Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's effect on the Louise Brooks Society and silent film

On January 19th, 2017, the Trump administration said that it would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Trump also said he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees both PBS and NPR. All together, such funding represents a minuscule portion - a reported 0.004% - of 2016 federal spending.

The Louise Brooks Society stands against such actions. Each would disastrously impact the arts and American culture, as well as silent film preservation and exhibition -- including the films of Louise Brooks.

Over the years, the Public Broadcasting System has shown silent films on television, as well as documentaries about silent films. I remember seeing Kevin Brownlow's magnificent Hollywood series on PBS in the early 1980's. That was my first sustained exposure to silent film and film history. Looking back, it changed my life. What's more, having examined old television broadcast records, I have also been able to find that PBS screened Pandora's Box on television a handful of times in the 1980's. I wonder how many individuals saw a great actress like Louise Brooks for the first time, and it somehow impacted their life?

National Public Radio has, as well, covered many news stories related to silent film - stories likely not covered in the mainstream media. I myself, as the director of the Louise Brooks Society, have appeared on NPR stations across the country talking about the actress, most recently on WXXI in Rochester, New York. Without such attention to less popular art forms like silent film, American culture would be a much lesser thing.

Similarly, both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities grant funds to various film festivals, including silent film festivals, as well as the specialized musicians who perform at them. And what's more, eliminating such funds would eliminate funds that go towards silent film restoration and silent film preservation, DVD releases, as well as the researching and writing and publishing of articles and books (and the making of documentary films) on silent film.

I don't want to live in a world where the cultural standard is some crappy reality television show. The arts enrich our lives. All of our lives, whether we get a grant or not.

The most important thing individuals can do is to keep informed and to support arts organizations and the media that gives coverage to the arts. This article has a number of great suggestions. 

Another thing we can do is to sign petitions against cutting funding. Here is a link to a petition on the website asking that funding not be cut to the NEA and the NEH. I think others are going around as well. As we know, Louise Brooks was a Denishawn dancer, an actress, and a great reader of books. I, for one, feel she would be against eliminating funding of the arts.

Consider this: When the Nazi's came to power in Germany in the early 1930's, they too moved to control society by controlling culture. In fact, Margarete Bohme's sensational 1905 book, The Diary of a Lost Girl, which can be seen as a feminist social critique of German society and had remained in print since it was first published 25 years earlier, was driven out of print by right wing groups in the early1930's. Additionally, some of G.W. Pabst's films - like Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora's Box - were suppressed. No one wants to see that happen again!

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