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Silent Era Films on Home Video
Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Pandora’s Box
(1929)

 

Louise Brooks remains one of the silent era’s most enduring icons. Yet her American film career was short and largely undistinguished. It took a trip to Germany to make this film to forever place her name in the books of silent film history. Pandora’s Box retains a place on the short list of the greatest films of the silent era.

When German director G.W. Pabst wanted to make a film version of the passionately-loved German play Die Büchse der Pandora, his greatest obstacle was effectively casting an actress in the part of the play’s central character, the prostitute Lulu. Several well-known German actresses were considered, but the role ultimately went to an American actress. The thought of the Kansas-born Brooks playing the beloved part of Lulu enraged some staunch Germanics. Yet, nationalities aside, the casting of Louise Brooks as Lulu turned out to be an artistic gamble that brilliantly paid off.

Brooks’ performance has the right balance of innocence and worldliness. And it is a masterful portrayal of the childish shallowness of Lulu, who is largely untouched by the ebb and flow of dark fate churning around her. Yet, to be minutely picky, there are shots where it seems as though Brooks is also only instinctively responding to Pabst’s off-camera direction, that she is unsure of which direction to take her performance until prompted. We ultimately don’t care about such things. We are captivated by Lulu as hopelessly as the film’s men who follow her to feed off her aura. And we love Louise Brooks. — Carl Bennett

coverThe Criterion Collection
2006 DVD edition

Pandora’s Box (1929), black & white, 133 minutes, not rated,
with Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (1998), color and black & white, 60 minutes, not rated, and Lulu in Berlin (1971), color and black & white, 48 minutes, not rated.

The Criterion Collection, CC1656D [spine number 358], UPC 7-15515-02062-6, ISBN 1-9341-2104-5.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in windowboxed 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 7 Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, German language intertitles, English language subtitles, 17 chapter stops; cardboard wrap with plastic DVD tray and supplemental book in cardboard slipcase, $39.95.
Release date: 28 November 2006.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 10 / additional content: 8 / overall: 9.

This high-quality edition features a new high-definition digital video transfer from the definitive Munich Filmmuseum restoration print, created from a composite of 35mm prints and digitally cleaned using the MTI Digital Restoration System. Much of the source prints’ shortcomings have been corrected, including the occasional print warping and jittery image instability. The results are magnificent in direct comparison to previous home video editions mastered from average-quality duplicate prints. Some flaws do still remain including vertical emulsion scratches, which are few, and the occasional speckling — however, this edition is such an improvement over previous laserdisc and videotape editions, with its balanced greytone range, intact highlight details and open shadows, it is a joy to watch — especially on a high-definition monitor.

The English language subtitles have been retranslated for improved transliteration, and the presentation is accompanied by four different music scores. A traditional orchestral score by Gillian Anderson is presented in both Dolby 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo mixes. Three other scores — a modern-style orchestral score by Peer Raben, a cabaret-inspired score by Dimitar Pentchev, and a solo piano score by Stéphan Oliva — are presented in Dolby 2.0 stereo. All are excellent listening.

Among the supplementary materials are audio commentary by film scholars Thomas Elsaesser and Mary Ann Doane, two documentaries, Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (1998) and Lulu in Berlin (1971), which includes a rare filmed interview with Brooks, an interview with Lulu in Berlin director Richard Leacock, an interview with G.W. Pabst’s son, Michael.

Also included in the package is a booklet featuring Kenneth Tynan’s famous essay “The Girl in the Black Helmet,” a chapter from Brooks’ autobiography on her relationship with Pabst, and a new essay by critic J. Hoberman.

Beyond doubt this is the best available edition of Pandora’s Box on DVD home video and the first to be released on DVD in the United States, and we highly recommend it.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverSecond Sight Films
2002 DVD edition

Pandora’s Box (1929), black & white, 131 minutes, BBFC Classification PG,
with Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (1998), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Second Sight Films, 2NDVD3036, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (? x ? pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, German? language intertitles, German and English? language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
Release date: 24 June 2002.
Country of origin: United Kingdom
This edition also contains the documentary Looking for Lulu, narrated by Shirley MacLaine, and an interview with Louise Brooks.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverUmbrella Entertainment
2003 DVD edition

Pandora’s Box (1929), black & white, 131 minutes, BBFC Classification PG.

Umbrella Entertainment,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, dual-layered?, Region 2 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (? x ? pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, German? language intertitles, English language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
Release date: 2 July 2003.
Country of origin: United Kingdom
This edition also contains a documentary and interviews among its supplementary material.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era LOUISE BROOKS films available on home video.

Other silent era G.W. PABST films available on home video.

Other GERMAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
Louise Brooks filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
 
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