Thursday, April 29, 2010

A real work of art


Louise Brooks' beauty and physical grace lured various artists & writers of the time into a kind-of rhapsodic appreciation of the actress. Brooks was, as well, written about in arts magazines. Here is a full page pictorial on the changing nature of the vamp as played by Brigitte Helm, Lya di Putti, Colleen Moore, Great Garbo, Evelyn Brent and Louise Brooks (seen in a scene with Victor McLaglen). Elsewhere, I've seen references to Brooks as a "junior vamp."

This page comes from the March 15, 1929 issue of L'Art Viviant, a Parisian publication. Along with articles and artwork by Raoul Dufy, Braque, Matisse and others, this issue also includes an article on the "Anatomie de la Star: La Metamorphose de Vampire" about the evolution of film glamour away from the vamp typified by Theda Bara towards more modern-looking temptresses. This issue is currently for sale on eBay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Run You Luscious Lesbian

Louise Brooks fan and now recording artist The GrrrL (aka April Louise McLucas), has just released a rough-and-ready, do-it-yourself CD called Run You Luscious Lesbian. It's a five track disc. This is home-made music. The opening cut, "Black Is The Color (Louise Brooks Hair)," caught my attention. 

To describe this disc as raw would almost be an understatement. It's that, but its also closer to the bone and a hell of a lot more sincere (that's not a bad word) then a lot of the music released today. This is outsider music. This is music which wears its heart on its sleeve.

When asked about her musical leanings, The GrrrL answered, "I'm heavily influenced by artists like PJ Harvey, Carla Bozulich, and Carla Kihlstedt. They all create unique music that resonates with me as an artist. While I consider myself an experimental rock musician, I would be the first to admit that I'm a non-musician because I don't really know the first thing about making music except that I like the sounds I produce. My motto is 'Anyone can make music if they have the passion for it.'"

When asked about the impetus behind "Black Is The Color," the singer / songwriter noted, "Pandora's Box was the first Louise Brooks film I watched. It was soon after I started working at Videoport, an indie video store in Portland, Maine. I was drawn to the cover photo of Louise on the VHS box and took it home one day. That was the beginning of my love of Louise and of silent films. I now run a Silent Film Enthusiasts group here in Maine and am hoping more people will join!"

If you live in Portland, Maine check out this group!

[Louise Brooks visited the city while a member of the Denishawn Dance Company. On Saturday, January 13, 1923 the still teenage Brooks performed, with Martha Graham, and the other members of Denishawn at the City Hall Auditorium in downtown Portland. The company returned later in the same year when on Thursday, October 25 they performed at the city's Exposition Building.]

Run You Luscious Lesbian is April's solo project. She is also a member of local Portland bands like The Monster Demands A Mate, and Ape Vs Panda. The Grrrl began in the winter of 2009, when she recorded her first song, a lesbian take on the traditional song "Salty Dog Blues." (Color photo above by Andy "Space Shark" Keene.)

More about The GrrrL, including a few sample tracks, can be found on the music site,  Reverbnation, or on her myspace page at www.myspace.com/thegrrrlmusic. Her CD - pictured below - comes with a lyric sheet and can be purchased in Portland at Strange Maine, 578 Congress St., or online and directly from the artist at The GrrrL's Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/thegrrrldesigns 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with the Dodge Brothers about Beggars of Life

The Dodge Brothers are renowned for playing the hell out of classic Americana. Described as "wonderful stuff" by British Radio 2 presenter Bob Harris, the group play s an exuberant hybrid of country blues, rockabilly, jug band and skiffle.

Back on April 18th, The Dodge Brothers performed their original score for the 1928 Louise Brooks' film, Beggars of Life. That screening, as well as their musical accompaniment to it, was by all accounts very well attended and just as well received. It was part of the British Silent Film Festival taking place in the UK. [For more about the event and reaction to it, see the April 11th LBS blog and comments.)

Recently, Mike Hammond - the group's singer (and silent film expert) took time out to answer a few questions about their score, their music, Louise Brooks, and silent film. [Pictured is vintage sheet music for the 1928 film.]

1)    The Dodge Brothers accompanied the Louise Brooks' film, Beggars of Life, on April 18th. For those not familiar with the Dodge Brothers, what can you tell us about the group?

