Thursday, July 22, 2010

Louise Brooks stars at 2010 Silent Film Festival

Louise Brooks seemed to be just about everywhere at the just concluded 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Brooks’ image adorned the badges worn by staff, volunteers, the press, special guests, and festival pass holders. Her image was on the handbill for the event, and could be found in the display cases outside the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where the event was held.

Individuals could be seen sporting pin back buttons featuring a likeness of the actress. And if that weren’t enough, more than a few individuals could be spotted wearing Brooks’ t-shirts - either those issued by the Festival in 2006 when it showed Pandora’s Box, or the all-black “strand of pearls” shirts being sold by one of the vendors on the Castro mezzanine.

Brooks’ postcards were for sale on the mezzanine, along with a selection of books both by and about the actress. As was the limited edition silkscreen poster for Diary of a Lost Girl commissioned for this year’s event. It proved especially popular, and sold out. I managed to secure # 29, since that was the year the film was released.

Diary of a Lost Girl, the 1929 G.W. Pabst film which stars Brooks, was the Festival centerpiece. That's because it was the “Founder's Presentation” film. Before the film was shown to a nearly sold-out house of 1400 movie buffs, SFSFF founders Melissa Chittick and Stephen Salmons were honored for their efforts in having started the annual event which has, over the years, grown from a single co-presentation to a four day film lover's extravaganza and the largest silent film festival in North America. At this special presentation of Diary of a Lost Girl, the Colorado-based Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performed their original score for the film. It was very well received. And I liked it a lot too.

After the screening, three authors signed copies of their books. Emmy nominated Hollywood screenwriter Samuel Bernstein (pictured left in a black shirt, with me) signed copies of his recently published Lulu: A Novel (Walford Press). The subject of this “non-fiction novel" is Brooks and the period in her life when she went to work with Pabst in Germany. It’s the latest in a shelf worth of works of fiction which have taken the silent film star as their muse.

Also signing was Ira Resnick. This longtime collector and founder of the Motion Picture Arts Gallery in New York City (the first gallery devoted exclusively to the art of the movies) was signing copies of his new book, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood (Abbeville). It features hundreds of images including a number of posters and lobby cards from various Brooks’ films. Resnick’s new book also includes a small "love letter" to the actress as his own collecting muse.

I also signed books. I've just published the "Louise Brooks edition" of the book which was the basis for the film Diary of a Lost Girl. This new illustrated edition of the 1905 German novel brings this important book back into print in the United States after more than 100 years. It includes a long introduction detailing the book's remarkable history and relationship to the 1929 silent film of the same name.For those lucky attendees who lined up for a copy, I gave away a free pin back button (there were three styles to choose from) and also rubber stamped their copy using my Rick Geary drawn caricature of Louise Brooks. Fans seemed to like that.

Brooks’ part in Diary of a Lost Girl wasn’t her only appearance on the screen at the 2010 event. Her image was flashed on the screen during the in-between film slideshow. And, during the Sunday morning presentation, "Amazing Tales from the Archives," Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress presented a fascinating report on American silent film survival rates which referenced Brooks and her films.

During his presentation, Mashon focused on Paramount, and naturally - Brooks' name and films popped up at least 6 or 8 times. (Brooks was under contract to Paramount during large parts of her career.)

In particular, Mashon relayed the story of the 1928 Brooks’ film, Beggars of Life, and how it has come to survive till today. At one point, Mashon even showed a 1950 purchase order from James Card of the George Eastman House for a 16mm dupe of the film. All copies in circulation today, Mashon noted, come from this copy of the film made decades ago.

Mashon also showed another document which referenced a 1951 archive acquisition of another Brooks’ film, A Social Celebrity (1926). It has subsequently been lost.

As Brooks’ longtime friend Kevin Brownlow (pictured right with me - notice we are both wearing our Louise Brooks Festival badges, and I my Prix de Beaute t-shirt) pointed out during his remarks at the event, the motto of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is “True Art Transcends Time.” Twenty-five years after her death, the same might be said for Louise Brooks.

[More images from the event in the slideshow which follows the article at]

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