Thursday, April 29, 2010

A real work of art


Louise Brooks' beauty and physical grace lured various artists & writers of the time into a kind-of rhapsodic appreciation of the actress. Brooks was, as well, written about in arts magazines. Here is a full page pictorial on the changing nature of the vamp as played by Brigitte Helm, Lya di Putti, Colleen Moore, Great Garbo, Evelyn Brent and Louise Brooks (seen in a scene with Victor McLaglen). Elsewhere, I've seen references to Brooks as a "junior vamp."

This page comes from the March 15, 1929 issue of L'Art Viviant, a Parisian publication. Along with articles and artwork by Raoul Dufy, Braque, Matisse and others, this issue also includes an article on the "Anatomie de la Star: La Metamorphose de Vampire" about the evolution of film glamour away from the vamp typified by Theda Bara towards more modern-looking temptresses. This issue is currently for sale on eBay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Run You Luscious Lesbian

Louise Brooks fan and now recording artist The GrrrL (aka April Louise McLucas), has just released a rough-and-ready, do-it-yourself CD called Run You Luscious Lesbian. It's a five track disc. This is home-made music. The opening cut, "Black Is The Color (Louise Brooks Hair)," caught my attention. 

To describe this disc as raw would almost be an understatement. It's that, but its also closer to the bone and a hell of a lot more sincere (that's not a bad word) then a lot of the music released today. This is outsider music. This is music which wears its heart on its sleeve.

When asked about her musical leanings, The GrrrL answered, "I'm heavily influenced by artists like PJ Harvey, Carla Bozulich, and Carla Kihlstedt. They all create unique music that resonates with me as an artist. While I consider myself an experimental rock musician, I would be the first to admit that I'm a non-musician because I don't really know the first thing about making music except that I like the sounds I produce. My motto is 'Anyone can make music if they have the passion for it.'"

When asked about the impetus behind "Black Is The Color," the singer / songwriter noted, "Pandora's Box was the first Louise Brooks film I watched. It was soon after I started working at Videoport, an indie video store in Portland, Maine. I was drawn to the cover photo of Louise on the VHS box and took it home one day. That was the beginning of my love of Louise and of silent films. I now run a Silent Film Enthusiasts group here in Maine and am hoping more people will join!"

If you live in Portland, Maine check out this group!

[Louise Brooks visited the city while a member of the Denishawn Dance Company. On Saturday, January 13, 1923 the still teenage Brooks performed, with Martha Graham, and the other members of Denishawn at the City Hall Auditorium in downtown Portland. The company returned later in the same year when on Thursday, October 25 they performed at the city's Exposition Building.]

Run You Luscious Lesbian is April's solo project. She is also a member of local Portland bands like The Monster Demands A Mate, and Ape Vs Panda. The Grrrl began in the winter of 2009, when she recorded her first song, a lesbian take on the traditional song "Salty Dog Blues." (Color photo above by Andy "Space Shark" Keene.)

More about The GrrrL, including a few sample tracks, can be found on the music site,  Reverbnation, or on her myspace page at www.myspace.com/thegrrrlmusic. Her CD - pictured below - comes with a lyric sheet and can be purchased in Portland at Strange Maine, 578 Congress St., or online and directly from the artist at The GrrrL's Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/thegrrrldesigns 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with the Dodge Brothers about Beggars of Life

The Dodge Brothers are renowned for playing the hell out of classic Americana. Described as "wonderful stuff" by British Radio 2 presenter Bob Harris, the group play s an exuberant hybrid of country blues, rockabilly, jug band and skiffle.

Back on April 18th, The Dodge Brothers performed their original score for the 1928 Louise Brooks' film, Beggars of Life. That screening, as well as their musical accompaniment to it, was by all accounts very well attended and just as well received. It was part of the British Silent Film Festival taking place in the UK. [For more about the event and reaction to it, see the April 11th LBS blog and comments.)

Recently, Mike Hammond - the group's singer (and silent film expert) took time out to answer a few questions about their score, their music, Louise Brooks, and silent film. [Pictured is vintage sheet music for the 1928 film.]

1)    The Dodge Brothers accompanied the Louise Brooks' film, Beggars of Life, on April 18th. For those not familiar with the Dodge Brothers, what can you tell us about the group?

