de Beauté. It's not easy to find English language descriptions of this set, and one translation engine rendered the second Pabst film as Newspaper of a Lost Girl. The Pandora disc appears to include:

    The Looking for Lulu documentary is included as an extra on one of the other discs in this set. What isn't included on this set is English subtitles.

    The French release may contain better footage from material that was found in the film archive at Gosfilmofond in Moscow after the present restoration, but I have been unable to confirm this.

    There were rumours of a Region 1 release by Criterion in 2004, but this did not transpire. It seems probable that Criterion will release this film on DVD at some point in the future, probably with the Gillian Anderson score with which it toured the US a few years ago.

Summary

    One of the great silent films, this should be seen by everyone at least once.

    The video is pretty good despite a few problems and a lack of full restoration.

    The audio is very good.

    The extra is substantial, though Region 2 seems to get a better range.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony Clarke

Comments (Add)
Not THE Gillian Anderson? - REPLY POSTED
Not THE Gillian Anderson? -
jen andersen? - orangecat (my kingdom for a decent bio) REPLY POSTED