Friday, June 24, 2016

My recent trip to London in search of Louise Brooks (pre-Brexit)

[This post was originally run on May 17th.] A small part of my recent trip to London was devoted to silent film and Louise Brooks. I am glad I went when I did, back in April before the Brexit vote, though friends and others I encountered (cabbies, people on the street), were all talking about it . . . .

Most memorably, I had the chance to visit with film historian Kevin Brownlow, and we talked about LB for two hours! He shared his memories of the actress, whom he interviewed twice. And, he also showed me some of the images and clippings he had gathered over the years. I told Kevin of my intention to track down Brooks' London residence, he and shared this item with me. The writing is Brooks, and the image of her London apartment building dates from much later, perhaps the 1960s or 1970s.

As most fans will know, Louise Brooks lived in London for a few months in late 1924 and early 1925. I went past Brooks' one time apartment building, which is located at 49A Pall Mall; the address no longer exists. (It has, seemingly, been absorbed into 50 Pall Mall.) Here is an image of the building today, along with one of me at that spot.

About a 15 minute walk  from 49A Pall Mall is the Cafe de Paris at 3 Coventry Street. LB danced there in 1924, and that's where where Picadilly with Anna May Wong was filmed (in part) in 1929. I was fortune enough to enjoy a private tour of the famed Cafe, which I guess looks a good deal like the place Brooks danced in long ago. Here is a picture of me outside the club, along with some interior shots.

Another highlight was visiting the Cinema Museum, which is housed in an old Lambeth workhouse where Charlie Chaplin one lived; the night we visited, Kevin Brownlow was introducing his print of Man, Woman and Sin (1929), starring John Gilbert & Jeanne Eagles. It is an especially good film. If you are ever in London, be sure and visit this fascinating place. Here are a few snapshots from the night we visited.

And, I did some Louise Brooks research at both the British Library and BFI (British Film Institute) library. At the British Library, I searched through microfilm of some issues of London Life from around the time Brooks was dancing at the Cafe de Paris. It was full of articles and images of London's nightlife, including showgirls, gossip and bits on movie stars. Though promising, I didn't turn-up anything on the then newly opened Cafe de Paris nor Brooks' tenure there. I one thing I did find was the issue of Boy's Cinema which features a fictionalization of Now We're in the Air, Brooks' 1927 film with Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton.

I visited the BFI and the BFI library, where I did more research. I was looking for a handful of hard-to-find articles about Brooks published in various British, French and German publications. I managed to unearth a number of pieces which I found in rare issues of publications like The Astorian, The Stoll, Sequences, Film Dope, and Flickers. I wish I had had more time to explore their holdings, as I know I could have found more material.

I also noticed Brooks had something of a presence at the BFI itself. I spotted copies of both the Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl DVDs in the BFI giftshop, and, I noticed Brooks' image was included on some promotional pieces. I also purchased a copy of Mark Kermode's book The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, which contains a few pages on Beggars of Life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Louise Brooks: data mining, visualization and the Media History Digital Library

Arclight is a data mining and visualization tool for film and media history that allow users to analyze millions of pages of digitally scanned magazines (notably film and trade publications) and newspapers for trends related to a chosen subject. I searched "Louise Brooks."

This graph represents my results.  It shows what we already know, that more articles mentioning Louise Brooks appeared in 1926 and then 1927, peaking in 1928. The decline in mostly American press attention began in 1929 and continued into the 1930s until the period between 1936 and 1938, when Brooks experienced a brief revival. The 1940s and 1950s marked a period of obscurity. The 1960s marked a period of rediscovery.

There were 2 hits in 1924, and 15 in 1925. There were 173 hits in 1926, 221 in 1927, and 259 in 1928. In 1929 there were 146 hits, followed by 50 in 1930. In 1931, there were 54 hits, followed by 19 in 1932, and 7 in 1933.

Arclight  is a collaboration among interdisciplinary researchers at Concordia University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Project Arclight enables the study of 20th century American media through comparisons across time and space. I encourage every Louise Brooks scholar to check it out. You won't be bored, unlike Louise.

Check out this video about the Media History Digital Library.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding Louise Brooks in the non-English language press in the USA

Over the years, I have had the chance to look at a handful of non-English language newspapers published in the United States. I've looked at German, Yiddish, Spanish, and Russian-language papers and found all manner of clippings, from articles and captioned photos to movie advertisements. There was nothing too revelatory, except for the Norwegian-language newspaper from NYC which contained some key information relating to A Social Celebrity (more on that at a later time).

I have also looked at Portuguese newspapers published on both coasts. Sometimes, the theater advertisements would be in Portuguese, and sometimes in English. Here is some of what I found.

