Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pandora's Box - An American history of Lulu

Today, Pandora's Box will be shown in Atlanta, Georgia (at 6pm at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center). To mark the occasion, here is a brief history of its reception in the United States.

Pandora's Box made its world premiere in February of 1929 at the Gloria–Palast in Berlin. German reviews of the time were mixed.

When Pandora’s Box opened at a small art house in New York City in December of that same year, American newspaper and magazine critics were also ambivalent, even hostile. Despite poor reviews, the film did well at its American debut. The New York Sun reported that Pandora’s Box “ . . . has smashed the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse’s box office records. It will therefore be held for another week.”


It has long been believed that Pandora’ s Box fell into obscurity and was not shown again in the United States until June 1958, when James Card screened the film at the Eastman House in Rochester, New York. However, documents uncovered in the last few years (by the Louise Brooks Society) reveal the film was exhibited on at least one occasion prior to 1958. The Little theater in Newark, New Jersey showed the Pabst film in 1931. Advertisements and newspaper clippings from the time note the film was shown at the Little – today’s equivalent of an art house, with English titles and synchronized sound effects. (The origin of these titles, and the nature of the sound effects, is unknown.) It was also advertised for "adult only."

And a year later, Moviegraphs – the exchange that handled distribution of Pandora’ s Box in New York state – applied for a new exhibition license with the intention of screening the film again. Records of later screenings, however, have yet to be found – and the fuller early history of Pandora’s Box in America remains obscure. It is known, however, that in 1943, Iris Barry, the pioneering curator who started the Museum of Modern Art film department, rejected Pandora’s Box for its collection – stating that the film had no lasting value.



Things changed since then. The film has been screened numerous times since the early 1980's. In 2006, when a new 35mm print of the film was shown at Film Forum in New York, Pandora’s Box was reported to be the week's second highest grossing independent film in the United States.

 Here are some excerpts from early American reviews of Pandora's Box.

“At that the picture is above the average of the usual foreign-made production shown in this type of theatre. It has a fast tempo which in itself is unusual. Undoubtedly Louise Brooks, who is starred, is largely responsible for this. -- Motion Picture News

“Louise Brooks is ideally suited to the role of Lulu.” -- Irene Thirer, New York Daily News

“Louise Brooks, especially imported for the title role, did not pan out, due to no fault of hers. She is quite unsuited to the vamp type which was called for by the play from which the picture was made.” -- Variety

“The management, in a program note, says that the picture, based on Wedekind’s dramas, Erdgeist and The Box of Pandora, has been prevented by the board of review of the Motion Picture Division of the State of New York from being shown here in its entirety, ‘and for the rather saccharine ending that has been added we crave pardon’. . . . Louise Brooks acts vivaciously but with a seeming blindness as to what it is all about.” -- Marguerite Tazelaar, New York Herald Tribune

“But not even the censors may be blamed for all the film’s deficiencies – the acting, for instance, and the rather absurd melodramatic story. . . . Unlike Anna May Wong, and other Hollywood actresses who have blossomed into skilled players under European influence, Miss Brooks doesn’t seem to have improved since her departure. She is comely as ever, but her pantomimic abilities are sadly limited. . . . The picture is one of the less deserving efforts and was received with apathy by the audience.” -- Regina Crewe, New York American

“It was the privilege of a few reviewers to see Pandora’s Box shortly after it was received by its American exhibitors and before the New York censors got at it. In the beginning it appeared to this one to be a rather harmlessly lewd little exhibition with misery and murder and a touch of abnormalcy along other lines, but at that time, at least, it told a sort of story. Now, it is recommended principally, if at all, for its striking photographs of Miss Louise Brooks, the American actress. At least, the persons who have charge of our film morals have seen fit to leave Miss Brooks’s back, legs, and haircut as they pictured at the outset. Miss Brooks, therefore, retains all of her original charms. . . . Miss Brooks is being pursued by a very determined young woman who wears mannish clothes. I am of the opinion that the young woman in mannish clothes is not selling magazine subscriptions to pay her way through college. It does occur to me that Miss Brooks, while one of the handsomest of all the screen girls I have seen, is still one of the most eloquently terrible actresses who ever looked a camera in the eye.” -- Quinn Martin, New York World 

