Friday, December 14, 2012

Recommended New Releases for the Louise Brooks Fan

It’s that time of the year when critics, journalists, bloggers and others issue their "Best of" lists - the year’s recommended new releases in the world of books, movies, music and more. Here's the best of 2012 with a twist, exceptional new releases for fans of the silent film star Louise Brooks.

Like last year, 2012 saw the release of a small but distinguished number of new releases related to the legendary silent film star. Prominent among them is Laura Moriarty's widely acclaimed bestselling novel, The Chaperone, as well as a handful of DVD's including the first ever DVD release of Brooks' last film, Overland Stage Raiders. Fans of the actress will want to check out all of these recent releases.

In 1922, only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star, fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks left Wichita, Kansas to study dance in New York City. Accompanying Brooks was her thirty-six-year-old, somewhat stodgy neighbor, who acted as chaperone. Based on these few facts, Laura Moriarty has penned a captivating, quietly powerful, and moving historical novel about these two woman and the summer they spent together which changed them both. Both critically acclaimed and a New York Times bestseller, this new book is highly recommended. Also available as an audio book read by actress Elizabeth McGovern. (Riverhead)

DVD-R: God's Gift to Women, directed by Michael Curtiz

It's no secret that Louise Brooks appeared in mostly mediocre sound films. With her career in decline, the one-time silent era star took what roles came her way in the sound era. God's Gift to Women, one of three films she made in 1931, is easily the actress' best talkie. It is also an enjoyable pre-Code romp, a comedy about romance with an impressive cast that includes Frank Fay, Laura La Plante, Joan Blondell, Charles Winninger, Yola d'Avril and Margaret Livingston (Brooks' voice double in The Canary Murder Case). Brooks doesn't have a very big part in this farce, but she makes an impression in a bedroom scene when some of the film's pulchritude gets into a cat fight.  (Warner Archive)

BOOK: Valentina come Louise Brooks. Il libro nascosto, edited by Vincenzo Mollica and Antonio Crepax.

This Italian book was the companion publication to "Valentina Movie," an exhibit held this past summer at the Palazzo Incontro in Rome. It featured the work of the late Italian comix artist Guido Crepax, a longtime admirer of Louise Brooks. The exhibit detailed the influence the actress had on the creation and development of Crepax's best known creation, Valentina, a popular character who appeared in numerous comic strips, graphic novels, books, and spin-off films. Whether or not you read Italian, the dedicated fan will want to own this illustrated book. (Fandango Libri)

Louise Brooks' film career came to an end in 1938 with a supporting role in Overland Stage Raiders, a B-western starring a young John Wayne. This new release marks the film's first official release on DVD and Blu-Ray. (It had been released on VHS some years ago, and is now hard to find.) Said to be only for the John Wayne or Louise Brooks completist, Overland Stage Raiders (presented here in a 1950's revival print) is worth watching at least once. Brooks, 32 years old and sporting a new look, is still alluring and holds her own in what is essentially a guy's film. (Olive Films)

While a young man in the early 1980s, Berkal had the almost unique experience of meeting and befriending  the then older and reclusive Louise Brooks. The story of that friendship is chronicled in this self-published, ebook-only release. (It is also referenced in Barry Paris' 1989 biography.) Benevolent Siren is a brief recounting, which in the end leaves you wanting more. (Smashwords) Also keep in mind Youthful Places, a small collection of poetry also by Berkal. It contains "MLB," a poem about and dedicated to the actress. (Amazon Digital Services)

DVD/BluRay: La Canarina Assassinita (Canary Murder Case), directed by Malcolm St. Clair. 

The Canary Murder Case (1929), with Brooks in the title role of the "Canary," has not yet been released on DVD in the United States. But it has been, at least twice, in Italy. This new release is the latest out of Europe. Not seen at time of review. (Ermitage Cinema) Also keep in mind Mystery Movies Series of 1930's Hollywood, by Ron Backer. This recommended book opens with The Canary Murder Case and details the many subsequent Philo Vance films which followed. (McFarland)

This collection of academic essays on popular German literature of the late nineteenth century includes "Taking Sex to Market: Tagebuch einer Verlorenen: Von einerToten and Josefine Mutzenbacher, Die Lebensgeschichte einer wienerischen Dirne, von ihr selbst erzählt," by the English academic Elizabeth Boa. The essay, by a noted German scholar whose fields of interest include Frank Wedekind, looks at the book which was the basis for the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, The Diary of a Lost Girl.  That book was Margarete Bohme's Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, a controversial bestseller which sold more than 1.2 million copies. In its review of this new book, the Times Literary Supplement said, "The essays are often fascinating and always informative. The best of them make their arguments against the forgetting of their once-bestselling authors exciting. They share a passion for getting to the bottom of why, in or outside Germany, we know so little about books that were, in the main, not just flashes in the pan, as they often endured for up to a century." That's true for Boa's take on Bohme's still valuable and provocative work. (Camden House)


Colleen Moore was the cute-as-a-button silent era actress who first achieved stardom in Flaming Youth (1923). It was in that film, in which Moore plays a flapper, that the actress first sported bobbed-hair. That was also a couple years before Louise Brooks entered films and made her own mark. Both actresses were known for their signature look, a straight bob with bangs, and that fact has led some to wonder who first wore the iconic hair style. Codori discusses that question and more in this appealing biography. (McFarland)

Mae Murray, popularly known as "the girl with the bee-stung lips," was a fiery presence in silent-era Hollywood. Renowned for her sultry beauty, Murray rocketed to stardom as a dancer with the Ziegfeld Follies before entering films. She appeared in The Delicious Little Devil (1919), Jazzmania (1923), and most famously, The Merry Widow (1925). With the coming of sound, her career went into decline, and eventually Murray found herself nearly destitute. The parallels with Louise Brooks' career are striking. This highly recommended biography, featuring much original research, includes never before published observations about Murray drawn from Brooks' letters to Kevin Brownlow.  (University Press of Kentucky)

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