Well here is the short version. The Dodge Brothers are a four-piece band modeled on the skiffle and jug bands of the 20s and 30s. Each of us plays more than one instrument, Aly plays acoustic guitar and mandolin, Alex plays washboard, snare and wine bottle, I play guitar, banjo, piano and tap dance while Mark plays double bass, harmonicas, accordion and is soon to unveil his prowess on the bag pipes. We started from a love of the music that leads up to Elvis, which ranges widely from railroad songs, murder ballads to ragged street blues. We got going learning ten songs (‘Frankie and Johnny’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ among others) and over the years we have amassed about 150 songs. A couple of years ago we started to write our own songs that resulted in our album Louisa and the Devil. Mark started this by bringing in ‘Church House Blues’ and saying it was by an old jug band. We still do that; if it fools the rest of us into believing its authentic then we play it. (Did I say short version?)

2)    With that said, what can one expect  - musically speaking, from your score?

The score for the film will draw from those old songs from the period. I am a silent film scholar and I know that Paramount had the most film theatres in the rural areas so it was not uncommon for them to release different versions of films, one for the big cities and one for the rural towns. I have kept this in mind when thinking about the score. The lovely Troubadors version of ‘Beggars of Life’ was meant as a theme for the film and we will be incorporating a version of that but combining it with motifs which call up railroad songs that were popular during the period, particularly those by Jimmie Rogers. Lots of those songs are really about hobos riding the rails and they have a wonderful wistfulness about them, a mixture of loneliness and humor that both fits the film and the way we play.

3)    Beggars of Life is unlike any of Brooks' earlier American films. Had you seen it before? And what were your impressions?

You’re so right about it being an exceptional Brooks film. Most people associate her with the Jazz Age flapper-type but in this film she plays a girl on the run, dressed as a boy! None of us had seen the film before and it was our fifth member, the fabulous pianist and silent film composer Neil Brand, who drew it to our attention. Brooks really ‘pops’ out of the screen and holds her own with Wallace Beery, which is no mean feat. The tension that is generated by her masquerade as a boy amongst a lot of rough hobos is tight as a drum. There is a real sense of menace and danger from the beginning where ‘The Girl’ (Louise) takes matters into her own hands with a firearm. She reminds me of Louisa in our song ‘The Ballad of Frank Harris’. Maybe that’s what I really like about this film, she is self-sufficient and an equal partner with Arlen. And she can shoot a gun! 

4)    Are you a fan of Louise Brooks?

Oh yes and not only because of the fact that she is the most compelling of screen stars. She is intuitive as an actress and gives the sense that she is being rather than acting. I do think Pabst understood that best. However, I am as big a fan of her writing. She is incisive and brutal in her analysis of Hollywood and, perhaps most touching, of herself.

5)    When did you first come across the actress?

I can’t speak for the rest of the guys. I first saw her in an undergraduate film class in the 80s. It was Pandora’s Box. I remember thinking; of course these guys are giving away everything for her, who wouldn’t?

6)    Louise Brooks has been getting the musical treatment of late. Rufus Wainwright, who will be touring the UK in the coming months, just released a musical tribute to Louise Brooks titled All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. And of course, it was preceded by earlier rock and pop musical tributes by the likes of Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark (OMD), Marillion, Australian Jen Anderson, Soul Coughing, and others - even the cartoonist Robert Crumb. Where might your score fit into this history?

Well all of these tributes are really great and it’s nice to be in their company. I haven’t heard Rufus Wainwright’s but I guess in this history we will probably be closer to R. Crumb’s. We are trying to bring a flavour of the kind of music that might have been played in the rural areas of the US to this film. Remember that the orchestras in most of those theatres at the time would have been as small as a quartet. They also played to their audience who would have known the railroad songs as well as the popular tunes of the day so they would mix them up. We’ll be doing something similar and hopefully support the wide-ranging emotions in this film, from lonesome and sad, to tender, to fast action and gunplay. Louise does it all here and, come to think of it, that’s a good description of The Dodge Brothers’ music too.


The Dodge Brothers are Mike Hammond (lead guitar, lead vocals), Mark Kermode (bass, harmonica, vocals), Aly Hirji (rhythm guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Alex Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion). More about the group can be found at http://www.dodgebrothers.co.uk as well as http://www.facebook.com/dodgebrothers and
http://www.myspace.com/dodgebrothers. And as well http://www.youtube.com/dodgebrothersuk

Friday, April 23, 2010

Don't you just love that purse?

