Thursday, June 28, 2018

Stanley Mouse portrait of Louise Brooks up for auction

A portrait of Louise Brooks by Stanley Mouse will be up for auction next month. The portrait is being sold by Heritage Auctions as part of their Movie Posters Signature Auction (Dallas #7181) being held July 28-29. More information HERE.

From the auction site: Louise Brooks by Stanley Mouse (2000). Signed Original Oil Portrait Painting (30" X 30").
Known for his psychedelic artwork of the 1960s and 1970s, Stanley Mouse has created a vast arsenal of images that moved beyond the popular artwork for such bands as the Grateful Dead and Journey over his forty years as an artist. He was a long time collaborator with The Family Dog and Bill Graham productions, as well as coming together with other artists of that movement such as Alton Kelley, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, and Wes Wilson to create the Berkeley Bonaparte Distribution Agency. This beautiful portrait of actress Louise Brooks in black and white acrylic paint captures the iconic image of the actress as the symbol of the flapper girl of the 1920s and her popular bobbed haircut. The canvas stretched painting is in fantastic shape with only the faintest of edge war from being handled. A great unconventional collectors item for fans of Stanley Mouse. Mint.


Estimate: $2,500 - $5,000.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Another post-1929 Pandora's Box screening is found!

When I wrote in my last post that I hoped the record of additional post-1929 screenings of Pandora's Box would be found one-day, I didn't suspect another would be found so soon.

The 1929 Louise Brooks film debuted in Germany at the beginning of the year, and eventually made its way to the United states by the end of the year.

As I noted in that previous post, "The Lost History of Pandora's Box in the United States," newspapers didn't list every film showing every day, and some theaters -- especially smaller theaters -- didn't advertise every day or even at all. Accordingly, exhibition records, which are often incomplete and inexact, sometimes need to be pieced together through various sources.

What I found was the record of another showing of Pandora's Box in New York City which, in all likelihood, could be the first post-1929 screening in NYC. I found the record of its happening in an unlikely publication, which all things considered, makes perfect sense. That publication was New Yorker Volkszeitung, a German language newspaper serving the city. This screening took place at the Acme Theater on Times Square on May 10, 11, and 12, 1930.

Here is the advertisement, and the "proof" of yet another post-1929 / pre-1958 screening of Pandora's Box.


p.s. I emailed the staff of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin house asking about the screening of films there in the 1930s, in particular their 1934 screening of Pandora's Box. They emailed back saying they would look into it!

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Lost History of Pandora's Box in the United States

It is widely believed that Pandora's Box was first shown in the United States at the 55th Street playhouse in December of 1929. It is also long been believed that the first post-1929 American screening of the Louise Brooks' film took place on June 9, 1958 at the Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

The long, almost 30 year gap in the film's American exhibition record is explained by a couple of widely held assumptions. One is that the film was poorly received when it debuted in New York City in late 1929, and, with sound films dominating American screens at the time, there was little if any demand for silent films from Germany. The second is that prior to 1960 the Eastman House had the only known American print of the film.*

Both assumptions are incorrect.

Just a few days ago I uncovered new information which adds a number of previously unknown details to the film's otherwise sparse exhibition history in America.

My first discovery was a clipping and a listing for what could be or was the first screening of Pandora's Box in the United States. A brief item in the Jersey Journal on November 1, 1929 states the film would open the following day, on Saturday, November 2 at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City. That's nearly a month before it was believed to have opened. I also came across a November 3 listing (shown below) in the New York Daily News, suggesting the film, under the title Box of Pandora, was playing that day.

But then the records stopped, as if the film had stopped showing after just a day or two (if it did in fact show at all). The 55th Street Playhouse -- an art house which specialized in foreign films -- replaced Pandora's Box with Secrets of Nature, second series, an UFA Production.