Well here is the short version. The Dodge Brothers are a four-piece band modeled on the skiffle and jug bands of the 20s and 30s. Each of us plays more than one instrument, Aly plays acoustic guitar and mandolin, Alex plays washboard, snare and wine bottle, I play guitar, banjo, piano and tap dance while Mark plays double bass, harmonicas, accordion and is soon to unveil his prowess on the bag pipes. We started from a love of the music that leads up to Elvis, which ranges widely from railroad songs, murder ballads to ragged street blues. We got going learning ten songs (‘Frankie and Johnny’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ among others) and over the years we have amassed about 150 songs. A couple of years ago we started to write our own songs that resulted in our album Louisa and the Devil. Mark started this by bringing in ‘Church House Blues’ and saying it was by an old jug band. We still do that; if it fools the rest of us into believing its authentic then we play it. (Did I say short version?)

2)    With that said, what can one expect  - musically speaking, from your score?

The score for the film will draw from those old songs from the period. I am a silent film scholar and I know that Paramount had the most film theatres in the rural areas so it was not uncommon for them to release different versions of films, one for the big cities and one for the rural towns. I have kept this in mind when thinking about the score. The lovely Troubadors version of ‘Beggars of Life’ was meant as a theme for the film and we will be incorporating a version of that but combining it with motifs which call up railroad songs that were popular during the period, particularly those by Jimmie Rogers. Lots of those songs are really about hobos riding the rails and they have a wonderful wistfulness about them, a mixture of loneliness and humor that both fits the film and the way we play.

3)    Beggars of Life is unlike any of Brooks' earlier American films. Had you seen it before? And what were your impressions?

You’re so right about it being an exceptional Brooks film. Most people associate her with the Jazz Age flapper-type but in this film she plays a girl on the run, dressed as a boy! None of us had seen the film before and it was our fifth member, the fabulous pianist and silent film composer Neil Brand, who drew it to our attention. Brooks really ‘pops’ out of the screen and holds her own with Wallace Beery, which is no mean feat. The tension that is generated by her masquerade as a boy amongst a lot of rough hobos is tight as a drum. There is a real sense of menace and danger from the beginning where ‘The Girl’ (Louise) takes matters into her own hands with a firearm. She reminds me of Louisa in our song ‘The Ballad of Frank Harris’. Maybe that’s what I really like about this film, she is self-sufficient and an equal partner with Arlen. And she can shoot a gun! 

4)    Are you a fan of Louise Brooks?

Oh yes and not only because of the fact that she is the most compelling of screen stars. She is intuitive as an actress and gives the sense that she is being rather than acting. I do think Pabst understood that best. However, I am as big a fan of her writing. She is incisive and brutal in her analysis of Hollywood and, perhaps most touching, of herself.

5)    When did you first come across the actress?

I can’t speak for the rest of the guys. I first saw her in an undergraduate film class in the 80s. It was Pandora’s Box. I remember thinking; of course these guys are giving away everything for her, who wouldn’t?

6)    Louise Brooks has been getting the musical treatment of late. Rufus Wainwright, who will be touring the UK in the coming months, just released a musical tribute to Louise Brooks titled All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. And of course, it was preceded by earlier rock and pop musical tributes by the likes of Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark (OMD), Marillion, Australian Jen Anderson, Soul Coughing, and others - even the cartoonist Robert Crumb. Where might your score fit into this history?

Well all of these tributes are really great and it’s nice to be in their company. I haven’t heard Rufus Wainwright’s but I guess in this history we will probably be closer to R. Crumb’s. We are trying to bring a flavour of the kind of music that might have been played in the rural areas of the US to this film. Remember that the orchestras in most of those theatres at the time would have been as small as a quartet. They also played to their audience who would have known the railroad songs as well as the popular tunes of the day so they would mix them up. We’ll be doing something similar and hopefully support the wide-ranging emotions in this film, from lonesome and sad, to tender, to fast action and gunplay. Louise does it all here and, come to think of it, that’s a good description of The Dodge Brothers’ music too.