“Louise Brooks, the American actress, has the part of an exotic girl who attracts men and women alike. It is too sophisticated for any but art theater audiences.” -- Harrower, Film Daily

“This feature spent several weeks in the censor’s board’s cutting room: and the result of its stay is a badly contorted drama that from beginning to end reeks with sex and vice that have been so crudely handled as not even to be spicily entertaining. Louise Brooks and Fritz Kortner are starred, with Miss Brooks supposed to be a vampire who causes the ruin of everyone she meets. How anyone could fall for la belle Brooks with the clothes she wears in this vehicle is beyond imagination. . . .  This is a silent production that has no business playing anything but guild theaters.” -- J. F. L., Billboard

“The little theaters continue to lead their own lives. There are nice eighteenth-century sets in Figaro, at the Little Carnegie, and a subdued Kraft-Ebing overtone in Pandora’s Box, at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse, for the benefit of the Wedekind group.” -- J. C. M., New Yorker

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Louise Brooks is Lulu in Pandora's Box

These days, Frank Wedekind is best known as the author of Spring Awakening. His 1891 play about teenage sexuality was turned into a smash-hit by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. Their long running Broadway musical won eight Tony awards and has been performed all over the world.

Before Spring Awakening, Wedekind (1864 –1918) was best known for his Lulu plays. 

Those two "Lulu" plays, Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora's Box (1904), were originally conceived of as a single work. Called a "monster tragedy," the Lulu plays tell the story of an alluring, somewhat petulant show-girl who rises in society through her relationships with wealthy, lustful men - like "moths around a flame." Eventually, after a series of unfortunate events, she falls into poverty and prostitution. The play's frank depiction of sexuality and violence, including lesbianism, murder, and an encounter with Jack the Ripper, pushed the boundaries of what was then considered acceptable literature.

Despite their provocative subject matter, the Lulu plays are among the most performed and adapted early 20th century dramas. There were two silent films, and as many as a dozen later movies and TV films based on Pandora's Box alone. Alban Berg's acclaimed opera, Lulu (1937), was based on Wedekind's work. As were the works of numerous other writers, poets, performance artists, comic artists, and rock musicians who found inspiration in the German playwright's words. Rufus Wainwright's All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (2010) and the Lou Reed - Metallica collaboration, Lulu (2011), are two recent examples.

On Sunday, March 25th the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia along with the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society will screen the second film version of Pandora's Box, which stars Louise Brooks as Lulu. Ron Carter, silent film accompanist and Callanwolde House Organist, will accompany the film on Callanwolde's 60 rank Aeolian organ using the instrument as a symphony orchestra.

Pandora's Box is a film which can still shock and enthrall, even 80 plus years after its release. It is also a film whose reputation has ridden a roller-coaster of scorn and acclaim.


Pandora's Box made its world premiere in February of 1929 at the Gloria–Palast in Berlin; German reviews of the time were mixed. When Pandora’s Box opened at a small art house in New York City in December of that same year, American newspaper and magazine critics were also ambivalent, even hostile.

Photoplay, one of the leading fan magazines of the time, noted “When the censors got through with this German-made picture featuring Louise Brooks, there was little left but a faint, musty odor. It is the story, both spicy and sordid, of a little dancing girl who spread evil everywhere without being too naughty herself. Interesting to American fans because it shows Louise, formerly an American ingénue in silent films, doing grand work as the evil-spreader.”

Mordaunt Hall, critic for the New York Times, famously wrote “Miss Brooks is attractive and she moves her head and eyes at the proper moment, but whether she is endeavoring to express joy, woe, anger or satisfaction it is often difficult to decide.” Quinn Martin, critic at the New York World, echoed Hall’s remarks when he stated “It does occur to me that Miss Brooks, while one of the handsomest of all the screen girls I have seen, is still one of the most eloquently terrible actresses who ever looked a camera in the eye.”

