Sunday, January 15, 2012

Louise Brooks lights up screens in coming months

Louise Brooks was one of a handful of early movie stars given a cinematic shout-out in Martin Scorsese's 2011 blockbuster, Hugo. (if you haven't already seen it - go do so! You will love it.) That film, along with The Artist, has spurred renewed interest in the silent era and its many personalities.

This revival of interest includes Brooks, three of whose silent films will be shown in the coming months. Notably, not among them is Pandora's Box (1929) or even Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), two of Brooks' most frequently screened and popular films. 

Instead, the films being shown are three of Brooks' lesser seen American silent films. Each of these events give fans an opportunity to see a rare Brooks film - none of which have been commercially released on DVD. If you live near any of these screenings, get your tickets now. (Follow the linked titles.)

A Girl in Every Port is being screened as part of a 25 film, four month Howard Hawks retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. This early Hawks' film is considered by many to be the most important of the director's silent efforts. Why? Because as a "buddy film" it is the first to introduce the themes and character types Hawks would continue to explore throughout his long and distinguished career. A Girl in Every Port is a “love story” between two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) which features an alluring high-diver, played by Brooks, as the woman who attempts to break up their friendship. The film was a huge hit both in the United States and Europe. The novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars said A Girl in Every Port "definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema." A Girl in Every Port will be introduced by UC Berkeley professor Marilyn Fabe, and will be Judith Rosenberg on piano.

No, this is not a Brooks film. And no, it's not the Bogart version of Hammett's classic story, but rather the original - made the year after Hammett's landmark novel was published. This pre-Code adaptation, directed by Roy Del Ruth and originally titled Dangerous Female, flaunts a sexier tone than John Huston's much more famous 1941 version. Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels star as Sam Spade and Ruth Wonderly (the Brigid O'Shaughnessy character). What's little known is that Brooks also makes an "appearance" in the film. In a key scene in Spade's apartment, a picture of Brooks can be spotted hanging above Spade's telephone;  curiously, the camera lingers on this prominently placed piece of set dressing. Why Brooks is there  . . . is a mystery.

The Street of Forgotten Men is a romance (between Neil Hamilton and Mary Brian) and underworld story set among professional beggars in New York City. At the time of its release, director Herbert Brenon was praised for his gritty depiction of Bowery life, while star Percy Marmount was rightly compared to Lon Chaney for his vivid, dramatic performance as a fake cripple. And in an uncredited role, Brooks enjoys some 5 minutes of screen time in this, her first film. She makes a lasting impression.  Long thought lost, six of the film's seven reels were found a number of years ago at the Library of Congress - that is the archive which will be providing the print for this rare screening. Though a date has not been set, this screening has been announced on the Cinefest Facebook page. 
Cinefest takes place March 15-18 near Syracuse, New York.

Over the last couple of years, the Dodge Brothers - a British country blues, rockabilly and skiffle four-piece outfit - have made a name for themselves among British cinema fans for their live accompaniment to Beggars of Life. The 1928 William Wellman-directed film stars Louise Brooks as a girl, wanted by the law, who dresses as a boy and goes on the run and rides the rails in pre-Depression America. At this special event, the Dodge Brothers will be joined on stage by one of the world's best known silent-film accompanists, Neil Brand, to provide a live soundtrack for Beggars of Life at the Bradford International Film Festival. The Dodge Brothers will be playing guitars, harmonica, banjo, double bass and a washboard, with Brand on piano, in the National Media Museum's renowned Pictureville cinema.

1 comment:

  1. I have "Girl" and "Beggars" on DVD from Grapevine Video, and I'll definitely be in Syracuse for The Street of Forgotten Men!


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