In all likelihood, the reason Box of Pandora stopped showing just after it had reportedly opened was censorship. As is well known and documented elsewhere, this once controversial film was subject to censorship not only in Europe, but also in the United States. By the time the film (re)premiered on November 30th (or December 1 or 2 -- I have found newspaper clippings suggesting each date as the probable new opening date), nearly a third of it, by various accounts, was missing. The 55th Street Playhouse, the theater that debuted and widely advertised the film (including to NYC's non-English speaking population), projected a statement lamenting the film had been cut. The theater also apologized for the “added saccharine ending” in which Lulu joins the Salvation Army.





Nevertheless, Pandora's Box, or Box of Pandora as it was sometimes titled in advertisements and listing from the time, enjoyed an extended run. Despite its incomplete state and the generally poor reviews, the film did well, so much so the New York Sun reported Pandora’s Box “ . . . has smashed the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse’s box office records. It will therefore be held for another week.” In fact, the film played about two weeks (at a time most films only played one), with the last known screening taking place on December 13, 1929, according to a listing in the Brooklyn Standard Union. (As newspapers didn't list every film showing every day, and some theaters -- especially smaller theaters -- didn't advertise every day, these records may not be exact, and exhibition records sometimes need to be pieced together through various sources.)


After that, it has long been believed, Pandora’s Box fell into obscurity and was not shown again in the United States until James Card screened the film in 1958 at the Eastman House's Dryden Theater  in Rochester, New York.

Some ten or so years ago, and quite by chance, I stumbled across a few clippings related to a 1931 screening of Pandora's Box in Newark, New Jersey. I had been scrolling through microfilm looking for material on It Pays to Advertise or God's Gift to Women (both 1931 releases) when I came across a brief article and a couple of advertisements for a screening of the G.W. Pabst film at Newark's Little theater, starting May 16.



These two advertisements contain some interesting details. They note, for instance, that the film was shown with English titles and with synchronized, "thrilling sound effects"! While the nature of these sub-titles and sound effects is unknown - they suggest there was at least one print prepared sometime after 1929 for American exhibition. Just as interesting is the fact that the film was advertised for “Adults Only.” Like the 55th Street Playhouse in NYC, the Little theatre in Newark was a rep-house or art house which typically showed foreign films and travel films, but, it was not above showing what some considered sensational fair.

As mentioned earlier, a few days ago I found three more instances of the exhibition of Pandora's Box in the United States. One predates the 1931 Newark screening mentioned above, while the other two follow it.

On January 26, 1930, as Box of Pandora, the film opened at another Little Theater, this one in  Baltimore, Maryland. The film, a silent version which was promoted as an "Ultra-Sophisticated Drama," ran for one week, until February 1, 1930. In writing about the film, a critic for one of the Baltimore newspapers thought it worthwhile and well handled, though felt it suffered from cuts made by the Maryland Board of Motion Picture Censors. (Does anyone know if the records of the Maryland Board are extant or accessible?)


Four years after it debuted in New York City, Box of Pandora returned to the Big Apple, this time to the 5th Ave. Theater (Broadway at 28th St.) starting on December 5, 1933. Again billed as an "adults only" film and tagged with the words "Sin Lust Evil!" -- it ran (continuously between 9:30 am to 11:00 pm) for three days, through December 7. This time (see below), the film, seemingly, has fallen into near exploitation fair. And notably, neither Brooks' not Pabst's names are mentioned.


The third instance of a screening of Pandora's Box which I recently came across is one of the most fascinating! I didn't find an advertisement, only this passing reference in the Wisconsin State Journal, which was published in Madison.


Remarkably, this Sunday playhouse program took place on May 6, 1934 at Taliesin, the one-time home, studio, school, and country estate of Frank Lloyd Wright. Built by the famed architect and located in southwestern Wisconsin near Spring Green (about 50 miles from Madison), Taliesin served as Wright's home at the time, with its playhouse acting as a local rep-house which showed foreign and art films. (I found listings for other movies having shown there in 1934, but no mention as to whether or not Wright attended these screenings.) This version of the Pabst film, termed "an outstanding German production," was shown with English subtitles.

