Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reading her diary

Cine-Miroir was a French film magazine which often ran near full page images of actors and actresses on their back cover. Here is one of Louise Brooks on the back of the December 5, 1930 issue. It depicts Brooks as Thymain in a scene from Diary of a Lost Girl (1929).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Valeska Gert (Diary of a Lost Girl) helped inspire punks

Valeska Gert, the dancer and actress who gave a memorable performance as a sadistic reform school disciplinarian in the 1929 Louise Brooks film, Diary of a Lost Girl, was not only a precursor of performance art, but helped inspire punks in Germany (especially Nina Hagen). That's according to a new article in Deutsche Welle.

That must-read article, "Germany's forgotten performer Valeska Gert helped inspire punk," is occasioned by a new biography of Gert, as well as a first ever exhibit about the actress and dancer at the National Gallery's Hamburger Bahnhof.

Besides her appearance in Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl, she also appeared in his Joyless Street (1925) and Threepenny Opera (1931) - as well as later on in films by the likes of Fellini and Fassbinder.

In the late 1920's, Gert unveiled one of her most enduring works of "performance art" (though it wasn't called that then). Entitled "Pause," it was an interpretative anti-dance piece performed between reels in cinemas; it was designed to draw attention to stillness and serenity. It reminds me of John Cage's 1952 composition 4′33″, the three movements of which are performed without a single note being played.

Valeska Gert's transdisciplinary art is paid tribute to for the first time in the National Gallery's Hamburger Bahnhof. Gert (1892-1978) is one of this city's great figures, albeit one who remains vastly underestimated to this day. Her art, according to the gallery, "probes the structures and effects of perception" - where it is placed alongside others that also tackle the phenomenon of perception, such as Marcel Duchamp. Even as far back as the 1920s, Valeska Gert's conceptual works anticipated happenings, current trends in performance art, popular, small-stage entertaining arts, free improvisation and many other developments in contemporary art and modern music.

In exile in the United States in the 1940's, she opened the Beggar Bar in New York, where Julian Beck, Judith Malina, and Jackson Pollock worked for her. Tennessee Williams also worked for her for a short time as a busboy.

If Louise Brooks is the secret muse of the 20th century, is Valeska Gert the great missing link in 20th century culture?


[ Here is a link to Gert's Wikipedia entry, which contains additional details. And here is a link to a German language page which includes an interview with Wolfgang Müller, the author of the new book on Gert. Use your web translation function to get the gist of it. ]

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Encounter with F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

In June, the 59 year old writer F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre took his own life. He set his book and paper-filled New York City apartment on fire and died in the resulting blaze. It was an ugly ending to what was certainly a sad, even tormented life. On Sunday, the New York Times ran a long article on the enigmatic, Scottish-born author.

Little is known about him, except that at one point, in order to escape his troubled past, he changed his name to "Fergus MacIntyre." According to Wikipedia, the allusive author acknowledged he took the middle-name of "Gwynplaine" from the protagonist of The Man Who Laughs, the memorable novel by Victor Hugo turned into an equally memorable 1928 film starring Conrad Veidt. In those works, Gwynplaine was the disfigured, always smiling malcontent who later inspired “The Joker” character in Batman.

MacIntyre was best known as a genre author whose sporadic output included science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery stories as well as a science fiction novel and a book of light verse and humorous pieces once praised by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Reportedly, a number of unpublished manuscripts were burned in his apartment fire.

MacIntyre also authored newspaper articles and book reviews, and ghost authored and contributed to other works. According to Wikipedia, MacIntyre “contributed substantial script material” to a 2006 documentary on the silent film actress Theda Bara, The Woman with the Hungry Eyes. It was directed by Hugh Munro Neely, who also directed Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu.

MacIntyre’s reputation in the film community (which is curiously not addressed in the New York Times article) rests on his having written reviews of lost films which he sometimes claimed to have only recently seen. These reviews appeared on IMDb and film message boards, where they live-on to this day.

Such claims, made convincing through MacIntyre’s skills as a writer, drove film historians to distraction. To many in the online film community, he was little more than a prankster playing with the facts while playing a joke on serious film enthusiasts. MacIntyre's claim to have seen various lost films included at least one featuring Louise Brooks, A Social Celebrity (1926).


