Thursday, May 17, 2007

LOUISE BROOKS, fugitive from Hollywood

LBS member Marlon Ligeon has translated into English "Louise Brooks, trânsfuga de Hollywood" by Mme Buttuller da Costa, an article which appeared in the October 12, 1929 issue of Cinéfilo magazine. This film journal was published in Lisbon (Portugal), and was likely also distributed in Brazil. The original Portugese article - which I think is an important and telling early piece about the actress - can be found here
I want to express my personal appreciation to Marlon for all of his work. THANK YOU MARLON LIGEON. Here is the translation. 
LOUISE BROOKS, fugitive from Hollywood.
By Mme Buttuller da Costa.

The Cineromans studios, situated on the Mediterranean coast, are the life force of Joinville, a small suburb of Paris alongside the Bosque de Vincennes. It is there that we meet, on a hot September afternoon, the Sofar actors working on Prix de Beaute under the direction of Augusto Genina.

A big studio is, in general, the only place in the world where time and space is arranged according to human fantasy. When one enters into these offices of illusion, a big cave suddenly appears full of bandits from the Middle-Ages on the spot where weeks ago a luxurious cosmopolitan restaurant was built. There one encounters a lunar passage on one side of the hall, on the same side of a large Banco do City. All in big contrast with the pillars and scaffolds crossing the floor on which we find the film equipment and projectors. And here and there, situated as in quiet serene islands in this ocean of excitement, spots full of bright lights, in witch we catch people in the middle of filming a scene, and other personnel waiting for that scene to end, to then add to it just the right atmosphere with cardboard and stucco walls. All to bring the filmed sequences to just the exact level of liveliness, required for the viewing pleasure of the spectator.

But the problem this French production suffers from right now is a period of inactivity. The launching of a sound film leaves the Cineromas studios, even though they are the best equipped in Europe, at a standstill. Therefore, they find themselves in silence, as in a forgotten church, in which dozens of assistants devotedly work on the production. Nobody speaks loudly. All tools have been removed so as not to hinder ones walk through the hall. The floor is polished to a luxurious glow.

Genina, the sympathetic director of many films of worldwide acclaim (Boy or Girl, Careful With The TelephoneLatin Quarter, etc.) and of course the big favorite of our readers, comes to meet us and introduce his actors. Between them is Louise Brooks, the perverse Miss Helena from A Girl in Every Port, a pleasant creature perfectly formed and photogenic to an absolute rare degree.

Her black hair, cut like Joan d’Arc, falls towards her eyes - eyes made of melting brown. There is a sad smile and serious look on her face. Louise Brooks is the prototype of the American girl. Or better yet, the chorus girl, according to her physique. Mostly, she is a girl who recalls distant feelings, leaving one almost cold. She is the antithesis of Dina Gralla, the exuberant, and the sentimental.

We accept a cigarette and sit down beside her. As a good American, Louise only smokes cigarettes from the New World and drinks cold water out of an Evian bottle in front of her, taking small sips while having this conversation.

“Yes, I really like working in Europe,” she responds to one of our questions. “This is the third movie I made in a short time on the Continent. The first and second were in Berlin. I like to say I like this one the best, for interviews, but even more in terms of artistic temperament. I wasn't really please with the others. Pandora's Boxand The Diary of a Lost Girl left me in this strange mystified state of mind.”

“And in this film?”
“This film is a completely different. It’s a simple story that evolves around some normal girls who get deceived by fame and fortune. It’s a story about human nature, daily life.”

The sad, timid, smile returns to Louise Brooks lips. Who’ll speak of the enchanted timidness of the artists of the silver screen while talking to an interviewer? Who’ll talk honestly about those who hardly speak of themselves, they who live in their own world, while working for the big public, the entire world?

Brooks asks us where we are from. Silently we gave her a copy of number 50 of Cinéfilo, opened to page 25. Her caricature, drawn by Cebrian, enlightened our eyes. It is a sketch that will never witness the happiness it caused. A gracious, youthful spirit, as exists in all young Americans, immediately emerges. Louise Brooks, almost applauding with joy, laughs:

“Oh, that is me!”

