November 24, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

By her own estimate, Louise Brooks was neither a great beauty nor actress, but she was certainly a great personality, used perfectly by G.W. Pabst in Pandora’s Box. His clear-eyed account follows a trollop’s trajectory from kept woman to bourgeois ”wife,” from humiliated commodity to serial-killer prey. Brooks’ Lulu is enchantingly childlike, cunningly erotic, and stunning in close-up: Think Basic Instinct-era Sharon Stone crossed with Kirsten Dunst with a dab of Edie Sedgwick. You can’t take your eyes off her. Ditto Pabst’s rich filmmaking — looking clean and crisp in a new transfer — which reaches a peak in a backstage sequence where operatic emotion, slapstick, and kineticism beautifully collide. The two-disc Criterion set includes a choice of four musical scores and a commentary that tends toward film theory-speak. Much more illuminating and fun is a 1971 interview with Brooks, who bubbles over with keen memories. (For the shabby London loft scenes, Pabst took one of the star’s favorite suits and had it torn so she ”would feel terrible in it.”) Even with her face weathered by hard life and without her famous bob, Brooks is riveting.

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