Evidently, from the newly uncovered records noted above, there was one or possibly two or more prints of Pandora's Box (one silent with English subtitles, another with synchronized sound effects?) in circulation in the United States in the early 1930s. If I were to guess, I would suggest that this print or these prints were likely circulated by a distributor which served the art-house or rep-house circuit. (One such distributor was Moviegraphs -- the exchange that handled distribution of Pandora’s Box in New York state in 1929; in 1932, it applied for a new exhibition license for the film.)

Admittedly, there was little interest in Pandora's Box in the United States in the 1930s. The four exhibition records I have uncovered so far may be the only instances of the film having been shown in the United States in the 1930s. Or there may be others, like a one-off screening at a University. Maybe other records will be found one day, and the remarkable, lost history of Pandora's Box in the United States will be further revealed.




*  (This assumption, that there was only one print of Pandora's Box in the United States prior to 1960, begs the question as to what happened to the copy of the film which Iris Barry deemed of little value and infamously rejected adding to the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1943.)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Louise Brooks Stars In Pandora's Box in Chattanoooga, TN on June 28

Heritage House, 1428 Jenkins Road in Chattanoooga, Tennessee will show the 1929 Louise Brooks film, Pandora's Box, on Thursday, June 28. There will be two showings, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. There is no cost and light refreshments will be provided.

The Chattanooogan newspaper ran a short piece, describing the film as such:
In the film which made her a household name, Cult Goddess Louise Brooks plays the liberated Lulu, an irresistible vamp whose siren call lures all around her to their doom in a whirlpool of lust and greed.

Far ahead of the tastes of the time, the film initially received scathing reviews due to the transgressive sexuality portrayed onscreen.

However, for contemporary viewers, Pandora’s Box exudes a smoky sensuality in every frame and is now regarded as a masterpiece. Boasting a 90 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and presented in German with English subtitles.
 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Costumes in Modern Dance’s Attic include those worn by Louise Brooks

There is a BIG, must read, illustrated article in the June 19th New York Times about Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn and their costumes, which are being put on display for the first time ever. Gia Kourlas' excellent piece, "The Costumes in Modern Dance’s Attic," looks at a forthcoming exhibit, "Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940," at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) in Williamstown, Massachusetts. 

 The article begins with a mention of Louise Brooks, and ends with a couple of illustrations and a couple of paragraphs focusing on one of Brooks' Denishawn costumes. Brooks joined Denishawn when she was 15 years old, and was a member of its touring company during its 1922-1923 and 1923-1924 seasons. (Brooks leaving home to join Denishawn is also at the heart of a forthcoming film from PBS Masterpiece, The Chaperone, starring Elizabeth McGovern as the title character and Haley Lu Richardson as the teenage Brooks.) The New York Times article (which links to the Louise Brooks Society website), starts this way:
The modern dance tree has abundant roots, and two of its thickest and oldest belong to Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Their Denishawn company and school in Los Angeles, which lasted from 1914 to ’29, toured the world with a new spirit of dance — barefoot and weighted, exotic and spiritual. They were celebrities of their day....

As for their students? One was the beautiful, young Louise Brooks. Another, more important for the art form, was the pathbreaking choreographer Martha Graham.
According to the Williams College Museum of Art press office, "Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940 explores the contributions of Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn and the iconic Ruth St. Denis to American modern dance. Gathering over 350 materials, including more than 30 costumes and accessories, over 200 photographs, five original antique costume trunks, and a dozen original artworks from both the Jacob’s Pillow Archives and Williams College Special Collections, the exhibition contextualizes the pioneering work of Shawn and St. Denis within the scope of American art history through artifacts that have never been seen before. Dance We Must will be on view at Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) from June 29 through November 11, 2018."


As the New York Times notes, the Brooks’ costume shown above is an authentic dress from the Hopi tribe made of wool and decorated with colorful embroidery. Brooks wore it to great acclaim in a Native American-themed piece, "The Feather of the Dawn" (significantly the first North American Indian ballet ever created for an American audience), in which she was featured opposite Denishawn founder Ted Shawn. Martha Graham thought Brooks stood out in this piece, and so did newspaper critics across the country. The New York Times article has a color close-up of the costume.

