Monday, August 31, 2009

Lulu in the Philippines

The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an insightful, and somewhat lengthy article about a recent production of Lulu (the Frank Wedekind play) on their website. And of course, Louise Brooks plays a significant role in the article's analysis of the play and the Philippine production. Check it out here.

The article by Gibbs Cadiz, "Femme too fatale in Dulaang UP’s Lulu," notes "The Lulu plays, with their fervid glorification of a woman's sexual rapaciousness and the devastation it wreaks on the world around her, has served as an Ur-text in the evolution of the iconic femme fatale in popular culture -- from Marlene Dietrich's Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel to Barbara Stanwyck's Double Indemnity (notice the hommage in names?), from Hitchcock's gallery of deadly blondes to the Botticelli-tressed Glenn Close as the terrifying Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction."

Cadiz adds, "They all owe a debt to Lulu more specifically to her now-celebrated cinematic embodiment, the Lulu of American actress Louise Brooks in German director G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box."

Cadiz continues, and remains focused on Brooks: "While seemingly unmoored from motivational underpinnings, Lulu's anarchic, iconoclastic nature did have a purpose: It was the shattering blast of modernity Wedekind had lobbed at fin-de-siècle Germany, with its smothering rubric of social, economic and psychosexual conventions -- the real aim of his subversive dramaturgy."

"Pabst reportedly auditioned numerous women, including Dietrich, before settling on Brooks for his Lulu. The smoldering Dietrich (25 at that time to Brooks’ 21) was rejected because, as Pabst explained, her overripe sexuality, her all-too-seductive look threatened to turn Pandora’s Box into a 'burlesque.'"

"Pabst wanted an actress who combined allure and innocence, sensuality and grace. When he found Brooks, he photographed her exactly as Wedekind had conjured Lulu: an ethereal presence, seemingly separate from the common humanity around her, her stunning face -- that otherworldly gaze -- and lithe figure always more luminous, the light more alive in her presence."

While I don't think the author gets it completely right, there are some interesting points made in the article. Check out the Philippine perspective.

Two silent films not on DVD that should be

On Friday, I wrote an article on examiner.com titled "Six silent films not on DVD that should be." Please check it out.

Of course, two of my six suggestions were Louise Brooks' films. And of course, I want to see every one of her films on DVD. (Surprisingly, the W.C. Fields comedy, It's the Old Army Game (1926), is not on DVD - though just about every other Fields films is. The same goes for A Girl in Every Port (1928), directed by Howard Hawks. And then there is Love Em and Leave Em (1926), which is a good little film.)

However, I truly believe the two I suggested in my article, Beggars of Life, and The Street of Forgotten Men, deserve to be on DVD because they are especially fine films.

If you like silent film but are not necessarily a Brooks' fan, you will like these films.

I would enjoy hearing suggestions - either in the comments section following this blog, or in the comments section after the examiner.com article - of films you believe also belong on DVD.

As more and more films get released on DVD, it's time to get the word out for those films silent film fans really want to see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A significant find

The other day, I was scrolling through newspaper microfilm when I happened to notice a petite portrait of Louise Brooks. It wasn't something I was looking for, but there it was. It caught my eye. I suppose I've become trained to notice Brooks' image wherever it appears.

What I came across surprised me. It was something I had not seen before or even known about. And, as far as Louise Brooks and film history is concerned, I think it may be a significant find.

What I came across was an item in a column by Louella Parsons. The clipping is dated February 1, 1929. At the time, Hollywood studios were undergoing the transition from silent films to talkies. Also undergoing great change were the careers of many actors and actresses. Some, with weak voices or heavy accents, failed to make the transition to talking pictures.

According to the clipping I came across, Louise Brooks sent a telegram to the famous, nationally syndicated columnist Louella Parsons asking her to help put out the word that her voice was not bad, and that the reason her voice was dubbed in the then just released Canary Murder Case was that she was simply unavailable to do the job. (The film, released in 1929, was originally shot as a silent in 1928 and was adapted as a sound film.)

The column reads, "Louise Brooks sends a wire to this desk begging me to say that the reason Famous Players-Lasky used a voice substitute was because she could not leave New York when The Canary Murder Case was being synchronized. 'Please,' asks Louise, 'deny that they used a substitute because my voice was bad. I was tied up in New York and could not come to the coast. That is the real reason.' We are big minded and are not going to get Louise in bad if we can help it. So please heed the contents of her telegram."

What revelatory about this brief piece is that 1) it shows Brooks' awareness and concern over the poor notices her voice was receiving in early reviews of The Canary Murder Case, and 2) it supports Brook's long held contention (debated by some film historians) that some studios knowingly wrecked the careers of actors - often using the "bad voice" gambit - during this turbulent period in the industry's history.

Apparently, Brooks' considered herself a victim of studio sabotage as far back as 1929. What's also interesting is that Brooks is here attempting to make her case in the court of public opinion. That's unusual. I don't think she ever did anything as proactive again - or at least until she turned to writing about film in the 1950's and 1960's.


What do you think? Barry Paris does not mention this item in his outstanding 1989 biography.