The Dodge Brothers are Mike Hammond (lead guitar, lead vocals), Mark Kermode (bass, harmonica, vocals), Aly Hirji (rhythm guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Alex Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion). More about the group can be found at http://www.dodgebrothers.co.uk as well as http://www.facebook.com/dodgebrothers and
http://www.myspace.com/dodgebrothers. And as well http://www.youtube.com/dodgebrothersuk

Friday, April 23, 2010

Don't you just love that purse?

This uncommon image of Louise Brooks, holding a rather nifty purse, is currently for sale on eBay. I like it. I like the purse, and I like the hat. And, that is a smart jacket she has on. Notice the cuffs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Louise Brooks art #3

This is the third installment of an irregular series of posts highlighting "Louise Brooks art" - paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, cartoons, sculpture, etc . . . . all featuring the silent film star Louise Brooks, or at least in some way inspired by the actress.

Emily Clark is a college student in the Pacific Northwest whose current Facebook status update reads: "Emily Clark is really good at recruiting her professors to Team Louise! My history prof is now hooked on Brooksie." 

Obviously, Emily is an enthuisiastic fan of the actress, as well as a member of the Louise Brooks Society. That's her in the picture to the left, holding a copy of a book readers of this blog should be familair with. Of it, Emily has written, "I'm reading the biography by Barry Paris, which is the most beautifully written biography that I've ever read BY FAR." 

Besides all this, Emily is also someone who likes to draw and sketch, and so, on this installment of "Louise Brooks Art," I thought I would feature a few of her drawings of Louise Brooks. On Emily's webpages on the deviantArt website (her "penname" is ladyjazzkiller), Emily has a small gallery of Louise Brooks related art. Here is one of my favorites. Be sure and check out the rest of her work.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Louise Brooks, about to take the plunge

This little seen picture of Louise Brooks is currently for sale on eBay. I am not certain, but it might have been taken at the actresses' Laurel Canyon home nestled in the hills above Los Angeles. If so, it was probably taken during the time Brooks was married to Eddie Sutherland.


The seller, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina notes that the image had been printed in Cruzeiro Magazine in the 1920's. That publication came out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Louise Brooks shines in Starstruck

If you haven't already seen it or heard about it, the big new film book of the year is Ira M. Resnick's Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood (Abbeville).

This gorgeous, over-sized, full color, heavily illustrated, beautifully printed, weighs-a-ton, hardback coffee table book spans the years 1912 to 1962. It includes many rare and wonderful examples of silent era movie art within its 272 pages. All together, the book features vivid reproductions of 250 posters and forty stills. To see some examples, follow the various links contained at the end of this blog. Each of the linked-to pages contains a slide show, picture gallery, or nice selection of images!.

Starstruck includes rare posters and lobby cards featuring the likes of Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich and many others. AND, I'm also pleased to report, Louise Brooks - whom the author describes as "one of my all-time favorite actresses."

Resnick, who made his name as a photographer and the owner of the Motion Picture Arts Gallery (the first gallery devoted exclusively to the art of the movies) writes about his "passion" for Brooks and relays a couple of anecdotes behind his acquisition of some truly marvelous lobby cards, posters, one sheets, and stills. For those keeping count, there are ten drop-dead gorgeous Brooks-related images in the book. And, courtesy of the publisher, a few of them are included here. I plan on including a couple more in future blogs.

One of the centerpieces of the book and of Resnick's self-described "Louise Brooks collection" was a 1929 Austrian film poster for Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. This unique object promotes the opening The Diary of a Lost Girl in Vienna on September 27, 1929 - prior to its better known debut in Berlin in October of the same year.

Resnick found the poster in California, and writes about its exceptional draftsmanship and Brooks' "confrontational and submissive" pose. Resnick adds, "For years it was the centerpiece of my collection, the first thing that a visitor would see upon entering the gallery. It was one of my most precious possessions."

However, after ten years and the pleasure of having owned it for so long, Resnick sold it to a private collector for the record setting sum of $80,000. (A modern poster adapting Brooks' provocative image and issued by the Motion Picture Arts Gallery in the 1980's is also included in this new book. The poster reproduced in Starstruck is signed by the actress with the inscription, "To Ira Resnick love Louise Brooks, June 16, 83.")

