Friday, May 29, 2015

Beggars of Life with Louise Brooks screens at UCLA on May 31

Two early films directed by William Wellman - each about the down and out and life on the road and both featuring a "cross-dressing" female lead - will be shown at the Billy Wilder Theater on the campus of UCLA.

The special double bill with Beggars of Life - starring Louise Brooks, and Wild Boys of the Road, is set to take place on May 31 at 7 p.m. More information HERE.

This special event, part of an ongoing Wellman series, features an in-person appearance by William Wellman Jr., son of the legendary, Academy Award winning director. Wellman Jr. will sign copies of his excellent new book, Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel (Pantheon) beginning at 6 p.m. (Wild Boys of the Road is depicted on the cover of the book.)

Live musical accompaniment will be provided by the one and only Cliff Retallick, who has accompanied other Louise Brooks' films on earlier occasions.

Beggars of Life  (1928)

For a director who was also a decorated pilot in World War I, William A. Wellman’s films burn through a lot of shoe leather, from the Depression-driven tramping of the 1930s (Wild Boys of the Road, Heroes for Sale, Midnight Mary) to the weary marching of American soldiers in WWII, (G.I. Joe, Battleground). Beggars of Life inaugurates Wellman’s fascination with and facility for the rough lives and environs of the trudging downtrodden. After killing her foster father in self-defense, Nancy (the ever spellbinding Louise Brooks) flees to the open road with the help of Jim (Richard Arlen), a young hobo who happened on the scene. Wallace Beery, whose singing on the now lost Vitaphone soundtrack of the sound version was billed as major attraction by Paramount, plays Oklahoma Red, a magnetic and menacing tramp who comes through for the couple in the end.

Paramount Famous Lasky Corp.  Director: William A. Wellman.  (Scenario): Benjamin Glazer, Jim Tully.  Cinematography: Henry Gerrard.  Editor: Alyson Shaffer.  Cast: Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, Edgar Washington Blue, H.A. Morgan.  35mm, b/w, silent, 81 min.

Wild Boys of the Road  (1933)

William A. Wellman directed two topical films about the Depression for Warner Bros., both semi-documentary in tone.  This stark narrative follows boys from impoverished families (and a girl, played by dancer Dorothy Coonan, Wellman's fourth and final wife) on their hungry journey.  Wonderful photography and sincere acting make this film enjoyable despite the grim subject matter.  The optimistic ending resounds with hopeful New Deal rhetoric.

First National Pictures, Inc.  Director: William A. Wellman.  Screenwriter: Earl Baldwin.  Cinematography: Arthur L. Todd.  Editor: Thomas Pratt.  With: Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips, Rochelle Hudson, Dorothy Coonan, Sterling Holloway, Arthur Hohl.  35mm, b/w, 69 min.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

San Francisco's Silent Film Festival 20 years on

There are plenty of film festivals scattered across North America, including a number devoted to silent film. The Denver Silent Film Festival, Kansas Silent Film Festival, and Toronto Silent Film Festival have all made their mark in recent years. None, however, is as eclectic, long lasting, and well attended as the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The event, which now stretches over five days and draws tens-of-thousands of people from all over the world, is regarded as the largest silent film festival in the Western Hemisphere.

If you have any interest in Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Who, Jazz Age flappers, world's fairs, or meeting an unique Academy Award winner--then you won't want to miss this year's Silent Film Festival. There is a little something for everyone, including fans of Louise Brooks. The annual event, which celebrates its 20th anniversary, is set to take place May 28th through June 1st. To celebrate 20 years of showcasing silent film--often times rare or restored prints and almost always with live musical accompaniment, here are 20 reasons to attend the 2015 event.

1) SHERLOCK HOLMES: By the time Sherlock Holmes (1916) was made, its star William Gillette was long established as the world's foremost stage interpreter of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character. Gillette visually defined Holmes' methods, manner, and look, especially his signature attire, and his performances were widely praised, even by Doyle himself. This film, long thought lost, was recently found and restored and here makes its North American debut. See where the future Holmeses--John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest--come from. [Reportedly, fans are flying in from all over for this special screening, which is being underwritten by a major Holmes collector. If you can't make the event, Flicker Alley announced that they will be releasing the film on DVD in the fall.]

