Friday, June 24, 2016

My recent trip to London in search of Louise Brooks (pre-Brexit)

[This post was originally run on May 17th.] A small part of my recent trip to London was devoted to silent film and Louise Brooks. I am glad I went when I did, back in April before the Brexit vote, though friends and others I encountered (cabbies, people on the street), were all talking about it . . . .

Most memorably, I had the chance to visit with film historian Kevin Brownlow, and we talked about LB for two hours! He shared his memories of the actress, whom he interviewed twice. And, he also showed me some of the images and clippings he had gathered over the years. I told Kevin of my intention to track down Brooks' London residence, he and shared this item with me. The writing is Brooks, and the image of her London apartment building dates from much later, perhaps the 1960s or 1970s.



As most fans will know, Louise Brooks lived in London for a few months in late 1924 and early 1925. I went past Brooks' one time apartment building, which is located at 49A Pall Mall; the address no longer exists. (It has, seemingly, been absorbed into 50 Pall Mall.) Here is an image of the building today, along with one of me at that spot.




About a 15 minute walk  from 49A Pall Mall is the Cafe de Paris at 3 Coventry Street. LB danced there in 1924, and that's where where Picadilly with Anna May Wong was filmed (in part) in 1929. I was fortune enough to enjoy a private tour of the famed Cafe, which I guess looks a good deal like the place Brooks danced in long ago. Here is a picture of me outside the club, along with some interior shots.











Another highlight was visiting the Cinema Museum, which is housed in an old Lambeth workhouse where Charlie Chaplin one lived; the night we visited, Kevin Brownlow was introducing his print of Man, Woman and Sin (1929), starring John Gilbert & Jeanne Eagles. It is an especially good film. If you are ever in London, be sure and visit this fascinating place. Here are a few snapshots from the night we visited.







And, I did some Louise Brooks research at both the British Library and BFI (British Film Institute) library. At the British Library, I searched through microfilm of some issues of London Life from around the time Brooks was dancing at the Cafe de Paris. It was full of articles and images of London's nightlife, including showgirls, gossip and bits on movie stars. Though promising, I didn't turn-up anything on the then newly opened Cafe de Paris nor Brooks' tenure there. I one thing I did find was the issue of Boy's Cinema which features a fictionalization of Now We're in the Air, Brooks' 1927 film with Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton.





I visited the BFI and the BFI library, where I did more research. I was looking for a handful of hard-to-find articles about Brooks published in various British, French and German publications. I managed to unearth a number of pieces which I found in rare issues of publications like The Astorian, The Stoll, Sequences, Film Dope, and Flickers. I wish I had had more time to explore their holdings, as I know I could have found more material.

I also noticed Brooks had something of a presence at the BFI itself. I spotted copies of both the Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl DVDs in the BFI giftshop, and, I noticed Brooks' image was included on some promotional pieces. I also purchased a copy of Mark Kermode's book The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, which contains a few pages on Beggars of Life.





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