This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Louise Brooks regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her. Her beauty was “almost impersonal,” Pauline Kael wrote; she carries it like a gift she doesn't think much about, and confronts us as a naughty girl. When you meet someone like this in life, you're attracted, but you know in your gut she'll be nothing but trouble.
Life cannot permit such freedom, and so Brooks, in her best films, is ground down--punished for her joy. At the end of “Pandora's Box” (1928), she's killed while in the embrace of Jack the Ripper, and the audience isn't even asked to accept her death as punishment for her wicked ways. It's more a settling of scores: Anyone who looks that great, and lives life on her own terms, has to be swatted down by fate or the rest of us will grow discouraged.
“Louise Brooks was way too wild in a business that was way too tame.” So says Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, curator of the film collection at Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. We see him in “Looking for Lulu,” an hourlong documentary, narrated by Shirley MacLaine, that Turner Classic Movies will air May 5, part of its monthlong tribute to Brooks. The cable channel will also show “Pandora's Box,” “The Show-Off” (1926) and “God's Gift to Women” (1935). If you can believe Steve Silberman's article in Wired magazine, there is a Brooks revival sweeping the country; she is the most popular dead actress on the Web, and so on. Popularity comes and goes. Brooks remains, because of her luck in making two great films in Germany right at the end of the silent era, after she had burned all her bridges in Hollywood.
These films are “Pandora's Box” and “Diary of a Lost Girl,” both directed by the master of psycho-sexual melodrama, G.W. Pabst. Now restored and available on video, they glisten with the purity of black and white, and Brooks' face is fixed forever: the bangs cut low over the eyes (“One of the 10 haircuts that changed the world,” according to InStyle magazine); the eyebrows rich and level, parallel to the bangs; the deep dark eyes; the mouth often caught in a pout or a tease; the porcelain skin; the perfect regularity of features that made her almost a cartoon (she inspired the comic strip “Dixie Dugan”).