Friday, August 26, 2016

Buster Keaton Festival in Kansas

Here is some information about the upcoming Buster Keaton Festival in Iola, Kansas. Visit the Buster Keaton Celebration website for further details.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Louise Brooks, Modernism, the Surrealists, and the Paris of 1930

Louise Brooks has long been popular in France, and in Paris in 1930, she must have seemed to have been everywhere. The actress was widely written about and pictured in the French capital's many  newspapers and magazines. I have collected dozens of clippings. Her image, as well, was also seemingly everywhere. There is even a picture, shown below, of Brooks' portrait on display in the window of a Paris photographer's studio. If anyone has a time machine handy, I would like to travel back to Paris and purchase a few prints.

Indeed, Brooks was the toast of Paris while she was in France making Prix de beauté. The press recorded her arrival, and profiled her in numerous pieces.

Prix de beauté was in production between August 29 through September 27, 1929, and debuted at the famous Max-Linder Pathe on May 9, 1930. A major American film star in an important French production was BIG NEWS, not at least due to the fact that Prix de beauté was also one of the earliest French talkies. (Sound and music are important visual motifs in the film, which was shot as both a silent and sound film.)

Prix de beauté was a huge success, and it went on to enjoy three month run in various theaters. After two months at the Max-Linder (and for part of that time also at the historic Lutetia-Pathe to accommodate the crowds), the film moved to the Folies Dramatiques, where it was advertised as an "immense success" and played nearly a month. This extended run was at a time when most films played only a few days or a week before moving on.

Remarkably, the successful run of Prix de beauté took place at a time when another of Brooks' films, the German production Diary of a Lost Girl (Trois Pages D'un Journal), was also playing in the French capital, at the Au Colisee. (It also was shown at the Rialto and Splendide theatres in Paris in 1930.) As was Beggars of Life (Les mendiants de la vie), at the Clichy-Palace in March of the same year. Like today, films being shown were advertised in the newspaper, and on one occasion, the two film's respective  advertisements sat side-by-side.

Diary of a Lost Girl continued to be shown on and off in Paris in 1930. It was even shown at the famous Ursulines theater in November as part of a trippple bill. As shown below, the evening's program begins with G.W. Pabst's Joyless Street, followed by Howard Hawk's A Girl in Every Port, starring Brooks, followed by G.W. Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl, also starring Brooks.

A Girl in Every Port (which Blaise Cendrars called "the first appearance of contemporary cinema") debuted in France at the Ursulines, "one of the oldest cinemas in Paris to have kept its facade and founder's vision" as a "venue for art and experimental cinema." The Ursulines opened in 1926 with films by André Breton, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, René Clair and Robert Desnos. And in 1928, it premiered the first film of Germaine Dulac, The Seashell and the Clergyman, from a story by Antonin Artaud. The latter film was heckled by the surrealists, leading to a fight that stopped the screening.

Between 1926 and 1957, a number of now-classic films premiered at the theater, such as René Clair's Le Voyage Imaginaire and Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed. According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures website, "This little theatre with a balcony has a very charming facade looking like a romantic country house. At the beginning of talking movies, the premiere of Sternberg’s Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich took place here, and ran 14 months." In December 1930, Diary of a Lost Girl and Blue Angel even shared the bill.

The Ursulines theatre was a kind of cinematic home to the Surrealists.... Which got me thinking about the affection some of the surrealists had for Brooks. It's known that Philipe Soupault, the great French Surrealist poet, mentioned the actress in his journalism and reviewed Diary of a Lost Girl. (A couple of images of the actress adorn the poet's collected writings on the cinema, Ecrits de cinema 1918-1931.) And it's also known that Man Ray was smitten by the actress. The great photographer and the film star met in Paris in late 1958, and Man Ray recounted how he had seen her image in Paris years before. Man Ray was fond enough of Brooks that he sent her a small painting in memory of their meeting and in memory of his memory.

Perhaps Man Ray also saw one or two of her films. Earlier, in 1928, A Girl in Every Port shared the bill with a short Man Ray film, L'Etoile de Mer, at the Ursulines during the months of October, November, and December. L'Etoile de Mer (The Starfish) was scripted by the surrealist poet Robert Desnos and "stars" Desnos and Alice Prin. Better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, Prin (Man Ray's one-time paramour) famously sported Louise Brooks-like bobbed hair and bangs.

Prix de beauté proved especially popular, and even influential. (A novelization of Prix de beauté was published in 1932. And in 1933, a short story by the French writer Leon Bopp was published which describes a character in love with Louise Brooks.) Similarly, A Girl in Every Port (which was one of the few American films to retain its American title in France) proved popular and was revived time and again in Paris in the 1920's and 1930's. [I wonder which of those showings was the one Jean-Paul Sartre took Simone de Beauvoir to on one of their first dates.] 

Of course, one could also Lee Miller to this piece. Miller, a sometime Surrealist photographer and one-time paramour of Man Ray, is known to have seen Louise Brooks dance on stage in Poughkeepsie, New York long before Brooks became a film star and Miller a Surrealist.... If any scholars of Surrealism can add to the information found on this page, please contact me.

I will close this blog with two collages from 1929, both of which include Brooks. The first is Herbert Bayer's "Facing Profiles." Bayer was associated with the Bauhaus. The second is Edward Burra's "Composition Collage." Burra was a English modernist. Obviously, something was in the air circa 1930.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

LULU: a live silver screen experience

I saw and loved the original production in 2006, and am thus curious and excited about this production....