Tinted scenes from Sherlock Holmes, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival

2) DR. WHO: It's no surprise the popular time-travelling British television character enjoys silent cinema, as he likely experienced its glories during his many adventures in space and time.... Real life British actor Paul McGann, the actual 8th Doctor and himself a devotee of silent film and Louise Brooks, live narrates a couple of presentations, including The Ghost Train (1927), a decidedly Whovian film which tells the story of eccentric travelers stranded at a dubiously haunted station.

3) COLLEEN MOORE: She was as popular as Clara Bow, and had pulchritude not unlike that of Louise Brooks. Yet, how many can claim to have seen one of her pictures? Colleen Moore is perfect in Why Be Good? (1929), where she plays the aptly-named Pert Kelly, shop girl by day, flapper by night. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch."

Why Be Good?, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival

4) LOCAL HISTORY: The Festival screens When the Earth Trembled (1913), a newly restored film that's likely the first feature about the 1906 earthquake. It contains some nifty special effects and rare footage shot in San Francisco in the days following the disaster. And, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (a world's fair that celebrated The City's recovery), the Festival will also screen short films shot at that historic event.

5) KEVIN BROWNLOW: Arguably, the above mentioned festivals might not exist without Kevin Brownlow: author, archivist, documentarian, champion of the silent cinema, and Louise Brooks' friend--Brownlow's importance to film history cannot be emphasized enough. His 1968 book, The Parade's Gone By, inspired a generation of enthusiasts. It's a must read. His 1979 TV series, Hollywood, set the standard for just about every documentary that followed. In 2010, in recognition for all he has done, Brownlow received an Academy Honorary Award, the first time an Oscar was awarded to a film historian! The British film preservationist will be in conversation prior to the screening of his restoration of the Festival's closing film, Ben Hur (1925).

6) FAN FAVORITES: This year's films star legendary names like John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, and Harold Lloyd. But look a little deeper into the credits and you'll find up-and-comers whose reputations were made in later years, like Boris Karloff in The Deadlier Sex (1920), and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon in TV's Batman, and one of the stars of Brooks' first film, The Street of Forgotten Men) in Why Be Good? 

Gilbert and Garbo in love, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival

7) LEGACY: With the passage of time, the children and grandchildren of silent film personalities are as close as we may come to their work. In attendance will be actor William Wellman Jr., son of the Academy Award winning director William Wellman (whose credits include the 1928 Brooks' film  Beggars of Life) and author of the just released biography Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel. Also presenting or signing books are Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold Lloyd, and Jessica Niblo, daughter of Why Be Good? director William Seiter.

8) SPECIAL GUESTS: Well known critics Leonard Maltin and David Thomson will also be on hand, as will authors and film historians John Bengtson, Cari Beauchamp (My First Time in Hollywood), Jeff Codori (Colleen Moore: A Biography of the Silent Film Star), David Pierce (The Dawn of Technicolor), Weihong Bao (Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945), and others, including Thomas Gladysz, editor of the Louise Brooks' edition of The Diary of a Lost Girl.

9) SPOKEN DIALOGUE: The Donovan Affair (1929) was Frank Capra's first "100% all-Dialogue Picture." Its soundtrack, however, has been lost. For this special screening, the soundtrack will be recreated with live dialogue by Allen Lewis Rickman (Boardwalk Empire), Yelena Shmulenson (A Serious Man, The Good Shepherd), veteran actor, writer, director Frank Buxton (who similarly voiced a part in Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily?) and others. Not to be missed.

10) MUSIC: Most every film, from the shortest short to the longest epic, is presented with live musical accompaniment. Making their Festival debut are the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra from Massachusetts, and returning are the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Matti Bye Ensemble (winners of the Golden Beetle, Sweden's Oscar), and musicians Donald Sosin, Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius, Guenter Buchwald, and others.

11) ASIAN CINEMA: The Asian Cinema did not start with Kurosawa, martial arts films, or Bollywood. For a number of years, the Silent Film Festival has included a stellar example of early movie making from Japan , China or India. This year's film is Cave of the Spider Women (1927), a rare example of a magic-spirit film, a popular genre in the 1920s. The film set box-office records in China in 1927, but was considered lost until its discovery in Europe.