Variety
put the nail in the coffin when its critic opined “Better for Louise Brooks had she contented exhibiting that supple form in two-reel comedies or Paramount features. Pandora’s Box, a rambling thing that doesn’t help her, nevertheless proves that Miss Brooks is not a dramatic lead.”

Lulu has been described as a vamp or femme fatale, but in fact, she is a kind of naive, almost innocent character. As Brooks biographer Barry Paris put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” And not just men.... Lulu’s sexual magnetism knows few bounds, and this once controversial film features what may be the screen’s first lesbian character.

At times, this G.W. Pabst directed film - heavily censored in its day and still incomplete - can come off a little heavy handed, almost like melodrama. In Pandora’s Box, Brooks nevertheless reveals her considerable gifts as an actress through an individualized interpretation of her otherwise archetypical character. And largely because of Brooks’ sensational performance, this more than 80 year old film now enjoys a large reputation. Today, Pandora’s Box is widely considered not only Brooks’ best work, but one of the great masterpieces of the silent film era.

What is it that continues to attract contemporary viewers to Pandora’s Box, and to its singular star? Perhaps, the answer lies in our ability to see beyond the film’s melodramatic trappings, and to appreciate qualities found beneath its celluloid skin.

Lottie Eisner, the great German film critic, once described Brooks as “An astonishing actress endowed with an intelligence beyond compare.” While Kevin Brownlow, the Academy Award winning British film historian, described the actress as “One of the most remarkable personalities to be associated with films.” Louise Brooks is certainly both of these, and more.

Those who catch the film this Sunday night will be able to judge for themselves. Pandora's Box will be shown at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, March 25 at 6:00p.m.


Read on at Examiner.com Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks screens in Atlanta - National Louise Brooks | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/louise-brooks-in-national/pandora-s-box-with-louise-brooks-screens-atlanta#ixzz1q3bBPcqx

Friday, March 23, 2012

Roger Ebert tweets about Louise Brooks

Yesterday and today, film critic and movie lover Roger Ebert tweeted three times about Louise Brooks and her 1929 film, The Diary of a Lost Girl. Here is what the Pulitzer Prize winner and self-admitted Brooks' fan had to say. Yesterday, Ebert tweeted:
@ebertchicago:My Streamer of the Day. "Diary of a Lost Girl," a silent masterpiece with the immortal Louise Brooks. on.fb.me/GH64U0
And this morning, Ebert tweeted:
@ebertchicago: New in my Great Movies Collection: Louise Brooks in Pabst's "Diary of a Lost Girl." Remorseless. On Netflix Instant. bit.ly/GHbzQK
And then a few hours later, Ebert Tweeted again:
@ebertchicago: The latest review in my Great Movies Collection: Louise Brooks in the unforgettable "Diary of a Lost Girl." bit.ly/GHbzQK
Be sure and follow the links at the end of each tweet. The first leads to Ebert's Facebook page and a conversation stream about The Diary of a Lost Girl. The second and third links lead to Ebert's just published article about the film on the Chicago Sun Times website.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

The original Lassie, canine thespian


A few have written asking about Lassie, the canine actor in The Street of Forgotten Men. That film was shown on March 15th at Cinefest 32 in Syracuse, New York.

A 1927 New York Times article about the canine stated, "It is said that the death of Lassie in The Street of Forgotten Men was so impressive that persons were convinced that she must have been cruelly beaten. Her master, Emery Bronte, said that the dog seemed to enjoy acting in the scenes, and that after each 'take' she went over to Mr. Brenon and cocked her head on the side, as if asking for a pat or two." Apparently, this notable scene - her best scene - her death scene - is missing from the surviving six reels (of this seven reel film).

This Lassie, a contemporary of Rin-Tin-Tin, was bull terrier - cocker spaniel mix who predated the more famous Collie which starred in later movies and television shows. The New York Times describes her as an "intelligent animal" and a "clever screen actress." And according to that 1927 article, she was then earning a remarkable $15,000 a year as a canine actor / performer. That was a lost of money then.