Silent Theatre presents a re-imagination of its inaugural production "LULU: a black and white silent play". Step aboard this three prong adventure as a live taping of each production allows audiences to watch the show, participate in immersive components, and consequently, download the filmed version of the experience featuring the audience's participation. Based on Frank Wedekind's Lulu Cycle plays and accompanied by a live band, the story follows a young woman whose aspirations, sexual appetite and lust for intimacy leaves lethal affairs in her wake. Our original production was hailed by the New York Times as "bolder, faster and meaner than any others" with "crisply designed scenes that slip back and forth between erotic and macabre."

Also join them for "LULU: the remix" each Saturday night at 10:30p. Experience the production with a modern twist and Silent Theatre's very own Marvin Quijada as the live DJ. A fierce cast weaves a tale of seduction, unrequited desire and destructive longing.

Opening: Nov. 25th @8p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Nov. 26th @8P LULU: a live silver screen experience
Opening: Nov. 26th @ 10:30p LULU: the remix
Run: Nov. 27th @5p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 2nd @ 8p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 3rd @ 8P LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 3rd @ 10:30p LULU: the remix
Run: Dec. 4th @ 5p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Industry Night: Dec. 5th @ 8p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 9th: @ 8p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 10th @ 8p LULU: a live silver screen experience
Run: Dec. 10th @ 10:30p LULU: the remix

$20 cabaret table seating
$10 SRO
$50 VIP intimate cocktail table seating with bubbly and giveaways

Vendors, goodies, boozies, live music, dance music, photo booth, flirty staff and all around one of a kind experience.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Play about Louise Brooks at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland

The Winter Gift, a play written by Tim Davies and directed by Nerys Rees about the life of Louise Brooks, is being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The play runs August 22 through August 27. Tickets and a little more information HERE.

"Berlin, 1928 – a fun-loving young American actress and a straight-laced German film director come together to make a classic of the silent screen, Pandora’s Box. New York, 1955 – a solitary, alcoholic, penniless and forgotten idol of the silent screen languishes in a slum tenement. She expects visits only from the rent collector. One day, there is a knock at the door – someone has found Louise Brooks, and it isn't the rent collector. The Winter Gift uses original sources to tell the story of Louise Brooks, GW Pabst, Pandora’s Box... and what happened afterwards."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Louise Brooks’ 1928 Trans-Atlantic Voyage to Europe

This guest post, by past guest blogger Philip Vorwald, offers new details about one of Louise Brooks trans-Atlantic journeys. Philip wrote, "I was investigating the White Star Line for a friend when I thought about her trip to Germany in 1928. On a lark, I plugged a few things in, and found out an interesting error regarding her trip.  She did not sail on the S.S. Majestic."

R.M.S. Majestic

Louise Brooks left New York harbor on October 6, 1928 at midnight, bound for Cherbourg, France. The ship she was sailing on would continue through to Southampton, England, but she would disembark in France for Paris, and then on to Berlin by train to film Pandora’s Box later in the fall of 1928.

Barry Paris’ biography of Louise Brooks states she sailed on the S.S. Majestic. My research into this voyage shows the name of the vessel to be incorrect. She actually sailed for France aboard the R.M.S. Majestic. This is not just a simple moniker name error. They were two completely different ships, operating at two different time periods.

There were two (2) White Star Liners with the name Majestic. The first, known as the S.S. Majestic, ran from 1889 to 1914. It was built by Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast. She was de-commissioned and  scrapped in 1914, 14 years before Louise’s voyage. She couldn’t have been on it.

At the time, the S.S. Majestic was one of the largest and fastest trans-Atlantic liners. By the early 1900s, however, she was getting too old and too slow, so the White Star Line commissioned a new, larger vessel that was to replace the S.S. Majestic, and this vessel was also was built by Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast. This ship was launched as the R.M.S. Titanic.

The second “Majestic” was the R.M.S. Majestic. This ship was originally built in Germany in 1914 and named the S.S. Bismarck. After WWI, the Germans handed the vessel over to the British, who renamed it the R.M.S. Majestic.

The R.M.S. Majestic served with the White Star Line from 1922 to 1934, running a common route from New York to Cherbourg / Southampton. Then she ran with the Cunard White Star Line company from 1934 to 1937. She sank on 1939, and was raised and scrapped in 1943.

Thus, Louise Brooks sailed on the R.M.S. Majestic, of the original White Star Line, in 1928. 

R.M.S. Majestic leaving New York harbor

Friday, August 12, 2016

Now We're in the Navy on DVD

Grapevine Video has released Now We're in the Navy (1926) on DVD, a silent film featuring Wallace Beery, Raymond Hatton, Lorraine Eason, Tom Kennedy, and Chester Conklin. The film is part of a popular series of "service comedies" starring Beery and Hatton. That series also included Behind the Front (1926) and Now We're in the Air (1927), the latter film, now lost, includes Louise Brooks.

Of note, Now We're in the Navy was directed by Brooks' husband of the time, Eddie Sutherland. And, it includes a nod the the director's wife. One of the small boats in the film is named "Louise."

But what's more, Brooks herself was on hand at a benefit pre-release midnight showing of the film at the Rialto Theater in New York City on November 5, 1926. Eddie Sutherland, was also on hand, as was Betty Bronson, Ricardo Cortez, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, William Powell, Evelyn Brent, and Philip Strange. Helen Morgan sang to the crowd.) The event was a benefit showing in aid of the New York American Christmas and Relief Fund. The film would prove to be a huge hit, and would enjoy extended runs in a other cities.

I haven't yet seen the Grapevine release, so I can't speak to its quality. More information on the Grapevine release can be found HERE.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Portrait of Francis Lederer

Here is a fun, early 1930's American magazine portrait of handsome Francis Lederer, who co-starred with Louise Brooks in the German-made Pandora's Box (1929). Curiously, the piece refers to the Czech born actor as "god's gift to women," the title of a 1931 Brooks' film starring Frank Fay in the title role.