To learn more about this exceptional title, visit the publisher's page at www.abbeville.com. Or, check out these informative reviews of the book at Women's Wear Daily (WWD) and Today'sVintage. Also, DON'T MISS this short BBC video which includes Resnick and others. (Louise Brooks is its secret star.)


Upcoming events with the Ira Resnick will take place at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles on May 21st at 6 pm, and at the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre in Rochester, New York on June 11th at 8:00 pm. For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ira Resnick will be attending this summers' San Francisco Silent Film Festival. (Their blog also has a write-up on the book.) Copies of Starstruck will be on sale at the Festival, and Resnick will be signing books on Saturday, July 17th.

If you can't wait till then, or can't make one of these events, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood is available on-line or through independent bookstores.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ed Sullivan, on Louise Brooks

An East Coast collector recently sent me a scan of this note which he wanted me to share with the Louise Brooks fans which read this blog.I think it pretty much speaks for itself.
According to Wikipedia, "Ed Sullivan (1901 – 1974) was an American entertainment writer and television host, best known as the presenter of a TV variety show called The Ed Sullivan Show that was broadcast from 1948 until 1971. Its 23-year run made it one of the longest-running variety shows in U.S. broadcast history." Before he got on TV, Sullivan had worked as columnist for the New York Daily News. I have run across a few of his syndicated columns from 1938 and 1939 which mentioned Louise Brooks.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lulu in London in June

Frank Wedekind's Lulu, the stage plays which was the basis for the 1929 G.W. Pabst film, Pandora's Box, will be performed in west London at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill Gate. The play will enjoy a month-long run, from June 10 to July 10, 2010. More info here.

This version of Wedekind's masterpiece is adapted and directed by Anna Ledwich. The play is designed by Helen Goddard, with lighting by Emma Chapman. Sinead Matthews stars as Lulu.
 
According to the Gate Theater, "Wedekind drew inspiration from circus and variety to create a play that would entertain, thrill and shock. This provocative new production revels in the danger of fatal, decadent desires, harnessing the raw power and precariousness of sexuality to unmask the LULU enigma."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Iceland and Louise Brooks, in the news

The recent eruption of a volcano in Iceland and the havoc it is causing across Europe has returned the island nation to the news.

Louise Brooks has also been "in the news" in Iceland. Here is the front page of a November, 1931 issue of the Morgunbladid newspaper from Reykjavik, Iceland. The advertisement in the upper left hand corner is for the 1930 film, Prix de Beaute, which in Icelandic was called Fegurdardrottning Evropu. The actress' name is in bold and all caps.


Other examples of advertisements for Brooks' film can be found. Individuals interested in further exploring the online Morgunbladid newspaper archive should visit this page. It is part of the VESTNORD project (1696-2002). Of course, the handful of newspapers found there are in the Icelandic language, but keyword searches in English under the name of an actor or actress will get some results. And from there, one can start to piece together bit and pieces.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Girl in Every Port

A recently re-watched the 1928 film, A Girl in Every Port, which stars Victor McLaglen and Louise Brooks.Its a film I don't much care for - but this time I found myself liking it more than ever. Here is a promotional picture for this Fox film.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Louise Brooks art #2

This is the second installment of an irregular series of posts highlighting "Louise Brooks art" - paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, cartoons, sculpture, etc . . . . all featuring the silent film star Louise Brooks, or at least in some way inspired by the actress.

I used to work as a syndicated art critic, and in my day I have looked through a lot of art books - both old and new. My favorite period is the early 20th century. Thus, I thought this entry in the series would focus on a couple of kindred historic examples.

The first is a 1929 photomontage by Herbert Bayer titled "Profil en face." Brooks' likeness is a dominant element in the work. This obscure piece has been reproduced in at least a couple of books including  the way beyond 'art' - the work of herbert bayer (Wittenborn, Schultz), from 1949.

Bayer (1900 – 1985), was an Austrian-born graphic designer, painter, photographer, sculptor, interior designer and architect who at the end of his life was  widely recognized as the last living member of the Bauhaus. His best known work may be "Lonely Metropolitan" (which depicts a pair of hands, eyes in their palms, floating before the facade of a building).