Some of the other films in which Lassie appeared include Tol'able David, Knockabout Riley, The Beautiful City and Sonny. Her fellow actors included Mabel Normand, Viola Dana, Richard Barthelmess, Marion Davies, Richard Dix, Tom Moore and George Walsh, among others.

Here is an April, 1926 Mexican newspaper advertisement for The Street of Forgotten Men (and two others) showing a character from the Herbert Brenon-directed film holding Lassie. (In Spanish, The Street of Forgotten Men is titled La Calle del Olvido.) Here is another depiction of Lassie, who looks like a pretty cute dog. Watch out Uggie!



Friday, March 16, 2012

Did you see Street of Forgotten Men at Cinefest ?


If you were at Cinefest 32 and saw last night's presentation of The Street of Forgotten Men, this blog would love to hear from you. Please post your thoughts or observations about the film and its screening in the comments field below. What did you think?

The image below depicts actor Percy Marmont  (left) and director Herbert Brenon on the set of the film in May, 1925. More background on the movie at examiner.com


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Louise Brooks debuts in The Street of Forgotten Men


When The Street of Forgotten Men premiered at the Rivoli in New York City in July of 1925, Louise Brooks was dancing in the Summer Edition of the Follies at the nearby New Amsterdam theater. The film played two weeks, and reportedly took in $60,000 in admissions. That was during a time when ticket prices were well under one dollar. Here is the advertisement for that engagement.


Cinefest the annual movie convention held in Syracuse, New York is set to screen Herbert Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men on Thursday, March 15th at 8:55 pm. This is a rare opportunity to see Louise Brooks in her very first screen role! It is an event not to be missed. 

The Street of Forgotten Men opened in Syracuse in November, 1925 at the Eckels. The local pseudonymous film critic, the "Film Girl," writing in the Syracuse Herald, called the film gripping and a "remarkable production." Here is the advertisement for that engagement.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Street of Forgotten Men decidedly impressive


Cinefest the annual movie convention held in Syracuse, New York will screen Herbert Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) on Thursday, March 15th at 8:55 pm. This is a rare opportunity to see Louise Brooks in her very first screen role. Unfortunately, this acclaimed film is not on DVD and is seldom shown. Don't miss it. Here is what the critics thought of the film when it was first released:
The Street of Forgotten Men dips into the dark pools of life. It shows you the beggars of life - apologies to Jim Tully - and in showing them it shows them up.” -- Mildred Spain, New York Daily News

“An absorbing story, done by a cast of people who really know how to act and directed in a skillful manner by Herbert Brenon.” -- Dorothy Day, New York Morning Telegraph

“It is a startling tale of Bowery life, of the soiled, tawdry ladies and broken men of the underworld. . . . Percy Marmont was an ideal choice for the difficult leading role, and his work, as usual, is quiet, clean cut and convincing. Mary Brian is a sweet peaches and cream heroine. . . . Direction and photography are splendid, making the movie decidedly worth seeing.” -- Roberta Nangle, Chicago Tribune

“This story is decidedly impressive, out-of-the-ordinary and interesting and we believe that it will be quite generally liked.” -- C. S. Sewell, Moving Picture World

“For fine dramatic detail, for unusualness, for giving us a glimpse into a world we never see and into the other sides of characters we simply pass in pity on the streets, The Street of Forgotten Men is a photoplay revelation.” -- A.F. Gillaspey, San Francisco Bulletin

“Here we have an underworld drama, stark and naked in its picturing of the beggars and fakers who prey on the public in the name of charity.” -- Curran D. Swint, San Francisco News

“Percy Marmont, as a bogus crippled beggar . . . has a role that is more closely akin to his great interpretation of Mark Sabre in If Winter Comes than any since the Hutchinson novel was put upon the screen. All of which means that this artist again has an excellent role for the display of his rare genius.” -- Washington Star

“ . . . it will go down as one of those rare films, beloved of the true blue fan, that contain such a wealth of choice parts as to make of nearly every player an outstanding artist.” -- Los Angeles Herald

