Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Louise Brooks on the cover of new book

Because she passed away 25 years ago, and hadn't appeared in a film in more than 70 years, its a bit curious that Louise Brooks continues to fascinate. And, she continues to adorn the covers of new books.

Just out from Berghahn Books is The Concise Cinegraph, edited by Hans-Michael Bock & Tim Bergfelder. Its an expensive, information packed, dense, 575 page, nearly 3 pound  encyclopedia of German cinema now in English translation. It's also an outstanding resource. In his forward, film historian Kevin Brownlow laments the fact that this book hadn't been translated and published earlier at the time he was working on his outstanding documentary, Cinema Europe.

The American-born Louise Brooks is depicted on the cover, as is the Austrian-born director G.W. Pabst. One might ask, "what are they doing on the cover of a German film encyclopedia?" The short answer, of course, is that Brooks and Pabst made two films together in Germany, Pandora's Box and The Diary of a Lost Girl. Both were released in 1929. Each also receives an entry in the book, with Pabst's being more substantial. Pabst is a far more significant figure, and is widely considered one of the great directors (along with Murnau and Lang) working in Germany during the interwar period.

The long answer lies in the scope of the series to which this book belongs. The Concise Cinegraph is volume 1 in Film Europa: German Cinema in an International Context. It's description reads, "German cinema is normally seen as a distinct form, but this new series emphasizes connections, influences, and exchanges of German cinema across national borders, as well as its links with other media and art forms. Individual titles present traditional historical research (archival work, industry studies) as well as new critical approaches in film and media studies (theories of the transnational), with a special emphasis on the continuities associated with popular traditions and local perspectives."

Together, the work of Brooks and Pabst certainly does represent "connections, influences, and exchanges of German cinema across national borders." And is thus a fitting cover.

In her entry, the Kansas-born Brooks is described as"one of Weimar cinema's most recognisable icons." I agree. However, I have a tiny quibble with a few details in the entry.

The entry states, "First performing in public alongside her mother at fairgrounds in Kansas, Brooks was by 1922 a member of the Denishawn Dancers, supporting Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn throughout their East Coast appearances."

If by "alongside her mother" the editors mean to imply that they danced together, that's not true. According to the biography by Barry Paris, Brooks' mother only accompanied her child on piano at dance recitals and performances around the state. As well, Brooks later tour with the Denishawn Dance Company rambled not only up and down the East Coast (as the entry states), but the American South, Midwest, and Far West. Their tours went as far west as Texas and Colorado, and even ventured into Canada. Otherwise, the entry is right on and a worthwhile summation of Brooks life and career.

The Concise Cinegraph is an exceptional resource which covers German cinema from its beginnings through today. It's also a work anyone serious interested in the subject will want to own. The Concise Cinegraph is available on

1 comment:

  1. it is truly amazing how often her image and name crops up in various places!


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