Thursday, October 17, 2013

William Kentridge Lulu inspired by Louise Brooks Lulu

An article in today's New York Times confirmed what the Louise Brooks Society had suspected or at least secretly hoped for, that South African-born artist William Kentridge's upcoming production of Alban Berg's opera Lulu is inspired in part by Louise Brooks' performance as Lulu in G.W.  Pabst's 1929 film, Pandora's Box. (See this earlier LBS blog about Kentridge's involvement in the Metropolitan production, which is set to open in 2015.)

The New York Times stated:
“Lulu,” Berg’s final opera, is in part about art: It features an artist who falls in love with a femme fatale after painting her portrait. And in the second act it calls for a silent film — which might be tailor-made for Mr. Kentridge, who is as well known for his videos as he is for his drawings, sculptures and tapestries....

“Those were things that kind of easily drew me to it,” said Mr. Kentridge, who explained that his “Lulu” was being inspired by German Expressionism, Weimar cinema (including, of course, “Pandora’s Box,” the G. W. Pabst version of the Lulu story starring Louise Brooks), Max Beckmann drypoints depicting brothels and the like, and other art projects he is working on. “But boy, there’s a lot of other stuff as well.”
How much Brooks' role in Pandora's Box leaves its mark on Kentridge's opera remains to be seen. The New York Times went on to add, "A funny but nightmarish section of a silent film shot in Johannesburg featured a black-and-white montage of, among other things, a man smoking a comically large cigar as gunshot wounds appear on his chest; a Louise Brooks-like Lulu figure holding a pistol spewing a stream of smoke; a dancing policeman; a judge with the overdone eye makeup of the silent-film era; a very creepy doctor; and a syringe oozing smoke."

As Louise Brooks / Lulu devotees know, Berg's opera, Lulu, was based on the Lulu plays by Frank Wedekind, which also served as basis for the G.W. Pabst film, Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks. In later years, Berg's widow has stated that the composer had seen the Pabst film; interestingly, he included a filmic element in his opera. How Kentridge stages his version of Berg's early 20th century opera should prove fascinating.

More on this exciting story will be posted as things develop!


The Louise Brooks Society just came across a newspaper article from last month which reported that William Kentridge had visited the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The Eastman House and Rochester were, of course, the film archive and city were Louise Brooks spent the last decades of her life. The article, "William Kentridge, South Africa's best known artist, to visit Rochester," appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on September 17th. The plot thickens.

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