Cave of the Spider Women, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival
12) LOST LANDMARK: In 1913, a group of African-American performers led by famed entertainer Bert Williams gathered in New York to make a motion picture. After shooting more than an hour worth of film, the project was abandoned by its producers and left forgotten. Its unassembled footage, notably, represents the earliest known surviving feature with a cast of black actors. The Festival will present an hour-long assemblage of material that includes a two-minute dance sequence and a cutting-edge display of on-screen affection.

13) THE LAST LAUGH (1924): In his greatest role, Oscar winner Emil Jannings plays the chief porter at a prestigious hotel, a position affording him respect and dignity. His uniform is the emblem of his stature¬--and a source of great personal pride; thus, his subsequent demotion to washroom attendant is devastating. The film's pathos is bolstered by its technical innovation--F.W. Murnau's fluid camera is as beautifully expressive as Jannings's performance. So much so, the story flows without the need for intertitles. The Last Laugh is one of the great films of the Weimar era. Expect to shed a tear, or two, or three.

The Last Laugh, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival
14) FOREIGN FILMS: Along with The Last Laugh (a German production) and The Ghost Train (an English/German co-production directed by a Hungarian), the Festival will also screen French classics Visages d'enfants (1925) and The Swallow and the Titmouse (1920), as well as the avant-garde Ménilmontant (1926), which Pauline Kael named her favorite film. There is also a very modern Swedish work, Norrtullsligan (1923), and a singular Norwegian effort, Pan (1922), an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamsun's famous novel.

15) ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930): We've all read the book or seen the movie. The Festival will screen the long lost silent version of the sound film, which some scholars think superior to the more familiar early talkie; that's a big claim considering Lewis Milestone's anti-war drama was the first to win Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. This opening night presentation features a new score and live sound effects created especially for the silent version.

16) FREE PROGRAMS: Every year, the Festival sponsors a free public program on film preservation. It's pretty interesting, and a sure bet you'll see things your film-buff friends wish they had seen. Rare, fragile, and once thought lost films are screened, and noted individuals working in the field speak: Bryony Dixon, senior curator of silent film at the British Film Institute, is bringing a treasure trove of footage about the Lusitania; Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films in Paris will show Maurice Tourneur's House of Wax (1914); and local preservationist Rob Byrne will describe reconstructing Sherlock Holmes.

17) AMAZING CHARLIE BOWERS: Mix a little slapstick with a little Rube Goldberg and a little Buster Keaton with a little anything-goes-fantasy and you end up with Charlie Bowers, a long-forgotten, idiosyncratic, Iowa-born filmmaker once championed by the French Surrealists, who loved Bower's inventive mix of live action and puppet animation. Only recently rediscovered, Bower's surviving shorts have now been beautifully restored. You haven't lived until you've seen Now You Tell One (1926), with its scene of elephants marching into the U.S. Capitol.

Charlie Bowers, courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival
18) YOU'LL BE TESTED: Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York's Film Forum, will host a trivia contest called "So You Think You Know Silents." Test your knowledge of the era in what promises to be a spirited quiz. Prizes will be awarded. And what's more, its free.

19) CASTRO THEATER: The Festival takes place within the confines of the historic Castro. Built in 1922, this grand neighborhood movie theater is one of the last standing picture palaces in the San Francisco Bay Area. Early on, Oscar winner Janet Gaynor was an usherette there.

20) AN ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION: This year's event marks 20 years of properly presented 35mm film with live musical accompaniment, a Festival hallmark. Following the opening night presentation, experience a festive Weimar-era nightclub--the Kit Kat Klub, the Festival's version of a 1920s Berlin cabaret. There will be a chanteuse, music, dancing , food, drink, "relaxed social attitudes", and a special cocktail--the Voluptuous Panic. Period attire suggested.