In the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties, Denishawn was the leading modern dance troupe in America. Through touring the United States and the world, they brought modern dance to the masses. They also influenced a generation of dancers including Martha Graham, widely considered one of the greatest American dancers of the 20th century. Certainly, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn deserve greater recognition as modern dance pioneers; the Williams College Museum of Art exhibit is a good start. I, for one, would like to see Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn profiled by PBS as part of American Masters.


To learn more about Louise Brooks and her time with Denishawn, check out THIS PAGE on the Louise Brooks Society website. 

 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Adam Aston melancholic songs with appearances by Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Anita Berber and others

Here are a couple of melancholic songs by Adam Aston, a Polish singer, actor, and pianist of Jewish origin.

First up is the 1935 song "Miasteczko Bełz," sung by Adam Aston, this video with illustrations by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz. Observant viewers may notice a rare drawing of Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks.


And here is another number sung by Aston, a Polish tango from 1933 titled " Czemuś o niej zapomniał?" ("Why Have You Forsaken Her?"). Observant viewers may notice images of Anita Berber in this video. Berber starred in The Story of Dida Ibsen (1918), the film of the sequel to the earlier, pre-Brooks version of The Diary of a Lost Girl (1918)


And finally, here is another polish Tango by Aston, "Fordanserka" (A Gigolette). Observant viewers may notice more swell video imagery.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Beggars of Life screens in Boulder, Colorado on August 15

Beggars of Life, the sensational 1928 Louise Brooks film (directed by William Wellman), will be shown in Boulder, Colorado on August 15 with live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. More information can be found HERE.



"An American silent film classic, Beggars of Life (1928) stars Louise Brooks as a train-hopping hobo who disguises herself as a boy to survive. After escaping her violent stepfather, she befriends a kindly drifter (Richard Arlen). They ride the rails together to escape the police and reach Canada, until their fateful encounter with blustery Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) and his rambunctious band of hoboes. What happens is an incredibly cinematic event of daring and desperate conflict – atop a moving train. Based on the memoir of real-life hobo Jim Tully, and directed with adventuresome verve by William Wellman, Beggars of Life is a must-see."

Total running time: 100 minutes

Want to learn more about the film? Last Spring saw the release of my well reviewed new book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film, and this past Summer saw the release of a new DVD / Blu-ray of the film from Kino Lorber. (The DVD features a commentary by your's truly, Thomas Gladysz, as well as an outstanding musical score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.) If you haven't secured your own copy of either the book or the DVD / Blu-ray, why not do so today?Each is an essential addition to your Louise Brooks collection.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

First ever Louise Brooks Society blog ran on this day 16 years ago

On this day sixteen years ago, in 2002, the first ever Louise Brooks Society blog appeared on LiveJournal. To mark the occasion, here is that first post:

In search of the perfect bob, in the Philippines

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, from Manila, recently ran a story titled "In search of the perfect bob." In it, the reporter discusses her own quest for the haircut, as well as a bit of it's history.

It has been a long debate on who actually started the classic bob. But American Hairdresser magazine, in an article on March 1, 2007, “The Way We Were,” credited dancer Irene Castle for the bob, which used to be called “Castle Bob” in 1915.

There was also the tale of an unpopular girl whose life changed after she got her new bob, as told in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” published in the Saturday Evening Post in May 1920.

Others credit the bob to Coco Chanel or the American dancer and actress Louise Brooks, with her ebony black, blunt bob with bangs.

Anna Wintour has been sporting the page-boy bob since she was 14.

Why is the ’do still popping up to this day?

The popularity of the bob knows no bounds. Neither does its identification with Louise Brooks. Both are a worldwide phenomena!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Louise Brooks and the Northwest Poultry Journal

Obviously, someone at the Northwest Poultry Journal had a thing for Louise Brooks back in 1928. Why else would they have run this non-poultry related item, except for a few giggles and laughs, or clucks and cackles.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Anthony Bourdain and Louise Brooks

Anthony Bourdain had a thing for Louise Brooks. Over the years, he evoked her name time and again.