Interestingly, in her own review of The Canary Murder Case which ran on February 8th, Parson commented "He was handicapped by no less a person than Louise Brooks, who plays the Canary. You are conscious that the words spoken do not actually emanate from the mouth of Miss Brooks and you feel that as much of her part as possible has been cut. She is unbelievably bad in a role that should have been well suited to her. Only long shots are permitted of her and even these are far from convincing when she speaks."

Brooks' part in The Canary Murder Case marked her last important role in an American silent film. With her career in turmoil, Brooks worked in Europe. (There, she made what many consider to be her three best films. Each was a silent film.) When Brooks eventually returned to work in America in 1931, newspapers and magazines usually referred to an attempted "comeback." All that was available to the once popular actress were supporting roles in largely B-movies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Louise Brooks

A somewhat serious, though nice portrait of Louise Brooks, by George P. Hommel (circa 1928)

Inglourious Basterds

According to an article on MSNBC.com, Pandora's Box director G.W. Pabst is mentioned in the new Quentin Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds. I'm not sure if Louise Brooks - the star of Pandora's Box - get's a shout out or not.

According to the article, characters in the film (who include French Resistance cinephiles) talk about the movies while dropping the names of various films and historical figures. It doesn't quite make sense to me, but like any Tarantino movie, I guess you have to see it to understand it. Here is what the article says about Pabst.
  • G.W. Pabst: Famous German Expressionist director, mostly known for “Pandora’s Box,” starring Louise Brooks. Another filmmaker referenced in “Basterds” by its cast of movie-mad characters who talk and talk and talk about films when they’re not plotting each other’s demise, the Nazis weren’t fans of his Weimar era “decadence.”
Has anyone see Inglourious Basterds? And if so, what gives ?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lulu - Peyote Beaded Bracelet

This nifty Peyote Beaded Bracelet, currently for sale on Itsy, was featured today on the local NBC website here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The bracelet features an image of Louise Brooks. Maria C. Baca, the nbcbayarea.com correspondent, wrote "We're impressed with anyone who does anything remotely crafty, but you have to agree that this bracelet is ridiculously awesome. Local jewelry maker Roia O'Brien strung together hundreds of beads to create this photographic-like image of flapper Louise Brooks ($468)."

O'Brien's Itsy description reads, "Handmade Art Deco style copper clasps adorn this beautiful beaded bracelet. The image of Louise Brooks, the original flapper is beaded using a peyote stitch. All the shading is created with various colored seed beads placed in just the right position to create an almost photographic effect. A copper lobster clasp and handmade chain, embellished with pale mint swarovski crystals and vintage charms secure Louise to your wrist at whatever length will fit you best."


I think it is kinda cool, and well done. If I were a girl and had an extra $468.00, I would snap it up (pun intended).

Shout out

I gave a shout out to Louise Brooks in my new article on the recently released Bardeleys the Magnificent DVD at http://www.examiner.com/x-7605-SF-Silent-Movie-Examiner~y2009m8d11-Bardeleys-the-Magnificent-is-that Please do check it out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Budd Schulberg

Budd Schulberg, writer and screenwriter, dies at 95. He appeared in the documentary, Louise Brooks, Looking for Lulu.

Budd Schulberg was the son of film mogul B.P. Schulberg (and knew many early film stars), collaborated with F. Scott Fitzgerald, arrested the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, and wrote the screenplay for On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd. I will treasure my signed copy of his classic Hollywood novel, What Makes Sammy Run?

Be sure and check out the long New York Times obit at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/movies/06schulberg.html It includes a worthwhile, 17 minute video interview.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A turn of fate

I was lucky.

Or perhaps fate was making up for having dealt me such a poor hand in Sacramento - but today's trip to the San Francisco Public Library was especially productive. I went through four months of the San Francisco Examiner, and found more than a dozen listings for 1937 screenings of When You're in Love.

And that's not all! I also found three listings for Empty Saddles, Louise Brooks' 1936 western with Buck Jones. Such listings - especially from a large metropolitan area - are very rare. Empty Saddles was a B-western, and such films didn't screen in the big cities. (See my bibliography and its dearth of reviews.)

Naturally, I was excited.

One of the listings I found paired Empty Saddles with When You're in Love! Imagine that, a Louise Brooks "double bill" (well almost) in 1937. I wonder if anyone in the Lincoln theater (located at 6th Ave. and Clement) realized as much. And what's more, another of the listings I found was for a screening at the Noe theatre (located at 24th and Noe). That theatre, which no longer exists, was located just 10 minutes from where I now live in San Francisco.

So far, here is what I have found for Empty Saddles.

Empty Saddles Bay Area Screenings: Jose in San Jose (June 20-21, 1937); Lincoln in San Francisco (June 20-22, 1937 with When You’re in Love); Noe in San Francisco (July 4-5, 1937 with King & the Chorus Girl); Verdi in San Francisco (July 25-26, 1937 with History is Made at Night); Senator in Oakland (Dec. 23, 1937).