The Silent Film Festival takes place May 28th through June 1st at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. More information, including a complete program of films and special guests, can be found at

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Louise Brooks Society in the works

To celebrate 20 years online as the leading source for all things Lulu, a new Louise Brooks Society website is in the works! Until its launch, the domain is under construction. Please check back as a new and improved website is made ready. Contact info is pictured here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reminder, God's Gift to Women on TCM today

A reminder that God's Gift to Women (1931), featuring Louise Brooks, will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the United States at 6:15 am ET.

This 71 minute Warner Bros. "laugh riot" stars Frank Fay and also features Joan Blondell, Laura LaPlante, Charles Winninger, Margaret Livingston, Yola d'Avril, and the delightful Sister's G. Louise Brooks plays Florine in one of last major starring roles. The film, written by one-time silent film star Raymond Griffith, was directed by the great Michael Curtiz. In case you need some incentive to tune in or change the channel, here is some a la Louise Brooks in a publicity picture for the film.

Monday, May 25, 2015

God's Gift to Women with Louise Brooks on TCM on May 26

God's Gift to Women (1931), featuring Louise Brooks, will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in the United States on Tuesday, May 26. The showing is set to take place at 6:15 am ET.


This 71 minute Warner Bros. "laugh riot" stars Frank Fay (at the time Barbara Stanwyck's husband) and also features Joan Blondell, Laura LaPlante, Charles Winninger, Margaret Livingston, Yola d'Avril, and the Sister's G. Louise Brooks plays Florine in one of last major starring roles. The film, written by Raymond Griffith, was directed by the great Michael Curtiz.

Leonard Maltin described the film this way: "Incorrigible philanderer has trouble adjusting his swinging lifestyle after being told he has a bad heart and must give up wine and women, or, as the doctor puts it, "Live like a clam, or die!'' Wild pre-Code sex farce with lots of racy humor. Legendary silent screen siren Brooks has a small part as one of Fay's lovers."

From the TCM website: "In a Parisian nightclub, Diane Churchill, an American woman, and her father are fascinated to learn that Jacques Duryea, the young man seated at a table near them, is an international lover known as Toto, able to have any woman he wants. Toto finds Diane very attractive and manages to dance with her, but as soon as their dance is over, Diane, who disapproves of him, leaves with her father. In the following days, Toto follows Diane everywhere. After she accidentally shuts the car door on his hand, she takes pity on him and bandages his injury. At tea, Toto tells her that she is his ideal woman and now that he has found her, he is finished philandering. She wants to believe him, but while she visits him at home, Tania, a former mistress, arrives with several suitcases, clearly intending to live there. Diane leaves and when Toto returns, he forces Tania to leave. That night, Churchill attends a concert, leaving Diane home alone. Wearing a disguise, Toto sneaks into her house to beg forgiveness. She admits that she is in love with him. When Toto tells Churchill that he intends to marry Diane, Churchill agrees on the condition that Toto stay away from Diane for six months. He also demands that Toto see his doctor to insure that he is in good health. After an examination, the doctor warns Toto that he has a bad heart and the least excitement may cause it to burst. In order to stay alive, he must stop drinking and give up women entirely. When they hear the news, several of Toto's old girl friends want to nurse him. Toto tries desperately to get rid of them and an angry husband appears, intending to kill him. After all this excitement, the doctor warns that even one kiss will kill him. Then Diane tells Toto that her father is taking her back to America and offers to spend an hour with him that night. Not wanting to say no, Toto arranges for his funeral. Diane arrives right on time, and Toto kisses her, expecting to die immediately. Nothing happens, however, and it turns out that Churchill paid the doctor to lie in order to discover if Toto loved Diane more than life. Now that he really believes in Toto's love for his daughter, he allows them to marry."

God's Gift to Women was released on DVD in 2012. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Kickstarter graphic novel to include Louise Brooks

A new graphic novel currently featured on Kickstarter to includes a Louise Brooks character.  The Tommy Gun Dolls, a 72-page graphic novel by Daniel Cooney, describes itself as the story of "A cross-dressing grifter [who] leads a pack of bawdy burlesque girls to avenge the murder of their friend in the Jazz Era of prohibition." More information HERE.