The second example of Louise Brooks in a early 20th century piece of art is by Edward Burra. The piece is titled "Composition Collage," and dates from 1929 / 1930. This equally obscure piece also includes the face of the actress (far right), as well as that of Lon Chaney. I am also sure the female face to the far left belongs to someone I have seen before, but just can't recall at this time. Do you know?

Edward Burra (1905 – 1976) was an English painter, draughtsman and print maker, best known for his depictions of the urban underworld. To my eyes, his work, or at least this piece, has a decidedly German Expressionist feel.

Do you know of other early 20th century art which includes a likeness of Louise Brooks? Perhaps some collage or montage by a Czech surrealist? If so, I would love to hear from you. Send an email or post a comment. Maybe, if there were enough of it, we could create a secret museum devoted to the actress.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Louise Brooks on music flier

Jason alerted me to a flier he found recently which features an image of Louise Brooks. It promotes an upcoming June 12th show in Phoenix, Arizona featuring two bands, Cheap Girls from Lansing, Michigan and The Menzingers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

According to the Pyscho Steve Presents website, "Cheap Girls from Lansing, Michigan will be back in Phoenix at The Rogue Bar on Saturday June 12th. With them will be The Menzingers.

The honest and straightforward rock that Cheap Girls brings might successfully transport some to the days when slick overproduction was unheard of and autotuned vocals were just a myth. Influenced by the Lemonheads, Superchunk, The Old 97’s, Green Day, Superdrag and Samiam, they produce a sound filled with pounding drums, jangly guitars and super sweet vocal melodies that harkens back to a simpler time and place. The band is now on Paper and Plastick with their last album/first for the label Find Me a Drink Home having come out last year."

I don't know if Cheao Girls has any Louise Brooks connection; the actress may have been placed on their Phoenix flier simply by chance. Nevertheless, I visited the Cheap Girls myspace page and checked out some of their music - and liked it. They have I good sound for a Michigan band. (Full disclosure: I used to in East Lansing some years back.) Their myspace page also has tour info for the next few months.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Beggars of Life / UK / Dodge Brothers / April 18

Beggars of Life, the 1928 William Wellman-directed film based on the acclaimed book by Jim Tully and starring future Academy Award winner Wallace Beery and silent film stars Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks will be shown in in the UK on Sunday, April 18th at 2 pm. The screening is part of the British Silent Film Festival taking place in the UK. More info here.

Accompanying the film are the Dodge Brothers, a musical combo made up of Mike Hammond (guitar/banjo), British television and radio personality Mark Kermode (double bass/accordion), Aly Hirji (guitar/mandolin) and Alex Hammond (percussion). Joining them will be guest Dodge Brother Neil Brand - the renowned British writer, composer, and silent film accompanist. The group will be performing their original score to the 100 minute drama, which they describe as infused with musical "Americana."

he Dodge Brothers are a self-described skiffle group, but in American lingo, they might be termed roots music with a strong feel for rock-a-billy. (I guess it just depends on the tree you are talking about.) The Dodge Brothers have released two albums to date. Their most recent is "Louisa & The Devil," released in October of 2009 on Weeping Angel Records. Below is a short videowhich gives a taste of the group's musical approach. More info on the band at http://www.dodgebrothers.co.uk


If anyone attends this special screening of Beggars of Life, I would love to hear your impressions. Please post something in the comments section below!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Lotus Eaters: from Max Headroom to Louise Brooks

Just stumbled upon this 1985 music video of "It Hurts," by the Lotus Eaters. It features Louise Brooks in some scenes from Pandora's Box.


The Lotus Eaters formed in Liverpool, England in 1982. Their debut single "The First Picture of You," from their debut album, No Sense of Sin (1984), became a hit in the UK and Europe. The band was mistakenly included in the New Romantic movement when they first appeared, as their sound was awash in '60s influences, namely the melancholic pop of the Zombies. "It Hurts" was the last single band released. They broke up in 1985.

