She is Lulu, sophisticated, intelligent and an agent of chaos, a dancer who delights all those who lay eyes upon her, a wide-eyed innocent who provokes desire in all who know her, men and women, frivolous and flirtatious, currently the mistress of Doctor Ludwig Schön and best friends with his playwright son Alwa and costume designer Countess Augusta Geschwitz, but with Schön’s position in society he is expected to take a more suitable bride, most likely Charlotte von Zarnikow, daughter of the minister.
Lulu excised from his life and his bed, she returns to the stage to star in a glittering musical attended on opening night by Schön and Charlotte, the latter of whom catches them together and breaks off the engagement, Schön instead marrying Lulu, but in the wild celebrations of their wedding night her cavorting with her coterie of friends enrages the new groom who confronts her armed with a gun, but Lulu is always a survivor.
Adapted by G W Pabst and Ladislaus Vajda from the two “Lulu” plays of Frank Wedekind, Erdgeist (“Earth Spirit”) and Die Büchse der Pandora, Pandora’s Box was directed by Pabst and released in 1929, a German production but starring an American in the lead role, the iconic Louise Brooks with her huge eyes framed by her fringe, her famous smile, impetuous and naïve and opening herself to a world of trouble yet breaking into giddy comedy at any chance, with Francis Lederer, Alice Roberts, Daisy D’ora and Fritz Kortner as Alwa, the Countess, Charlotte and Schön.
Running to almost two and a quarter hours but heavily cut as it was distributed internationally, no complete negative exists so Pandora’s Box has been reconstructed and restored from three separate prints as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema to create a Blu-ray as close to the original vision of Pabst as can be achieved, charting a downward spiral from the dizzy spirits of high society through disgrace and destitution of a woman incapable of maintaining a low profile even when on the run, every movement designed to draw attention from the tilt of her head to the waft of her veil as she slumps in the witness box.
A complex woman whose beauty placed her in a position inherently lacking security yet which she was unwilling to give up, the shameless Lulu could have behaved differently, on the opening night where she refused to perform until Schön visited her backstage, on her wedding night where she spent time with everyone save her husband, yet while on trial for murder she is accused of being “Pandora’s box,” the embodiment of every curse and affliction unleashed on humanity, so could Schön made different choices; he knew full well what he was getting into and what he was risking, only he expected it to end up to his advantage.
In some ways a companion piece to The Love of Jeanne Ney which Pabst had directed two years earlier, also considering the fate of a woman existing on the periphery of a man’s world, Eureka’s definitive new edition of Pandora’s Box is accompanied by an orchestral score by Peer Raben and supported by a new audio commentary by Pamela Hutchinson, a visual appreciation by Kat Ellinger, two video essays by David Cairns and Fiona Watson and, in the initial run of 3,000 copies, a sixty page book.