In the introduction to My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals (2007), Bourdain was asked who he wished his dining companions might be at his last meal. His answer was telling. "Given that I'm ostensibly facing imminent death, I'd probably prefer being alone.  But assuming heroic sangfroid, an eclectic bunch of dinner companions from times present and past might keep the conversation interesting: Graham Greene, Kim Philby, Ava Gardner, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, Iggy Pop, Martin Scorsese, Gabrielle Hamilton, Nick Tosches, Muhammad Ali, and Carole Lombard."

That mention caught my attention, and when I met Bourdain -- ever so briefly in 2008 -- I asked him about his interest in Brooks. He smiled, and asked "Wasn't she beautiful?"

The celebrated chef, author, television personality and travel documentarian -- who took his own life on June 8th -- was well known for his love of popular music. Less known was his love of world cinema and classic films, and Louise Brooks. In 2017, Bourdain was asked to name a few of his favorite films from the Criterion Collection. And among those he chose were works by John Huston, Orson Welles, and Stanley Kubrick. Another of Bourdain's picks was the only silent film to make his list, Pandora's Box (1929). Bourdain's brief comment on this pick amplifies his interest in the star of that classic silent film: "Two words. Louise Brooks. Never has a more beautiful, intelligent, quirky, sexy, uniquely commanding character graced the screen."

The "last supper" or "ideal dinner" question was one that Bourdain was asked with some regularity. And though his answer might vary, one name always was always present, Louise Brooks. Back in 2006, Washington Post readers put questions to the celebrated chef.
Rockville, Md.: Looking back at all the places you've traveled and meals you've had, what would be your dream menu and who would you invite?

Anthony Bourdain: I would eat at the St. John restaurant in London. An all offal meal prepared by Fergus Henderson. Attending would be a young Ava Gardner, Louise Brooks, Kim Philby, Orson Welles, Richard Helms, Iggy Pop, Graham Greene and Martin Scorsese.
In 2008, www.seriouseats.com wrote. "When asked by the New York Post's Page Six this weekend what his food fantasy would be, Anthony Bourdain replied: 'Chef Marco Pierre White and Keith Richards would be throwing something on the barbie in a backyard in Red Hook.' Attendees would include, among others, silent film actress Louise Brooks (allowed to speak, presumably) along with Orson Welles and the "CIA director of counterintelligence."

In 2013,  Andrew Zimmern interviewed Bourdain for Delta Sky magazine. Bourdain named a few of his ideal dinner companions: "Orson Welles is there, for sure. Ava Gardner, Louise Brooks, Iggy, Marco Pierre White, my wife, she’s funny. Daniel Boulud, Éric Ripert, that would be fun. Nigella, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken and Lidia Bastianich, because they’re old friends. That would be a mother****ing dinner party right there. It would be an interesting and outrageous bunch."

In 2014, Modern Luxury magazine asked Bourdain which six iconic figures would be at his dream dinner party? His answer, "Orson Welles; actress Louise Brooks; British intelligence officer Kim Philby, who was actually a KGB spy; Ava Gardner; Iggy Pop; and movie director John Houston."

In 2016, Bourdain went on Reddit to answer questions, where he was asked if you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be? His answer, "Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, and James Angleton the former head of capital intelligence for the CIA. There's a couple of questions I'd like to ask him. They're all dead unfortunately. "

In 2015, Bourdain visited my former place of employ, the Arion Press. He was there to check out the press -- one of the last letterpress printers in the United States, but also to check out the Arion Press edition of the Lulu plays (the basis for Pandora's Box), as illustrated by artist William Kentridge. It was a book I suggested Arion publish, having known of the artist's interest in Louise Brooks as well as press' desire to work with Kentridge. It seemed a good fit. The result was one of the landmark letterpress editions of the early 21st century.