Rolled Stockings (above) played as Meias Enroladas at the Empire Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1927. While God's Gift to Women (below) played as O Presente de Deus Para as Mulheres at the State theater in 1931. (I am not sure, but God's Gift to Women could be showing on a double bill with The Public Enemy -- a film Brooks was originally cast in.) Despite the fact that the films were advertised in Portuguese, I don't think they were subtitled in that language.

And here are a couple of clipping from Oakland, California for The Canary Murder Case (1929).

One of the more unusual articles I came across was this 1945 piece on actress Myrna Loy, who had a bit part in the 1928 Brooks' film, A Girl in Every Port (here Uma noiva em cada porto). By this time, Brooks was little remembered, and it is interesting to note that the film's lead star, Victor McLaglen, was not mentioned.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A double bill featuring Louise Brooks on this day in 1937

On this date in 1937, the Lincoln Theater in San Francisco presented a special double bill, When You're in Love together with Empty Saddles, starring Buck Jones and L. Brooks. I wish I could have been there!

This listing is one of a handful of Louise Brooks' "double bills" that I have come across over the years. I have also come across as many instances where one Brooks' films followed another at a local theater, or when different Brooks' films played in different theaters at the same time and in the same town (as in the Omaha, Nebraska advertisement pictured below). It's coincidental, but notable as Brooks made relatively few films. Her films were well circulated.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Louise Brooks as "Lulu the Sinful"

I, for one, am pleased that there is thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba. I am especially looking forward to increasing cultural and scholarly exchange between the two countries. This opening up in relations should be a boon to silent film studies (who knows what "lost films" might be found there), as well as Louise Brooks studies. In the past, I have been able to look at microfilm of one English-language newspaper from Havana, and I found plenty. I can't wait to be able to search through some of the Spanish-language Cuban newspapers and magazines of the 1920's and 1930s. (Cross your fingers that they be digitized and put online.)

From my early search, I know that many of Brooks films showed in Cuba; we also know the actress herself visited the country on one or two occasions. Certainly there are articles and reviews and advertisements and other documents still to be found which would help paint a portrait of the actress' presence on the island.

All this is to say that there is still a good deal of materiel to discover about Louise Brooks and Cuba . . . . Like the fact that Pandora's Box played in Cuba under the strange title Lulu La Pecadora (Lulu the Sinful).

Please contact me if anyone has access or knowledge of any digitized Cuban newspapers or film magazines dating from the 1920s and 1930's.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bill Berkson, In Memorium (1939-2016) - poet and Louise Brooks devotee

Bill Berkson, acclaimed poet and and friend to the Louise Brooks Society, passed away early today (June 16th). Berkson was a writer, art critic and curator of considerable accomplishment. He was also a big fan of Louise Brooks.

I had the pleasure and the honor of having put on an event with Berkson some years ago, as well as visiting Bill at his book and art filled San Francisco apartment, where we talked about our favorite silent film star and the time that he and his good friend, the poet Frank O'Hara, attended a 1961 screening of Prix de Beaute in New York City. Afterwords, both Berkson and O'Hara wrote poems inspired by the actress.

O’Hara wrote “F.Y.I. (Prix de Beaute),” which references the actress. It was first published in a small literary journal. And, it was later collected in The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, to which Berkson wrote the footnote and explained its inspiration.

Berkson ending up writing “Bubbles,” which was based on the essays Brooks was publishing in film journals in the 1960s. “Bubbles” was likewise published in a small press magazine and later collected in book form in Lush Life (1984).

In 1997, Berkson allowed me to print the poem as a broadside. It was one of a small series of poems inspired by / or in homage to the actress which I’ve desktop published in small autographed editions. A scan of the broadside – which depicts an image of the actress floating beneath the text of the poem – is shown here.

Here is a link to a piece I wrote about Berkson for the San Francisco Chronicle website back in 2011.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sigmund Freud, John Huston, and Louise Brooks (& not-Ghoulardi)

Here's an odd one. . . . While doing some Louise Brooks research I came up with one of the strangest finds I have ever come across, linking Sigmund Freud, director John Huston, and the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, Diary of a Lost Girl.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences contains many documents, among them a batch of correspondence related to the John Huston Film, Freud (1962), starring Montgomery Clift in the title role. The correspondence comes from the Freud estate, and from those involved in the film's production. Among them was one Ernie Anderson, who sent a letter on November 24, 1961 explaining that Freud had no direct involvement with two earlier G.W. Pabst films, Secrets of a Soul (1926) and Diary of a Lost Girl.

Anderson was a long-time assistant to Huston (and not, apparently, the cult figure "Ghoulardi," the father of contemporary director Paul Thomas Anderson). But what is odd is why Huston would have been curious about Diary of a Lost Girl, which then was pretty obscure in the United States, having been seldom screened and even less written about in film histories.

Montgomery Clift and John Huston