Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best 2011 releases for the Louise Brooks fan

It’s that time of the year when bloggers issue their "Best of" lists - the year’s recommended new releases in books, film, music and more. Last year saw the release of a handful of important new releases related to or in homage to Louise Brooks. This year is no different. Though the number of new works related to or inspired by the actress is smaller, it is nevertheless distinguished. Prominent among them in 2011 is Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in which Brooks is pictured in a book and included in a brief clip from her 1929 film Pandora's Box. Otherwise, fans of the legendary silent film star will want to check out each of these recent releases.

Ebook: My Afternoon With Louise Brooks, by Tom Graves (Rhythm Oil Publications)

-- In 1982, writer and journalist Tom Graves hoped to write a biography of one of the most reclusive stars in the history of cinema. My Afternoon With Louise Brooks is the author's brief account of his now long ago meeting and subsequent dealings with the actress, much of which centered on his never realized biography. Or, as the ebook description puts it, "After 30 years Graves finally tells his tale as the last journalist to ever be admitted into the bedroom of this cult legend." Following its release earlier this year, Graves expanded his ebook to include additional material, making it a more satisfying read. My Afternoon With Louise Brooks is available as an ebook on

Music: Lulu, by Lou Reed and Metallica (Warner Bros.)

-- Like the 1929 Brooks' film Pandora's Box, this musical collaboration between rock greats Lou Reed and Metallica was inspired by Frank Wedekind's two Lulu plays, which together tells the story of a young dancer's life and loves. At times noisy, repetitive, harsh, aggressive, droning, abrasive, and droll - this is 21st century expressionist music which stems not from any rock tradition, but rather an art-music background. Lulu won't be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, it has been poorly received among fans of Reed and Metallica. Nevertheless, it's a strong brew.

Book: Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler by Paul Bauer and Mark Dawidziak (Kent State University Press)

-- Many saw the dark side of the American dream, but few wrote about it like Jim Tully (1886 - 1947). This first ever biography of the writer describes the hardscrabble life of the Irish American storyteller - from his immigrant roots, rural upbringing, and life as a hobo riding the rails to his success and eventual fame as a journalist and novelist in 1920s and 1930s Hollywood. Tully also authored Beggars of Life, a novelistic memoir made into a 1928 film starring Brooks. The two met then, and did not hit it off. Three years earlier, Brooks - in the company of Charlie Chaplin - attended the stage adaption of the book on Broadway.

Book: Making the Detective Story American: Biggers, Van Dine and Hammett and the Turning Point of the Genre, 1925-1930, by J.K. Van Dover (McFarland)

-- In 1929, Louise Brooks and William Powell co-starred in The Canary Murder Case; the film was based on bestselling book of the same name by the pseudonymous S.S. Van Dine, a once-popular and critically esteemed author of detective fiction. Though little read today, Van Dine is considered an important early figure in the development of the modern detective story. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, many of his books were bestsellers, and many were turned into popular films and radio programs. Van Dine is one of three writers featured in a this new book - a critical study.

Book: Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, by Emily W. Leider (University of California Press)

-- One might not associate Louise Brooks with Myrna Loy. Both were from Western cities, and both were teens when discovered. One was a silent film actress whose career largely faded with the coming of sound, the other a star of the sound era best known for her role in the Thin Man series of the 1930's. (The co-star of that series was William Powell.) Their careers intersected early on when Loy played one of the many international female sirens in A Girl in Every Port (1928), which starred Brooks. Later in life, in 1982, both were chosen as recipients of the George Eastman House for lifetime contribution to the movies. Emily W. Leider has penned a first ever biography of a wry and sophisticated actress whose extraordinary career spanned six decades. [Speaking of A Girl in Every Port, it is one of the films covered in The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography, by Aubrey Solomon (McFarland). A couple of passages about the film can be found in this other new book.]

Book: The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead)

-- Looking ahead, the big Louise Brooks-related release in 2012 promises to be Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone (Riverhead). Set for publication in June of next year, this captivating new novel tells the story of the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 (on her way to becoming a Denishawn dancer), and the summer that would change them both. Moriarty, who hails from Kansas, is a processed fan of the silent film star. Her earlier novels include While I'm Falling (2010) and The Center of Everything (2004).

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