[In 1991, the English band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) released a song called "Pandora's Box," which was subtitled "It's a Long, Long, Way." It' video also features clips of Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box. Sure seems as though those Brits love Brooks.]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Louise Brooks art #1

This is the first installment of what should end up becoming an irregular, ongoing series of posts highlighting "Louise Brooks art" - paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, cartoons, sculpture, etc . . . . all featuring the silent film star Louise Brooks, or at least in some way inspired by the actress. I have been meaning to start this series for some time now, as work is occasionally sent to me. And I also come across a lot it on sites like eBay and Etsy. So here goes.

James Ferguson is a British "dark artist" (and self-described former goth) who goes by the name of Byron Black. And just today, he sent me a couple of his portraits of Louise Brooks. Here is one of them, which I like.

More of his work, including a bunch of images and portraits of various silent film and early sound actors and actresses, can be found on the deviatART website at http://darkinc1.deviantart.com

Click on his gallery page, and you'll see other images of other film stars like Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Bela Lugosi, Max Shreck as Nosferatu, and Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein. [Trivia connection: it's known that director James Whale had considered Louise Brooks for the role of the Bride in the Bride of Frankenstein. Somehow, however, I can't imagine Brooks' black bob with a shock of white hair a la Lanchester. But who knows.]

Here is another image of Louise Brooks, this time not wearing her signature bob. It's another effective rendering. I also like the artist's use of a black and white and shades of grey palate.

If you have created a piece of Louise Brooks visual art and would like to have it considered for future inclusion in this informal series, please email me. My contact info is off on the left hand side of this blog.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Here there and everywhere

Its known that during the silent film era actors and actresses were sometimes called upon to supply their own wardrobe.

That was the case with Louise Brooks. In a filmed interview later in her life, Brooks recounted how during the making of Pandora's Box (1929) director G.W. Pabst asked her to wear one of her new dresses which he had deliberately wrecked (soiled in oil) in order that the actress feel badly wearing it.

The other day, I was looking through some images when I noticed a couple of scene stills of Louise Brooks - each from different films - wearing the same dress. "Hazaa," I thought, "perhaps this dress belonged to the actress." Never before, in all of my looking at pictures of Louise Brooks, had I noticed this coincidence. (But then as "a guy," I am not one to notice fashion.)

The first image (above) is from German-made The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). It was directed by G.W. Pabst. The film was in production between June 17th and July 26th, 1929. The second image (right) is from the French-made Prix de Beaute (1930). It was directed by Augusto Genina, and was in production between August 29 and September 27, 1929. To my eyes, Louise Brooks wears the same dress in each image. Brooks also wears this dress in the short film of the actress projected at the end of Prix de Beaute.

I got to wonder about that dress. And looked a little further.

My wife is a fashion historian, and owns a considerable number of books on the subject. One I pulled off the shelf was on Jean Patou, one of Europe's most important designers of the inter-war period. I flipped through the book hoping to find something. And there I uncovered another image of the actress wearing that same dress! Hazaa again! The book describes it as a figured bronze lame dress, and notes that Patou created it for Brooks at the time she was making Pandora's Box. (This book also notes that Brooks had attended a fashion show at the designer's salon.)

I figure Louise Brooks must have really liked that dress to have worn it as much as she did. Here is that last image. Brooks is wearing a matching jacket trimmed with fox fur.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Little Church Around the Corner

In the Spring of 1925, while still a member of the Ziegfeld Follies, Louise Brooks acted in her first film, The Street of Forgotten Men. Brooks only appears in one scene, near the end of the film, and is on screen for about five minutes. It was an auspicious debut.

The Street of Forgotten Men was set in New York's rough-and-tumble Bowery, though it was largely shot at Paramount's Astoria Studio. A few scenes were also shot on location on the streets of New York. One of those location shots took place at the "Little Church Around the Corner," an actual building in the heart of New York City. It still stands today, and has an historical connection to the city's theatrical community.

I call your attention to the Church because a couple of vintage images of this historic locale are currently for sale on eBay. Each image gives a sense of the "old-timey" atmosphere the film tried to affect. The first was taken around the turn-of-the-last century (circa 1900?). This image is close to what I remember of the building when I saw the film a few years back. Notice that there are no other buildings behind the Church - only sky!