In the spring of 2006, I emailed MacIntyre regarding his 2002 IMDb review of that lost Brooks film. Not then knowing his reputation, I wrote “I am preparing a book on the films of Louise Brooks, and noticed your thoughtful comments on A Social Celebrity on the IMDB website. I am wondering if you ever saw the film? (The last known copy of A Social Celebrity was lost in a disastrous nitrate fire at the Cinémathèque Française in the late 1950s.) If you have in fact seen the film, I would be very curious to know when and where.”

MacIntyre responded the next day.
Greetings to Thomas Gladysz (do you pronounce it Gladdish?) from Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre, whom you contacted regarding the film A Social Celebrity.

Although I've read your IMDb review of Looking for Lulu, and your email address is an obvious tribute to Brooks, I'm surprised to learn that you're writing a book about her. Surely every possible fact about Louise Brooks has long since been unearthed?

I wish you good luck with your book, and I encourage you to avoid the cliche which several other authors (including Brooks herself) have perpetrated when writing about her: please do not refer to Brooks as 'Lulu'. Lulu was one of the characters she played onscreen. Louise Brooks was a far more fascinating and complex person than Lulu was.

To answer your question: yes, I have seen a print of A Social Celebrity. It was a 'flash print', meaning that it possessed the original (Paramount) intertitles, but they ran for only a few frames each; the print was intended for distribution in a non-Anglophone market, and the local exhibitor was supposed to use the flash titles as a guide for translations, which would occupy more footage than the flash versions and be onscreen longer. I viewed this print more than ten years ago, and it was already slightly deteriorated due to nitrate instability.

This print is (or was) in the personal collection of a private film collector in Europe, who does not wish to be publicly identified. He owns several original nitrate prints of films that were released in the 1930s and earlier. I was given some limited access to some of the films in his collection, solely in order to examine their physical deterioration, and to advise him as to which reels of film in his collection were most urgently in need of restoration or duplication to acetate safety stock.

Normally, when a reel of film has deteriorated to the point where I'm unwilling to subject it to the vagaries of a motorised projector, I will inspect the footage through a hand-held Steenbeck viewer. Several reels of the Social Celebrity print had begun to decompose, so I Steenbecked them rather than running them through a projector.

I have offered to put this collector into contact with several professional film restorers in Europe and Britain, and it is my understanding that he will eventually have most of the nitrate films in his collection converted to acetate stock. I have very little ability to influence his actions in this matter.

This collector is a private individual who only very rarely grants access to his film collection. I was given very limited access to his collection, solely in order to inspect his films as physical artefacts in need of restoration. I do not have direct contact with this gentleman; I contact him only through his attorneys, who are strongly inclined to refuse all requests for access to his collection. He has made it clear that he will not grant public access to his collection. As this gentleman has been helpful to me in my own business endeavours, I must respect his privacy.

Thank you for reading my IMDb reviews. I'm not an employee of IMDb, and they don't pay me for my reviews. I'm a full-time journalist and author. If you log onto www.amazon.com and go to their Books section, then key a search for my by-line "F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre", you'll see the covers of two books that I wrote and illustrated. One of these is my Victorian erotic horror/romance novel: The Woman Between the Worlds, featuring Conan Doyle, Aleister Crowley, GB Shaw, WB Yeats, Arthur Machen, Sir William Crookes and several other eminent Victorians united to aid an invisible she-alien during an invasion of London by alien shape-changers. This novel got rave reviews from Harlan Ellison on his Stateside cable-tv show. I'm also the author and illustrator of a humour anthology which was praised by Ray Bradbury and other authors: MacIntyre's Improbable Bestiary, likewise available on Amazon, which contains some original material I wrote about Lon Chaney and silent films.

To whet your appetite, here's the cover (my artwork and typography) of my anthology: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1587154722.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

I took some notes while I was Steenbecking A Social Celebrity. If you have any specific questions about the content of this film, I will gladly try to answer them for you, but I must decline any request to give you access to the print.

Straight on till mourning, Fergus (F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre)
Could it be true? I wondered. In my naiveté, I hoped it would be. I responded immediately and pressed MacIntyre for details, sent him specific questions, but didn’t hear back. I am sure I came off as too eager, and MacIntyre wasn’t willing to go extra innings.

A few days later, I wrote MacIntyre again. “I am not sure you received my email. I am glad to know that a copy of A Social Celebrity still exists in some form - even if that copy is unattainable - and may one day be given to a public archive. I shall await that day!” I never heard from him again. And as time passed, I began to feel this curious character with unsubstantiated claims had been pulling my leg.

