Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beware of the Bob.

I am always surprised when I remember that back in 1929, the character of Lulu from Pandora's Box was a bit like the Bridget Jones of our times.
Not in the out there sexuality and femme fatale-ness mind you (although arguments could be made for both cases) but in how German audiences were appalled when American actress Louise Brooks was cast to play one of their most iconic characters.
Brooks, it seems, had a hard time adjusting to the hostility she received at hands of the cast and crew. They weren't only against her because of her nationality but because they thought she had no talent and was pretty much a temptress who had put director G.W. Pabst under her spell.
Now if that doesn't sound like the perfect embodiment of who the character of Lulu was, then nothing else does.
You either hate or fall for Lulu and given how the 22 year old Brooks created that sort of extreme thinking amongst people behind the camera makes a great case for what a genius Pabst was in choosing her (Marlene Dietrich was second choice).

This polarizing nature is best captured in my favorite shot in the movie.



In it, Lulu has just received her former employer Schigolch (Carl Goetz) in her apartment. We can assume there is more than meets the eye by the way in which Schigolch demands things of her. Most surely he was her pimp too.
She sits on his lap and smiles in the sweetest of ways. He asks her if she still knows how to dance. One of the philosophy that "actions speak louder than words" Lulu stands up and proceeds to show him she's still got the moves.
As she approaches her stage, we see a painting hanging on the wall behind her.
Something in the setting feels slightly disturbing.
It hits us. She's the woman in the painting!
This masterful work of framing pretty much encompasses the entire film's spirit. We have two Lulus.
There's the one men want to possess-in the form of the painting- and the irrepressible force of nature she actually is. Then it does make sense that people feel so strongly towards her. It's not her fault she can't become the fixed artwork they all want to contemplate and behold.
But it's not their fault that her exuberance makes them want to do just that to her.


As she dances for Schigolch she covers the painting behind her revealing her true nature. At least who she is to herself.

But things make even more sense when we realize that the apartment where she lives is the one where she's kept by her lover, the great newspaperman Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner) who also comes to visit her and demand his rights.


Surprised by his visit, she hides Schigolch in the balcony and tries to distract her lover.
Once again the painting obtains prominence as Lulu takes lies in a similar position on the couch.
Notice though how Pabst places them in opposing directions. The two Lulus make a ying-yang of sorts.


As she seduces her lover we get the antithesis of the moment when she was dancing, for here it's Schön who covers the flesh and blood Lulu as we see more of the painting (the Lulu Schön desires).

For the rest of the running time we are left wondering who this woman actually is. Sinner or victim, Pabst makes sure the only thing we know about her, is how much of an enigma she actually is.


This post is part of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series hosted by the fabulous Nat of The Film Experience.

2 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

beautiful piece.

I was really transfixed this time through (fourth time) by Pabst's use of artwork. That sculpture (i think by Ernst Balach?) on the wall behind her during the whole wedding/murder thing is great too.

Jose said...

Thank you Nat!

I didn't notice the sculpture! Must watch again.