In a list of notable American memoirists, two names sit near one another under the letter B, Anthony Bourdain and Louise Brooks. Today, I think, they are likely sitting near one another in legend.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Capitolfest set to take place August 10, 11, 12

This year's Capitolfest set to take place August 10, 11, 12 in Rome, New York. This year's tribute star is Ronald Colman, who, if you believe the 1930 issue of Girl's Cinema shown below, had a thing for Louise Brooks, or at least her eyes. In describing his "dream girl," Colman says she must have Louise Brooks' brown eyes. At a later date, on August 1st, this article and the entirety of Colman's thoughts on Brooks and other actress' will be revealed. Meanwhile, for more information on Capitolfest, go to this link HERE.



Friday, June 8, 2018

A Celebration of Louise, Lulu, LouLou, and Lolita in sheet music

A thematic musical follow-up to my previous post, this being a celebration of Louise, Lulu, LouLou, and Lolita in sheet music. First up, every little breeze seems to whisper the 1929 classic "Louise" - Music: Richard A. Whiting / Lyrics: Leo Robin; Albert Willemetz & Charles-Louis Pothier.


Next is "Louisa" - Music: Ursmar V. O. / Lyrics: Marcel Antoine.


From 1911, "Lulu" - Music: Charles de Bucovich / Lyrics: Janor & F. L. Bénech.


And here is, from 1927, "Lulu" - Music: Philippe Parès & Georges Van Parys / Lyrics: Serge Veber.


And from 1914, "Lulu-Fado" - Music: Nicolino Milano / Lyrics: Nihil.


From 1919, "Loulou" - Music: Eugène Rosi / Lyrics: Eugène Joullot.


"Loulou restons chez nous" - Music: Charles Borel-Clerc  / Lyrics: Félix Mortreuil.


And from the 1931 revue A l'eau de Divonne, "Lou-Lou! Cou-Cou! (Lou-Lou)" - Music: Frank Stip /
Lyrics: André Mauprey; Fernand Rouvray; Karl Brüll & Rudolf Eisner.


And let's not forget lovely "Lolita" (Zigeuner, du hast mein Herz gestohlen) - Music: Austin Egen & Franz Grothe / Lyrics: Max-Blot & Jean Cis


We will end this thematic celebration a turn, from 1919, to the side with "Pandora" - Music: Ernest Tompa / Lyrics: Nihil



And from 1930, "Pandora" - Music: Torsten Paban / Lyrics: Rolf Gander


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

More on the music in the 1930 Louise Brooks film, Prix de beaute

At the end of my last post, I mentioned that I spoken with musician Stephen Horne at the recently concluded San Francisco Silent Film Festival. We spoke about Prix de beaute. Stephen and I have a mutual desire to see the silent version of that film released someday, and we chatted about the prospects. Some regard the silent version superior to the more familiar sound version. Stephen, it should be noted, has accompanied the silent version a number of times.

I also mentioned to Stephen that I had recently acquired two more vintage 78 rpm recordings of the theme song to Prix de beaute. These new acquisitions brings my total to nearly a dozen different vintage recording from the film, each by different vocalists. Here are those two additional recordings, which I was lucky enough to purchase in their original papers sleeves. Both came from France.

This first recording, performed by the classical vocalist and one time actress "Mlle Ristori" (Gabrielle Ristori), is a cover version of "Je N'ai qu'un amour ... C'est toi," the film's familiar haunting theme song. There were a number of such recordings issued, mostly in France, but also one in Germany. Another recording, of Ristori singing an operetta, can be heard HERE.


The recording below, by the also little known French singer Helene Caron, is, I believe, the version of "Je N'ai qu'un amout ... C'est toi" which is heard in the film. Sample it HERE.


As Stephen Horne and others have noted, sound, music, and images of sound devices (loud speakers) and musical devices (phonographs) play an important part in Prix de beaute. Remember, this film -- one of the very first French talkies, was issued as the European film industry was transitioning from silent to sound films.


What follows are some excerpts from an interview I did with Stephen in 2013, when he accompanied the silent version of Prix de beaute at the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

TG: What were your impressions of the film ?