The New York Times noted MacIntyre worked night jobs in order to spend his days at the New York Public Library researching things which interested him. Those subjects included early film, of which he was by all accounts knowledgeable. Undoubtedly, he relished their depictions of days gone by – and of a world, made safe through the passage of time, which no longer existed.

MacIntyre was something of a pastiche artist - witness his own description of his sole published novel. To me, his reviews of silent films he couldn’t have seen read like a kind-of critical pastiche of reviews found in the old film periodicals housed at the New York Public Library. That occurs to me now when I reread his IMDb review of A Social Celebrity. Its last line, “Louise Brooks is as seductive as usual, but she has very little to do here,” echoes the kind of observation made by a number of film critics in the 1920’s.

It’s hard to know why MacIntyre claimed to have seen A Social Celebrity and other lost films – and thereby muddied the historical record. He must have known it irritated others. Perhaps it was a game. Perhaps it was one way of getting attention. Perhaps it was his way of asserting control over a world in which he felt increasingly out-of-sorts. We’ll never know.

MacIntyre was an enigmatic, intellectual loner. He once wrote, “I collect the fragments of time that other people throw away, and I put these to good use.” Not everyone agreed.

Louise Brooks is the obvious #1 crush for any thinking human being

"Louise Brooks is the obvious #1 crush for any thinking human being," stated novelist Glenn David Gold in a short interview about Charlie Chaplin and silent film at http://www.examiner.com/silent-movie-in-san-francisco/six-questions-with-novelist-glen-david-gold

Gold is not only a fan of Louise Brooks, but an acclaimed writer and film enthusiast as well. 

His 2001 novel, Carter Beats the Devil - inspired by the early 20th century magician Charles Carter, was a national bestseller. It’s in development as a feature film for possible release in 2013.

His second novel, Sunnyside, was published to great acclaim in 2009. It’s based on incidents in the life of the "Little Tramp." Sunnyside was released by Vintage in softcover in May.

Each are recommended.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Diary of a Lost Girl in Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

My new edition of The Diary of a Lost Girl got a nice write up in today's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The article is by Jack Garner, the newspaper's longtime film critic (he also knew Louise Brooks, and wrote the foreword to the Peter Cowie book, Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu). Garner wrote:
A RARE BOOK tie-in. The idea of book tie-ins to movies is well known. But it's not every day that a 1929 film generates the reissue of a book. Yet that's the case with Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl, which was originally published in 1905.

The surprising reissue in 2010 is the brainchild of Thomas Gladysz, a San Francisco journalist and director of the Louise Brooks Society. Fans of Brooks, the beautiful silent film star who finished out her years in Rochester, may recognize the title. The Diary of a Lost Girl was the second of two masterpieces she filmed with Germany's G. W. Pabst in the late '20s. It followed the legendary Pandora's Box into theaters. (Both films are available on DVD — and highly recommended.)

Bohme's book caused a sensation at the early part of the last century, telling in diary fashion the story of an abused young woman who ends up a prostitute. It sold 1.2 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of its time.

Read today, it's a fascinating time-trip back to another age, and yet remains compelling. As a bonus, Gladysz richly illustrates the text with stills of Brooks from the famous film, and also includes an introduction. The book's available at amazon.com, pandorasbox.com/diary.html, or at the Eastman House gift shop.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New restoration of Pandora's Box announced

A new restoration of Pandora's Box has been announced. The BFI London Film Festival has announced the line-up for its October event, and among the highlights is a new restoration of the famous Louise Brooks film.

Pandora’s Box is set to screen at 6pm on October 14th at the National Film Theater 1 in London. The new restoration is listed at 143 minutes, ten minutes longer than a “restored version” released by Criterion on DVD in 2008. A bit more info at http://www.examiner.com/louise-brooks-in-national/new-restoration-of-pandora-s-box-announced

The Festival, run by the British Film Institute, is in its 54th year. It will include 197 feature films, and 112 shorts. Other restorations are also on the calendar. I sure wish I could be there, but alas . . . .

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Canary Murder Case lobby card


This lovely lobby card (11x14) for The Canary Murder Case (1929) is for sale on eBay. Bidding starts at $2,500. It depicts Gustav von Seyffertitz and Louise Brooks. I likes it. Don't you?

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