With a smile only we can see, she asks us to tell her our nationality and that of the artist. She was convinced we were Italians and just now found out that we were Portuguese. It was one of the few instances in which we weren’t taken for Spanish.

“I never been to Portugal,” she says, “but I heard about it through Lily Damita, my Portugese girlfriend who works as a French actress. She told me a lot about Lisbon, a place were I would really like to go.”

This was news to us. We always thought that Lily Damita was French. The conversation turned itself to the New World, especially Hollywood. Louise said:

“Don’t talk to me about Hollywood. I simply hate it. I worked in Hollywood for one and a half years, but the whole lifestyle, the snobbism, everything, it isn’t for me. Give me New York, were I made most of my movies. I really think I’ll never return to Hollywood.”

She turned silent for a moment, and the sad expression returned to her face. Her eyes focused on a point far away. Meanwhile, the light was being adjusted for the scene that she was to film next. The stand-in, who would replace Brooks in this scene, was called.

It is a short scene, in which she walks past the table of the editor of Le Globe. Brooks, typist of the secretary of this major Parisian newspaper, speaks of the big beauty pageant about to take place in Colombo.

An excellent actor, André Nicolle, impressed by the beauty of the petite typist, insists that she takes part in the Miss Europe contest, a contest with which she could trade in her typewriter. The petite girl doesn’t really want to, but on the other hand, her chances for success in life don’t seem too grand either as the bride of a honest, sincere, jealous company typesetter....

She is uncertain. After some thought, and a quick interview, she decides to take a chance in the contest, a contest in which others less beautiful than she don’t dare take part.

Everything about Louise Brooks, the way she looks, her splendidness, her intuition, it all leaves Genina with excitement. But she is not satisfied; she wants it to be perfect. So the scene is done twice. Only then is she satisfied with her performance.

“On tourne!,” laughs the director.

And then the camera films a closing scene, in which André Nicolle’s group leads Brooks to the door of her office, whispering to her the phrase that wraps it up, the perverse phrase:
“Faites cmon, petit, l’avenir est á vons.”

While clutching the copy of Cinéfilo we gave her, Brooks offers us one of her new photographs.

Unsuccessfully, she searches the photographs for one with a smile. But its no use, she can’t find one. She isn’t satisfied with the pictures, with the way she looks. She seems to want to avoid a situation in which she doesn’t look her best in a published photo. However, she seems to make an artistic decision, and offers us one.

We ask about upcoming projects. She’ll go to America after she finishes this movie and settle her divorce. Maybe this is the key to her mood. It is possible that she’ll return to Europe to make more movies, finding some time for a vacation. Up till now, she has seen LondonBerlin and Paris, the beautiful sights of FranceItalyattracts her greatly.

An unforeseen blackout immobilizes the studio. Genina comes over to us while the mechanics look for what caused the problem.

He talks to us about sound film. Louise Brooks believes its progress and in its perfection within a few years. Meanwhile, she finds the female sound of the equipment used to thicken the sound of a male voice silly. Genina agrees.

Concerning Prix de Beaute, Genina is satisfied. The outdoor scenes, where the pageant takes place, were filmed in San Sebastian, the famous beach of the rich. It’s a pageant where a woman will be crowned Miss Europe, a woman born in Wichita.

She smokes another cigarette, in spite of no smoking signs hanging everywhere. But we are in tolerant France. Genina keeps talking to us about his movie, in a passionate way one only expects from a true artist.

I think about the movie. In my opinion it will serve as an excellent introduction to the sound film. It’s necessary that one goes along.

Looking at the beach of Joinville, I can’t stop thinking that the profession of an actor is really not a sinecure.

One thinks of the efforts of the crew who worked on this movie, and their great efforts on this hot afternoon (registering a high of 38 degrees in the shadow). This is work the sunbathers and swimmers, cooling of in the Mediterranean, are unaware. In the end, I can only conclude that life is made of failures to understand unsatisfied needs.

Biattriz, September 1929.

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