“The Bowery in the days of long ago is faithfully transcribed to the screen in this story dealing with the lives of the professional beggars who prey on the easy-going public. Herbert Brenon, with the aid of a fine cast, headed by Percy Marmont, has made a gripping and entertaining picture.” -- M. B., Photoplay 


The Street of Forgotten Men was a big hit just about everywhere. Nearly nine months after it’s initial release, the film was still in circulation in the United States. Appearing as an added feature at this 1926 Toledo, Ohio showing was the House of David Band. This musical group was part of a nearby religious community based in Michigan whose members refrained from sex, haircuts, shaving, and eating meat. As followers of the Christian Israelite faith, the group’s touring musical acts were sometimes described as “Shaveless Sheiks of Syncopation.”  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Street of Forgotten Men: This Film is Something Like Miracle Man


Cinefest the annual movie convention held in Syracuse, New York is set to screen Herbert Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) on Thursday, March 15th at 8:55 pm. This is a rare opportunity to see Louise Brooks in her very first screen role. This acclaimed film is not on DVD.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Street of Forgotten Men shows at Cinefest in Syracuse


Cinefest, an annual movie convention held in Syracuse, New York is set to screen one of the more unusual films from the silent era, Herbert Brenon's The Street of Forgotten Men (1925). Long thought lost, this "underworld romance" has seldom been seen since its debut 87 years ago. The Library of Congress holds one of the only surviving prints, and representatives of the LOC will bring their copy to Cinefest for this rare screening.


Described at the time as "strange and startling" and "a drama of places and of people you have never seen before," The Street of Forgotten Men tells the story of a gang of professional beggars whose underworld headquarters is known as a "cripple factory." Led by the colorfully named Easy Money Charlie (played by Percy Marmont), the gang preys on public sympathy by disfiguring themselves and feigning various disabilities. 

The Street of Forgotten Men also tells the story of a Bowery Cinderella, played by winsome Mary Brian, whose life is linked to these con artists as well as to a young millionaire, played by handsome Neil Hamilton. (Yes, that Neil Hamilton –  Commissioner Gordon from the 1960's television series, Batman.)

Set in the Bowery and shot in part on the streets of New York City, the film is a mix of old-fashioned melodrama and gritty realism. It was based on a short story by George Kibbe Turner, a muckraking journalist and novelist of the time. In its review of the film, the New York Daily News stated "The Street of Forgotten Men dips into the dark pools of life. It shows you the beggars of life – apologies to Jim Tully – and in showing them it shows them up." On the other coast, the San Francisco Bulletin noted "For fine dramatic detail, for unusualness, for giving us a glimpse into a world we never see and into the other sides of characters we simply pass in pity on the streets, The Street of Forgotten Men is a photoplay revelation."

The film's most unusual scenes occur when this band of beggars check into work and are fitted with fake bandages, artificial arms and legs, false high heeled shoes and other trick paraphernalia for the luring of sympathetic coins into battered tin cups. Canes and crutches along with signs that read "I Am Blind" and "Please help a cripple" lend atmosphere to the group's "changing room." According to studio press sheets, a mendicant officer and 20-year veteran of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charity served as advisor for scenes shot inside the dingy cripple factory.

Though the film and its source material was a look back at the Bowery and the practices of the disreputable down-and-out, a 1926 article in the New York Times reported that the film may have in turn inspired a group of fake beggars. "The police are investigating the speakeasy. It was recalled that several months ago a motion picture, The Street of Forgotten Men, . . . showed just such an establishment for equipping 'cripples' as that described by Williams, and the police thought the movie idea might have been put to practical use."

Aside from its strangeness, there is much to recommend in The Street of Forgotten Men. The film was shot in the Astoria studios on Long Island, as well as on location in 1925 New York City. One memorable scene – when Marmont and Brian come across the character known as Bridgeport White-Eye – was filmed on a busy Fifth Avenue near Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Shot with a concealed camera, the unaware crowds passing on the street along with images of shops and businesses from long ago – including a vegetarian restaurant – prove striking. According to press reports from the time – which should be taken with a grain of salt, the appearance of pathetic-looking actors dressed in disheveled attire drew spontaneous donations from passers-by not realizing a motion picture was being filmed. Another memorable scene with a good deal of local color takes place at the still standing Little Church Around the Corner on East 29th.