Gosh, if anyone knows of any other screenings of Empty Saddles in San Francisco, or anywhere, I would love to know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

When You're in Love

When you're in love, you do things that maybe you shouldn't. . . or at least, you try harder, because.

Last weekend, I ventured to Sacramento where I spent a day at the State Library of California. It was, perhaps, my 20th visit to this library in search of Louise Brooks material. They have a large collection of California newspaper on microfilm. And, as one of my recent projects has been to document the screening of Brooks' films around the San Francisco Bay Area, I found I could dig through numerous and various city newspapers all in one place. I spent more than 5 hours doing just that.

Ouch. And nearly all for naught.

Never have I spent so much time with so little results! I only found three new listings, one for King of Gamblers (1937) and two for When You're in Love (1937) - two of the least interesting films in the Louise Brooks filmography.

Nevertheless, I duely recorded them. So far, here is what I have found regarding When You're in Love, the Grace Moore - Cary Grant musical romance. (Incidentally, my wife and I just rewatched this film recently and we could not spot Louise Brooks. We even used the freeze frame function.)

When You’re in Love Bay Area screenings: Orpheum in San Francisco (Feb. 26 – Mar. 3, 1937 with Breezing Home); Blanco’s Theatre in Mountain View (Mar. 23-26, 1937); Mayfield in Palo Alto (Mar. 28 - Apr. 2, 1937); Broadway in Burlingame (Apr. 1-10, 1937); Roxie in Oakland (Apr. 8-21, 1937); Casa Granada in Santa Clara (May 4-6, 1937); Alameda Theater in Alameda (May 28, 1937 with A Family Affair); Berkeley Theater in Berkeley (May 28, 1937 with Girl Overboard); Uptown in Oakland (June 8, 1937); Fruitvale in Oakland (June 11, 1937 with Personal Property); Fairfax in Oakland (June 15, 1937 with Personal Property); Piedmont in Oakland (June 27, 1937 with Her Husband Lies); Victory in San Jose (June 29-30, 1937); Strand in Berkeley (July 3-5, 1937 with Women of Glamour); Fruitvale in Oakland (July 4, 1937 with Personal Property); Palace in Oakland (July 4, 1937 with Parole Racket); Tower in Oakland (July 4, 1937 with Sign of the Cross); Parkway in Oakland (July 4-5, 1937 with Her Husband Lies); Fox U.C. in Berkeley (July 4-6, 1937 with Personal Property); Palace in Oakland (July 4-5, 1937 with Parole Racket); Lorin in Berkeley (July 8-10, 1937 with Parole Racket and Louis vs. Braddock fight picture); Granada in Oakland (July 8-10, 1937 with You Only Live Once); Capitol in Oakland (July 9-10, 1937 with Her Husband Lies); Gateway in Oakland (July 9-10, 1937 with Parole Racket); Eastmont in Oakland (July 16, 1937 with I Promise to Pay); Central in Oakland (Aug. 12-13, 1937 with Outcasts of Poker Flats); T&D in Oakland (Sept. 19-20, 1937 with Murder Goes to College); American in Oakland (Sept. 22-23, 1937 with You Only Live Once).

KTVU Channel 2 television broadcast (Oct. 3, 1959 and Feb. 7, 1960 and Oct. 22, 1960 and July 16, 1961 and Apr. 14, 1962 and Apr. 15, 1962 and Apr. 18, 1962); KNTV Channel 11 television broadcast (May 11, 1963 and Nov. 12, 1976 and Apr. 8, 1977 and Aug. 25, 1977).

When You're in Love is a pretty decent film. I have watched it a few times. It was written and directed by Robert Riskin, Frank Capra's brilliant right hand man and the creative force behind many of Capra's best films. It was the only film Riskin ever directed.

I expect I will be able to add a number of additional screenings to this list, once I have a chance to look at the second run listings in the San Francisco newspapers for 1937. That should be a productive search. Besides When You're in Love, I should find some additional listings for King of Gamblers, and if I am really lucky, Empty Saddles (1936).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It Pays to Advertise screens in Rochester

It Pays to Advertise (1931), which includes Louise Brooks in a bit part - and I do mean bit - will be shown tonight at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The film is being shown as part of Carole Lombard double bill, which is in part of an even larger (and topical) series entitled "What Depression? Musical, Fantasies, and Screwball Comedies of the 1930s." The other film on tonight's program is White Woman (1933).

Jack Garner, the now retired film critic for the local Democrat and Chronicle, noted the screening in yesterday's newspaper: "For the Brooks cult (which includes me), chances to see her films are very rare, except for her G. W. Pabst German classics, Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. It Pays to Advertise is even rare among her few surviving films, however, because Brooks made only about a half-dozen sound-era films, and two of those are B-movie Westerns (including Overland Stage Raiders, with the young John Wayne)."

Its true. This particular Brooks film has seldom been screened since its debut in theaters in 1931. It's just not that good. (It's also not that bad. I have seen it on VHS.) And what's more, those who attend this screening can see this rarely shown film in a theatre Louise Brooks herself used to hang out in. More info on the screening can be found at http://dryden.eastmanhouse.org/films/it-pays-to-advertise-and-white-woman/

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