"Inspired by a true story of San Francisco’s dark underworld, a group of Prohibition Era burlesque dancers pursue their friend’s murder by posing as masked bandits and knocking over the Mob’s speakeasies. The Tommy Gun Dolls is a sordid tale told in the classic Noir tradition, with roots in San Francisco’s historic Nob Hill Mansions of society’s elite class down to the seedy gang-filled streets of Chinatown, through the Tenderloin and neighboring North Beach.

Taking visual inspiration from illustrators such as Russell Patterson, Ethel Hays and Faith Burrows, who popularized the look and lifestyle of the 1920s flapper, and the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dashiell Hammett, I've crafted a tale of mystery, suspense and burlesque at The Frisky Devil Speakeasy and Nightclub that's run by the mob."

According to the author, "The inspiration for the story's main character, Frankie Broadstreet, a grifter who rides a Penny Farthing bicycle and likes to wear men’s clothes, stems from a fusion of two real life women: Jeanne Bonnet (1841-1876), a bizarre character who founded one of California’s strangest criminal gangs composed entirely of women during the gold rush era; and Louise Brooks, an American dancer and actress, best known for popularizing the bobbed haircut and starred in the German feature film, Pandora’s Box."

Friday, May 22, 2015

New book: The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television by Michael Zmuda

I enjoy reading about the silent film era. Biographies are my favorite. That's why I was delighted to received a new book from McFarland, The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television, by Michael Zmuda.

"Individually and together, The Five Sedgwicks are among the unsung heroes of early filmmaking in Hollywood. Their work took them from vaudeville to silent film, through the studio era and into the Golden Age of television. By the late 1920s the Sedgwick siblings were well-known motion picture personalities: Edward was satirized by actor Harry Gribbon as an enthusiastic comedy director in King Vidor's 1928 silent comedy hit Show People; Josie was a star of Western films and was presented the honorific title of "Queen of the Roundup"; Universal Films promoted Eileen as their "Queen of the Serial." This book details the family's extensive contributions to the entertainment industry."

The Sedgwicks worked with just about everybody, including Hoot Gibson, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, William Haines, Joan Crawford, Anita Page, Joe E. Brown, Robert Taylor, and many others of note, including later years Red Skelton and Lucille Ball. They also worked with Louise Brooks' one-time co-stars, like Will Rogers (Ziegfeld Follies), Neil Hamilton (Street of Forgotten Men) and Sally Blane (Rolled Stockings).

One of the Sedgwicks even appeared in a Louise Brooks' film, though you wouldn't know it. As author Michael Zmuda notes, Eileen Sedgwick's brief role as "the little Dutch girl" in the 1928 Howard Hawks' directed film, A Girl in Every Port, was under the name Gretel Yolz. Eileen Sedgwick's onscreen appearance lasts for slightly over two minutes, just long enough for viewers to notice her presence as she helps introduce a key theme of the movie - rivalry between two men for the same woman.

A Girl in Every Port is discussed over the course of four pages. In The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television, Zmuda writes "In an effort to reinvent herself, Eileen took the exotic sounding name of Gretel Yoltz. Although the name change was leaked to the public through the pres, it likely fooled many, and may have even helped her get a role in A Girl in Every Port, a film that many contemporary critics recognize as a significant American film."

Zmuda continues, "According to Eileen she went to interview with Howard Hawks concerning a part in the film. She recollected in the April 1928 issue of Photoplay that Hawks said, 'I want a girl like Eileen Sedgwick, only not so heavy.' 'What's your name?' he asked her. Eileen responded, 'Gretel Yoltz.' (She thought that Hawks was kidding and gave him the first name that she could think of - that of a former maid.) 'Gretel' got the part. Still thinking that Hawks was joking, Eileen kidded him about not realizing who she really was. He seemed amused, but seriously advised her to keep the new name."

Eileen Sedgwick appeared in three other films as Gretel (or Greta) Yoltz, including two with Patsy Ruth Miller, Beautiful but Dumb (1928) and Hot Heals (1927).

Though I have only dipped into The Five Sedgwicks: Pioneer Entertainers of Vaudeville, Film and Television, it looks really good. Author Michael Zmuda has done his homework. The book is richly detailed, and features a bunch of nicely reproduced photographs. I look forward to reading more.