SH: I did watch the sound version before the silent screenings that I accompanied. Normally I wouldn’t consider this necessary, but on this occasion it was invaluable. I’m not sure that this restoration is truly the original silent version - I suspect that this doesn’t actually survive intact and what we have is a recreation, using the sound version as a starting point and working backwards, so to speak. I think that both versions have their problems - they’re imperfect gems - but for me the silent version works much better. And there are certain sequences that are sublime.

TG: Were there any special challenges in composing the score for a silent film that is today best known as a sound film?

SH: I think it’s simplest to assume that the audience hasn’t seen the sound version. Obviously several people will have done, but the event should ideally stand on its own terms, as a silent film / live music event. However, there are some challenges that this silent version presents, particularly all the images that specifically reference sound effects: the repeated close-ups of loudspeakers, etc. One has to make a decision about whether to acknowledge them musically, or ‘play through’ them instead.

TG: Music, song and sound are integral to certain passages in the film, especially the film’s climatic ending. Did that prove a challenge?

SH: Unless you’re playing an instrument that can produce comparable sound ‘effects’, I think it’s best to approach these things in a slightly abstract way. In the tango song scene I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of specific elements within the scene - rather than trying to create an impression of vocalizing, for instance. However, the song in the final scene is inescapably important, so I think that I have come up with a rather clever solution to the problem. But you’ll have to wait to find out what that will be!

TG: Were you able to integrate the two songs used in the sound version into your score? If so, how?

SH: See above! But again, I’m largely gearing the performance to people who are coming to this film without having seen the sound version. The songs are not generally known now, so while it’s important that I play a tango when they’re dancing / singing a tango, I don’t think that it has to be the one sung in the sound version. But just wait until the climax...


Monday, June 4, 2018

Louise Brooks at the 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival

I'm back from the recently concluded San Francisco Silent Film Festival. (Read my PopMatters preview of the event on HERE.) I saw some good films, signed copies of my books, and chatted with friends both old and new. I had a good time, despite the fact that no Louise Brooks films were shown this year. However, to the discerning film buff, the actress did have a certain "presence" at the event.

In fact, Brooks was pictured on page eleven of the Festival program, amidst an essay by Nina Fiore titled "Silent but not Silenced: Outsiders Outcasts of Silent Cinema." The image of Brooks is a still from Diary of a Lost Girl, the sensational 1929 German film directed by G.W. Pabst. But what's more, two of the stars of that film were starred in two of the other films shown at this year's event.


One of those stars is Fritz Rasp, who played the ever so creepy pharmacist Meinart in Diary of a Lost Girl. He was featured as the just-as-creepy butterfly collector Stapleton in Der Hund von Baskerville (1929). Based on the famous Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the last silent Holmes story filmed in Europe. It was also the film Rasp made before Diary. Rasp as Stapleton is pictured left - Rasp as Meinart is pictured right.


The other Diary cast member featured in a film at the Festival is Andrews Engelmann, who played the also creepy director of the reform school for girls. His large bald head defined him in that film. At the Festival, he was seen as André von Engelman, a German U-boat commander in Mare Nostrum (1926). And again, his large bald head defined him.


Both of these actors were recognizable to me (and how interesting it was to see them in something else besides Diary), as well as to Ira Resnick, a fellow Louise Brooks devotee and collector and the author of the must have coffee table book, Starstruck. I have known Ira for a few years now, since 2010, when he first came to the Festival. Here is a snapshot of Ira and I, who stopped by to chat during my book signing.


During my book signing, I had the distinct privilege of signing alongside Academy Award honoree Kevin Brownlow, the author of The Parade's Gone By and the film historian who knew Brooks as well as anyone in her later years. Brownlow is legend to those who love silent film, and not surprisingly, he outsold me ten to one. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to see Kevin again. He has been helpful to me, and generous in sharing his material and memories of Brooks.



And that's not all. I spotted Louise Brooks fan art for sale at the merchandise table, and spoke with musician Stephen Horne about Prix de Beaute. We have a mutual desire to see the silent version of that film released, and we chatted about the prospects. Stephen has accompanied the silent version a number of times, and he told me about an usual UK screening where the theater brought in a female vocalist to sing the film's lyrical theme song. Perhaps one day....


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