Sunday, April 2, 2006

(Once again) Mick LaSalle on Louise Brooks

Once again (see previous LJ entry), San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle has written (rehashed his old arguements) about Louise Brooks. This letter from today's newspaper
Hi Mick: I was a bit disappointed by your review of the DVD release of Prix de Beauté. I will admit I bow to nobody regarding my love of Louise Brooks, but it seemed you spent an inordinate amount of type refuting the Brooks legend, rather than addressing the film itself. I guess my question is why you found it so necessary to smash the idol.
Tom Bertino, San Rafael 
Hi Tom: That's a fair observation. I guess I feel about Louise Brooks the way that guy in Sideways felt about Merlot. Though my unrelentingly sunny disposition is rarely disrupted by anything, when I hear ignorant critics go on and on about Brooks -- the only silent actress they know -- it does get on my nerves. Brooks' after-the-event stardom was carefully put over by Brooks and her friends. She was a minor, forgotten silent actress who came into prominence within scholarly circles thanks to the great archivist James Card, an old fan of hers, with whom she subsequently had an affair. She began writing for film journals and became friends with film scholars. Thus, the people who "rediscovered" Brooks were Brooks' own colleagues, who were happy to believe and propound the myth that their peer was an amazing forgotten talent, a genius unrecognized in her own time. This myth took hold in the 1950s and went mainstream in 1979, when Kenneth Tynan, who knew nothing about silent film, descended into utter critical lunacy and pronounced, in the New Yorker, that Brooks invented modern screen acting.
In a way, this doesn't matter. As Merlots go, Brooks is a pretty good one. Her reputation rests on her two films for German director G.W. Pabst, Pandora's Box, which is mediocre (and overrated) and Diary of a Lost Girl, which is superb, and she's fine in it. But there are other silent actresses who are more beautiful, more interesting, more innovative and more talented, whose bodies of work are more distinguished, and yet they remain, mute and still, languishing in film cans through critical neglect and archival uninterest. Still, I give Brooks credit for one thing. While other actresses slept with producers to get a career, Brooks realized the significance of sleeping with film scholars in order to fix that career in the public consciousness. Producers forget, but scholars tend to be endlessly grateful.

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