The second image is from an obviously later date, through probably closer to the time the film was made. Notice that in this image there are buildings behind the Church. (Certainly, a NYC historian could fix a more accurate date based on the structures in the background.) When I saw The Street of Forgotten Men, I remember another shot looking across the street from the Church - I noticed a row of businesses including tellingly a vegetarian restaurant.


The scenes in The Street of Forgotten Men which featured the "Little Church Around the Corner" did not include Louise Brooks. Rather, the Church was featured in the scene where the characters played by Mary Brian and Neil Hamilton get married. Hamilton, who went on to play Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series, would go on to play an even more important role in Gotham City in later years.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Louise Brooks Legacy

What is Louise Brooks' legacy? How was she thought of in the 1920's. How is she thought of today? 

Over on Nitrateville.com - a bulletin board / message board / discussion group for fans of early film - there had been quite a lively discussion taking place on the topic. 

The discussion started (and largely took place) in 2008; however, it was just updated the other day. Check it out at http://nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?t=305&sid=7ef895314254216b0153293a2b1963b8

Agree? Disagree? Why not add your two cents?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

High Class pictures

I came across this newspaper advertisement just the other day, while going through some microfilm of the West Side Index, the local newspaper in Newman, California (a small town east of San Jose & west of Merced, in Stanislaus County). It, and the other advertisements depicted in this post, are typical of the material I dig up on a regular basis. They also help sketch the history of film exhibition in the region.

By my calculations, it was 82 years ago today that the Star Theater in Newman was showing a high class Paramount Picture "Not Yet Determined." Was it a  film starring Louise Brooks or some other Paramount actor? We'll never know. [Oops, the typesetter misspelled "A Hight Class."]

At this time, in March of 1928, the Star Theater - of which Gus Johnson was proprietor, was showing Paramount films. That wasn't always the case. In my research, I uncovered listings for six of Brooks films having shown in Newman at the Star. I found ads for The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), The American Venus (1926) - and then a gap - and then The City Gone Wild (1927), Now We're In the Air (1927), Beggars of Life (1928), and The Canary Murder Case (1929).

Why there was a gap in the exhibition of Brooks' films isn't known. However, I would guess from having scrolled through reels of microfilm that the theater started out tied to Paramount, shifted over to another studio or went independent, and then shifted back. Remember this was the time of block booking, when local theaters were allied to certain studios and were "obligated" to show most all of that studio's output - whether they wanted to or not. After The American Venus, which the Star screened in April of 1926, the theater seemed to drop Paramount films and instead screened a mix of motion pictures from studios like Universal or MGM. By early 1928, they had shifted back.

Here is another newspaper advertisement for the Star Theater, which dates from the beginning of Brooks' film career and from a time when the Star was allied to Paramount.
This ad dates from early September of 1925, and lists The Street of Forgotten Men as a coming attraction. It is typical of the dozens of "Paramount Week" ads I have collected from all over Northern California and from around the United States. (The Star eventually screened The Street of Forgotten Men in late October.)


Paramount had a stronghold in Northern California. And, as a matter of fact, hardly a week went by in 1926 and 1927 when one of Brooks' films wasn't showing somewhere in the Bay Area. (By my calculations, only 11 weeks passed when a Brooks film wasn't being shown during this 104 week period. That's kinda wow! The question arises: Was it because Brooks was so popular? The answer: Probably not. In all likelihood, Brooks Paramount films were shown as often as they were because her studio was so dominant in the region.)

Here is one last ad, for the Gustine Theater in nearby Gustine, California (just south of Newman). It was also found in the Newman newspaper and dates from March of 1937, near the end of Brooks' film career. 

What's interesting and even unusual about it is that it lists two Brooks' films, Empty Saddles (1936) and When You're in Love (1937) in one ad! I haven't found many instances of such overlap. 

As a matter of fact, and comparatively speaking, I don't have that many ads or listings for Empty Saddles. As a sort of B-Western, it didn't show all that much. Especially compared to When You're in Love, which was a major release from Columbia starring Grace Moore and Cary Grant. It was the most widely shown (in Northern California) of all of Brooks' films. It's too bad that Brooks herself is impossible to spot in it!

I did a search of www.cinematreasures.org for the Star Theater, but wasn't able to find an entry. Nor could I find anything on the Gustine Theater. I will search a little further.
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