What’s the Score?: Considering the Four Score Options for Pandora’s Box

26 December 2010

Have you ever considered how important musical score is to an audience’s interpretation of a silent film?  Sure the moving images and sporadic written frames are imperative, but an overwhelming amount of the audience’s emotional investment and understanding derives from the musical accompaniment.  So, when I put Pandora’s Box into my DVD player I found it intriguing that I could select one of four scores to accompany the film: classical orchestral score, modern orchestral score, piano instrumental, or cabaret score. 


I, not so randomly, selected the “Train to Paris” scene (DVD chapter 12) to compare the four scores.  The scene on the train is incredibly dynamic: after Lulu’s daring escape, tensions are high, the confining surroundings of the train further elevate anxiety, new characters appear, instability and confusion are palpable, Lulu again showcases her (in)famous womanly allure, and old characters abruptly reappear.  

First up, in the order I went through the selections, is the classical orchestral score, which, historically (according to the “About” paragraph on the DVD menu), is the closest to what audiences heard in 1929.  This classical piece strongly echoing so many other silent film scores of its time; although the piece was composed specifically to accompany this film, it fits a certain silent-era-mold. 

Although rangeful, the classical orchestral score is primarily high-pitched.  The emphasis on flutes and other woodwind instruments makes it whimsical at times, like, somewhere on this train a sugar-plum fairy is dancing her little heart out.  Not so fitting for a scene from a film, in part, about murder, prostitution, and Jack the Ripper.  Also, the score was rather ostentatious and melodramatic, not a compatible pairing with this scene in Pandora’s Box; this scene is pivotal and complex, not showy.  Moreover, the music seems anticipatory, as though it is not reacting to the visual action, but instead preparing the audience for what’s about to come. Score is a significant adage to plot progression in silent filmmaking, but this example sounds like an infringement upon the film.  Pabst has a fantastic eye and creates an intelligent, aesthetic presence, so the audience shouldn’t feel distracted by dictating music.  Basically, I would like some score with my motion picture, not some motion picture with my score.  

 Next up is the modern orchestral, which is a contemporary take on the previous score.  It’s also the melting pot for all the scores because, aside from the modernized classical orchestral, it includes the piano and cabaret presences.  In that way, this is probably the most dynamic of all the score options.  Unlike the classical orchestral score, this option is deeper, and lower in tone; there are no sugar-plum fairies dancing to this tune.  In addition, the score’s use of a tribal-like, pounding drum enhances its vibrancy.  The drum supports the tension in the scene and reinforces the classical allusion in the title by using an ancient sound to connect how timeless the storyline of Pandora’s Box is (woman exchanged from man to man causing havoc for both men and women alike).    

 Third is the piano instrumental, a huge shift from multi-instrument collaborations of the first two, but similar in pacing.  This score falls into a daunting rhythmic pattern, which intelligently mirrors the (equally daunting) pattern of Lulu’s exchange from man to man; however, I may be giving the score too much credit with that connection.  What the score does well is echo the danger of the scene; however, its constant repetition falls flat, making the musical accompaniment, to put it bluntly, aggravating.  

 Finally, the cabaret score, the most unique of the four, reinvents the scene’s mood.  It feels as though the cabaret score is the voice of Lulu; the music gives sound to her persona.  Unlike the focus on tension and drama in the other three scores, this accompaniment is all about sexuality.  In a way, this music is seductive and playful, like Lulu.  Unlike the danger of the piano instrumental, this score emphasizes a more mischievous, sly tone.  It is much lighter than the others, highlights the conspiracy of the scene from a different angle.       

Overall, my musical exercise was insightful.  I understand better how affected I am by sound, specifically music, and how strongly music influences my reaction to what I see (which, creepily, makes me think of A Clockwork Orange.  Thank goodness Pandora’s Box is Beethoven free!)  Personally, I felt the modern orchestral was the best fit for how I interpret not only the scene on the train, but all of Pandora’s Box.  Yet, I have to give the Cabaret score a pat on the back; it truly lends Lulu a voice.

 Maybe, my work with this remains unfinished.  Perhaps I need to watch the scene a fifth time…muted!     

 For your consideration:

For anyone out there somewhat familiar with Greek mythology, what does Pandora’s Box symbolize in the context of this film?  Is this a film all about the evils of the world?  Is Lulu Pandora, or is she what’s unleashed?

What’s your take on Lulu?  Is she childish?  A master-manipulator?  Naïve? Brilliant?  All of the above?

Does Lulu change at all throughout the film?  Consider small details, such as the way she puts her lipstick on near the end (notice the camera’s angle).

Pandora’s Box and female sexuality…go.

Does Lulu get what she deserves at the end?  Was it inevitable her demise would be so brutal and volatile? Why do you feel that way?

 Mise-en-scene (or mise-en-shot) of Pandora’s Box…go.


~ by Kate Bellmore on 26/12/2010.

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