Die Buchse Der Pandora (AKA: Pandora’s Box) (1929)

Die Buchse Der Pandora (AKA: Pandora’s Box) – 1929

Director – G. W. Pabst

Starring – Louise Brooks, Francis Lederer, Alice Roberts, and Carl Goetz

There are a whole stable full of directors that you hear about, and see examples from during film school.  You get a bit of a buffet education as it concerns the history of film combined with a bit of the preferences and eccentricities of the person teaching the class. What you don’t get, is a real comprehensive view of any country or movement’s stable of talented directors or actors for any given time period.  Due to a lack of time, and with such a wealth of history packed into the 130 years or so that film has been around, there are bound to be more than a few important names and examples that fall through the cracks.

One such director was G. W. Pabst, a name I had heard on more than one occasion during one or two of my cinema history classes, but nothing that was ever explored in-depth.  As far as Pabst’s rather sizable list of credits, the name that comes up more than any of the others, time and again as one of his best is (surprise, surprise, that’s why I’m writing this review) Pandora’s Box.  So does the most popular film from one of Germany’s greatest directors of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s deserve more attention in the eyes of the world?  Absolutely, it does.

Pandora’s Box tells the story of the ingenue Lulu, a woman struggling to balance the expectations of the multiple men in her life, while each in turn blames her for all of their shortcomings and misfortunes.  Lulu, the object of each (and presumably every) man’s desire, simultaneously becomes the scapegoat and the solution for each.  It is implied, rather explicitly, that she is a courtesan.  An object to covet, to own, use, and discard as the situation demands.

To Schigolch, the man who turned her out (read: pimp), she is a source of income and security, a commodity to be spent.  To her current keeper, Dr. Schon, she is a trophy to be proudly kept and displayed.  To Alwa, Dr. Schon’s son, she is an innocent to be lusted after and saved.  Each man takes it upon himself to “rescue” Lulu through ineffectual half-measures, later blaming her for their own actions.  Where once she was considered a shining, golden conquest, now she is seen as a home-wrecker, and a burden.

While she doesn’t strictly do anything malicious or wrong per se, Lulu never really learns her lesson and manages to perpetuate the cycle through her own inaction.  She is more than willing to let these people come to her rescue and place her in these gilded cages.  Either unable or unwilling to stand up for herself against her “benefactors”, Lulu continues to spiral downwards into worse and worse situations culminating in selling herself, body and soul.

I have this impression of movies from this day and age as being simply sensational adventures to thrill audiences.  Pandora’s Box, with its contemplation of gender, sexuality, dominance, and castigation, is a different animal all together.  With this film, there is an intelligence and genuine desire to explore different points of view, a challenge to the audience to consider the inequalities facing woman, and illustrating the need for examination and change.  All of this, mind you was taking place in the aftermath of World War I, during the rise of the Nazi party, alongside the economical, and social chaos and turmoil that was Germany in 1929.

Louise Brooks, the American expatriate who plays Lulu, does an exceptional job in the role, embracing the it from her trademark bob-haircut, to her pouty doe-eyed expression.  Many were upset at the casting of an American in what was considered a role meant for a German, but fears were ultimately assuaged and critics were duly mollified upon seeing Brooks’ performance.  Truly, she made the role hers, and she has remained synonymous with the character of Lulu ever since.

Francis Lederer, Alice Roberts, and Carl Goetz provide eye-catching support for Brooks, each turning in roles of a lifetime in their own rights.  Goetz, in particular reeks with a slimy, contestable charm as Lulu’s pimp/father-figure Schigolch, a man who doesn’t think twice about wringing all he can from his young meal-ticket.

The version of the film I saw was the newly remastered version put out by the always fantastic Criterion Collection.  This version was no exception to their rule of providing only the highest quality films, restoration, remastering, and packaging.  If you do get to see this film, I hope it is this version that you decide to watch.  Rent it if you must, and buy it if you can, as the film comes with the usual rogues gallery of special features and a whole book full of essays on the film to boot.

I know very little about the rest of G.W. Pabst’s work, but now I’d really like to know more.  So influential in the world of film was Pabst, that he even gets a shout out, and becomes more than a slight plot point in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (a phenomenal film in its own right.  If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and GO SEE THAT SHIT!)  Needless to say, I will be hunting down more of this man’s work, eagerly hoping that Pandora’s Box wasn’t just a one shot wonder, or simply a fluke.  Highly recommended!!

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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 1975

Director – Milos Forman

Starring – Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Will Sampson, and Louise Fletcher

Based on the popular novel by Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those iconic, larger than life movies, where the public’s impressions of it have grown beyond it’s content.  Jack Nicolson plays, well…he plays the Jack Nicholson that he always does.  The story, while it follows Nicholson’s character (R.P. McMurphy), isn’t about him.  His character acts as a catalyst for the other residents of the ward, and with all the expectations and preconceived notions about this movie, this fact is a bit of a let down.

For starters, Nicholson is playing Jack Nicholson, period.  Where in Five Easy Pieces he deviated from his usual approach to acting, here in Cuckoo’s Nest, he embraces it.  I guess the fact that he plays a character in a mental asylum makes the style more appropriate, having seen it literally a dozen times before does somehow lessen the impact.

As I hinted at before, Nicholson plays a character by the name of R.P. McMurphy, who at the beginning of the film is being admitted to a mental hospital due to his acting out repeatedly on the job.  Immediately, McMurphy manages to rile up the other residents of his ward with his antics and questioning of the status quo, normally kept in check by the imposing nurse Ratched.  McMurphy, who is there by force, is flabbergasted to find out that the other men stay in this place by choice.  He shows his disdain for the institution and its staff by consistently breaking the rules, breaking out, and challenging the authority of his captors.

So, I’ve covered my thoughts on Jack Nicholson’s acting, but luckily this film doesn’t rely solely on his performance.  The other residents of the asylum as well as the wonderfully devious turn by Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched provide a bevy of wonderful performances that truly move the plot of the film forward.  A lot of familiar faces show up as relatively minor roles, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Scatman Coruthers, were all people I knew instantly, but there are a number of other lesser known actors that inhabit some of the other roles.  One prominent, completely believable character, Billy Bibbit, is fleshed out by the character actor Brad Dourif.  Despite Nicholson’s appearance on the poster and his notoriety pushing the popularity of the film, it is these other smaller roles that completely envelop us.  Through McMurphy we are allowed to watch Dourif’s Bibbit grow, Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched fume, and scheme, and perhaps most famously Will Sampson’s Chief Bromden free himself from his self-imposed bondage.

I don’t know if this rather voyeuristic outcome was intended by the director, or by Nicholson’s performance, but thankfully that is what happened.  Nicholson represents a chaos to these people, the same way a tornado or a car accident might in another film.  His character is something almost as powerful as a force of nature, something to be endured and weathered by each of the other characters.  If that was the desired outcome, then I take back my negative criticism of Nicholson’s performance.  Unfortunately this sort of thing only works once and a while, and he’s been playing the same character for years.

The cinematography, while fitting for the setting and tone of the film, didn’t seem all that different from other films in the seventies, and as a result didn’t catch my attention so much.

Despite my initial impression of Nicholson’s performance, I did really end up enjoying the film.  I didn’t realize quite how many of the plot points I had a decent knowledge of either, thanks to pop-culture references in other movies and television shows, so there was quite a lot of material that was fun and engaging.  I’d be interested in reading more about the history of this film, and it’s appearance on this list, but for the moment I’m content with having seen the film.

“Don’t fuck with your nurse” – Ashley