This uncommon image of Louise Brooks, holding a rather nifty purse, is currently for sale on eBay. I like it. I like the purse, and I like the hat. And, that is a smart jacket she has on. Notice the cuffs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Louise Brooks art #3

This is the third installment of an irregular series of posts highlighting "Louise Brooks art" - paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, cartoons, sculpture, etc . . . . all featuring the silent film star Louise Brooks, or at least in some way inspired by the actress.

Emily Clark is a college student in the Pacific Northwest whose current Facebook status update reads: "Emily Clark is really good at recruiting her professors to Team Louise! My history prof is now hooked on Brooksie." 

Obviously, Emily is an enthuisiastic fan of the actress, as well as a member of the Louise Brooks Society. That's her in the picture to the left, holding a copy of a book readers of this blog should be familair with. Of it, Emily has written, "I'm reading the biography by Barry Paris, which is the most beautifully written biography that I've ever read BY FAR." 

Besides all this, Emily is also someone who likes to draw and sketch, and so, on this installment of "Louise Brooks Art," I thought I would feature a few of her drawings of Louise Brooks. On Emily's webpages on the deviantArt website (her "penname" is ladyjazzkiller), Emily has a small gallery of Louise Brooks related art. Here is one of my favorites. Be sure and check out the rest of her work.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Louise Brooks, about to take the plunge

This little seen picture of Louise Brooks is currently for sale on eBay. I am not certain, but it might have been taken at the actresses' Laurel Canyon home nestled in the hills above Los Angeles. If so, it was probably taken during the time Brooks was married to Eddie Sutherland.


The seller, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina notes that the image had been printed in Cruzeiro Magazine in the 1920's. That publication came out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Louise Brooks shines in Starstruck

If you haven't already seen it or heard about it, the big new film book of the year is Ira M. Resnick's Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood (Abbeville).

This gorgeous, over-sized, full color, heavily illustrated, beautifully printed, weighs-a-ton, hardback coffee table book spans the years 1912 to 1962. It includes many rare and wonderful examples of silent era movie art within its 272 pages. All together, the book features vivid reproductions of 250 posters and forty stills. To see some examples, follow the various links contained at the end of this blog. Each of the linked-to pages contains a slide show, picture gallery, or nice selection of images!.

Starstruck includes rare posters and lobby cards featuring the likes of Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich and many others. AND, I'm also pleased to report, Louise Brooks - whom the author describes as "one of my all-time favorite actresses."

Resnick, who made his name as a photographer and the owner of the Motion Picture Arts Gallery (the first gallery devoted exclusively to the art of the movies) writes about his "passion" for Brooks and relays a couple of anecdotes behind his acquisition of some truly marvelous lobby cards, posters, one sheets, and stills. For those keeping count, there are ten drop-dead gorgeous Brooks-related images in the book. And, courtesy of the publisher, a few of them are included here. I plan on including a couple more in future blogs.

One of the centerpieces of the book and of Resnick's self-described "Louise Brooks collection" was a 1929 Austrian film poster for Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. This unique object promotes the opening The Diary of a Lost Girl in Vienna on September 27, 1929 - prior to its better known debut in Berlin in October of the same year.

Resnick found the poster in California, and writes about its exceptional draftsmanship and Brooks' "confrontational and submissive" pose. Resnick adds, "For years it was the centerpiece of my collection, the first thing that a visitor would see upon entering the gallery. It was one of my most precious possessions."

However, after ten years and the pleasure of having owned it for so long, Resnick sold it to a private collector for the record setting sum of $80,000. (A modern poster adapting Brooks' provocative image and issued by the Motion Picture Arts Gallery in the 1980's is also included in this new book. The poster reproduced in Starstruck is signed by the actress with the inscription, "To Ira Resnick love Louise Brooks, June 16, 83.")

To learn more about this exceptional title, visit the publisher's page at www.abbeville.com. Or, check out these informative reviews of the book at Women's Wear Daily (WWD) and Today'sVintage. Also, DON'T MISS this short BBC video which includes Resnick and others. (Louise Brooks is its secret star.)


Upcoming events with the Ira Resnick will take place at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles on May 21st at 6 pm, and at the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre in Rochester, New York on June 11th at 8:00 pm. For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ira Resnick will be attending this summers' San Francisco Silent Film Festival. (Their blog also has a write-up on the book.) Copies of Starstruck will be on sale at the Festival, and Resnick will be signing books on Saturday, July 17th.

If you can't wait till then, or can't make one of these events, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood is available on-line or through independent bookstores.

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