Two performers not listed in the film's credits also made their mark in The Street of Forgotten Men. One was a dog named Lassie. (This bull terrier-cocker spaniel mix predated the more famous Collie.) A 1927 New York Times article about the canine stated, "It is said that the death of Lassie in The Street of Forgotten Men was so impressive that persons were convinced that she must have been cruelly beaten. Her master, Emery Bronte, said that the dog seemed to enjoy acting in the scenes, and that after each 'take' she went over to Mr. Brenon and cocked her head on the side, as if asking for a pat or two." Regrettably, one of the seven reels of The Street of Forgotten Men is missing, and not all of Lassie's scenes are extant. 

The other performer who made an impression was Louise Brooks, who was dancing with the Ziegfeld Follies when she agreed to play a bit part in The Street of Forgotten Men. Though not credited, the film marked her screen debut. As a moll, Brooks' role was slight – she appears on screen for only about 5 minutes. Nevertheless, her brief role drew the attention of an anonymous Los Angeles Times reviewer who singled out the actress when they wrote, "And there was a little rowdy, obviously attached to the 'blind' man, who did some vital work during her few short scenes." This was Brooks' first film review.

Like the film, the director of The Street of Forgotten Men has fallen into the shadows of history. Herbert Brenon enjoyed a long career which lasted from 1912 to 1940, but today he is one of those early directors who is largely forgotten though deserving of greater recognition. The Street of Forgotten Men was made shortly after Brenon made the film for which he is best remembered, Peter Pan (1924). His other notable efforts include The Spanish Dancer (1923) with Pola Negri, Dancing Mothers (1926) with Clara Bow, Beau Geste (1926), The Great Gatsby (1926), God Gave Me Twenty Cents (1926), and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) with Lon Chaney. All were big hits.

Though little known today, The Street of Forgotten Men was well regarded in its day. Marmont, a leading star of the silent era, was singled out for his exceptional Lon Chaney-like performance, and director Brenon was praised for his realistic depiction of Bowery life. The National Board of Review named the film one of the best pictures of 1925, and it was picked as one of the best of the year by newspapers around the country. This rare screening gives Cinefest attendees an opportunity to see a film which should be on DVD.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Only two weeks till Napoleon

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival's monumental presentation of Abel Gance's 1927 masterpiece NAPOLEON is only two weeks away! Watch for major coverage of this event in and on...
NY Times
 LA Times
Wall Street Journal
NPR
SF Chronicle.
... and other major local and national media outlets. But don't wait for the press to break... IT'LL MIGHT BE TOO LATE! This event will NOT be presented again in any other American city. There are absolutely, positively FOUR PERFORMANCES ONLY: March 24, 25, 31, and April 1 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA

Tickets are going fast, don't delay -- BUY YOURS NOW!
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"A MAJOR EVENT! Don't wait for it to come to a theater near you - getting Gance's magnum opus up on a screen is a herculean task!" - Martin Scorsese, Vanity Fair
 
"In 10 or 20 or 30 years, when this screening of Napoleon is only a memory, film lovers will ask -- were you there? 'Did you see the Napoleon  at the Paramount in 2012?'" - Thomas Gladysz, Huffington Post
 
"You don't want to kick yourself afterwards for missing out on this experience!" - Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy
 
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OFFICIAL MOBILE SPONSOR of SFSFF
We are proud to announce Silent Film Director for iPhone as the official mobile partner of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Silent Film Director brings the magic and elegance of the silent era to the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, allowing you to shoot, edit and share your own silent films. With just a few taps you can add music, title cards, transitions, customize soundtracks, video effects and more. Coming soon, MacPhun LLC - the developer of Silent Film Director - will announce an international silent film contest, where everyone with an iPhone will have a chance to create their own silent masterpiece. Maybe it won't be another Napoleon or The Artist, but it will be your work of art and you will be the Silent Film Director.
 
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