A Moment and a Gunshot: the original cinematic Bad Girl
Her story’s been told many times and in better ways than I can manage; in short, a young dancer longs to escape her hometown of Cherryvale, Kansas, becomes a Ziegfeld girl, gets a Hollywood contract, spits in the eye of the film industry, causes a ruckus on two continents, and becomes perhaps the greatest of screen icons through a collaboration with G.W. Pabst, one of the leading directors in the New Realism style of post-Expressionistic German cinema. Louise Brooks’s signature role barely registered with its leading lady at the time of its making; more interested in the raucous nonstop party that was Weimar Berlin, she couldn’t be bothered to think too much about the film that was to define the dark side of the 1920’s flapper and which would burnish Brooks’s image as the ideogrammatic vision of early 20th-Century cinematic sexuality.
As much as Lulu tossed aside the men and women who flocked to her, Brooks was equally apathetic towards her film career and became a pariah from the industry. Indeed, she wouldn’t see Pandora’s Box until 1958, when she was in the process of turning her incisive mind to writing and researching film history. Brooks died in 1988, her legacy fortunately resurrected by champions such as James Card and Henri Langlois. With Pandora’s Box Brooks created the seminal Bad Girl, a creature who predated other memorable transgressive femmes such as Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947), Anne Savage in Detour (1945), Diane Keaton in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1978), and too many others to name.
Some images from Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) (1928).