Sunday, July 29, 2007

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

I had a great time at the recent San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Though I worked the book table throughout the festival (and was even interviewed by Turner Classic Movies in my role as a bookseller), I managed to see some films, made some new friends, and renewed some old acquaintanceships. I met TCM host Robert Osborne, and chatted with San Francisco Chroniclefilm critic Mick LaSalle, who surprised me by revealing a new-found appreciation for Louise Brooks and her role in Pandora's Box. Later, noticing my Louise Brooks Society t-shirt, the always affable Leonard Maltin asked me if I had made any converts at the Festival. I responded that I was always "proselytizing" . . . .and then I handed him a Lulu button. I also met author, promoter and all-around film noir expert Eddie Muller, who told me he is currently making a noirish film whose turning point revolves around a character uttering the words, "Louise Brooks." I can't wait to see it, as all of Muller's film noir projects are very stylish and very interesting.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is a great festival and a lot of fun. I would encourage everyone to attend future festivals. Various reports, posts and blogs on this year's event can be found on the Google newsgroup, alt.movies.silent. Check it out and see what others thought of the goings-on and the films shown.

The highlight of the festival, for me, was the screening of the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life. A new 35mm print from the George Eastman House made it's West Coast premiere at this annual July event. Pictured below top left is the Castro Theater marquee promoting the Saturday films. It's cool to see a Brooks film "up in lights" - so to speak.

The guy with the glasses top right is me. I am standing next to William Wellman Jr., the son of the great director whose films include Beggars of Life as well as such landmark works as WingsThe Public Enemy, the original A Star is BornBeau GesteThe Ox-Bow Incident, etc.... Wellman Jr. and I got to chat quite a bit over the course of the weekend. He is an accomplished actor and producer, as well as an historian and champion of his father's incredible body of work. Wellman Jr. told me about his father, and what his father told him about working with Louise Brooks. . . .


Wellman Jr. was on hand to say a few words about his father's films and Beggars of Life. Before a crowd of more than 1200, Wellman praised Brooks and her role in the film. I think he was stating something many in the audience felt, including Leonard Maltin, who wrote about the Festivala few days later. (I think Maltin's comments - and those of Pat Loughney of the George Eastman House - will be of interest to all Brooks fans!)
Louise Brooks fans, who are legion, packed the Castro on Saturday night for the screening of Beggars of Life, Jim Tully’s tale of hoboes in which she and Richard Arlen make an absolutely gorgeous duo. It was introduced by William Wellman, Jr., the able keeper of his father’s flame. The 35mm print was enlarged from the only surviving copy of this important film, a 16mm original owned by the late William K. Everson. I first saw this when Bill screened that print many years ago, but I never dreamt that it was a unique copy. It made a surprisingly good transition to 35mm, although some of the beautiful lighting suffered somewhat because of wear and tear to the original. (I asked Pat Loughney if it would be possible—or feasible—to now digitize that 35mm blowup, improve the contrast and remove some of the scratches, then transfer it back to film. He anticipated my question and said it’s one of his priorities to do just that. Modern technology offers possibilities for film restoration that didn’t exist just ten years ago.)
Pictured bottom left is Wellman Jr., who is signing copies of his book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. I started reading this recently published book, and can report it is very good. Brooks' and her role in Beggars of Life are given a few pages in this telling of the famous director's early life. There are also a couple of images from the film found in the book.  The bottom right picture is a snapshot I took of Wellman Jr. reading Lulu in Hollywood. At the time, Wellman was reading Brooks' essay about his father, "On Location with Billy Wellman."


Also seen on the table in the bottom left images is a VHS copy of Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick, the acclaimed 1996 documentary about his father which Wellman Jr. executive co-produced and appears in. My wife (in the green jacket) and I just watched this outstanding 90 minute film last night. We both thought it was excellent - and a great piece of Hollywood history. I would recommend it. I liked it so much that I added four Wellman films to our Netflix cue. (For the record, neither Louise Brooks nor Beggars of Life are depicted in this film, though the actress is referenced by one of the commentators.)

Wellman Jr. had a few VHS copies Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick for sale. We bought one. I think interested individuals can find second-hand VHS copies on-line. The documentary has not yet been released on DVD. Also for sale at the Festival was a 10 page pamphlet produced by Rodney Sauer, Director of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. I had a chance to meet Rodney, and talk a little bit about their efforts. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performed live musical accompaniment for a few films during the Festival, including Beggars of Life. Not surprisingly, Rodney is a Brooks fan. Their arrangement and score came in for very warm applause. More about this talented musical group can be found at their website.

What did I see at the Festival? Along with the above mentioned items, I saw the pleasing Student Price in Old Heidelberg (satrring Ramon Navarro and Norma Shearer - and with Mick LaSalle's thoughtful introduction), a panel on film preservation, a few film shorts, and the dark, brooding British film, A Cottage on Dartmoor. I was especially impressed with this noir-ish silent film, as was everyone else I spoke with. I missedMiss Lulu Bett - which is something I have seen on video and liked. I also unfortunately missed The Godless Girl (a Cecil B. DeMille film starring Marie Prevost and Lina Basquette), as it was time to break down our book table and go home. Fortunately, the film will be released on DVD in the Fall as part of the third groundbreaking set in the Treasures from American Archives series.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The nature of art

There is a lot of "fan art" out there. Some of it is good, most of it is not. Much of it passes bye - on eBay or fan sites or message boards - without comment. Sometimes I think to myself, WTF ? But there it is. Some fan's sincere artistic rendering of their idol. But is it art ? Who can say ? I guess that's why they call it "fan art." (In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I own a few pieces of Louise Brooks fan art.)

An artist named Esqui occasionally places some of his art for sale on eBay. The piece pictured below was just listed. I like it. I like it alot. There is something "perfect" about it. Perhaps the color scheme?

There is something appealing about it. If nobody bids on it, I might. What do you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Louise Brooks

This postcard reportedly dates from the 1920's. It is by an artist named Bornand. In all likelyhood, it does not depict Louise Brooks - though it is a close match. What do you think.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beggars of Life to screen in Chicago

Beggars of Life (1928) will be shown in Chicago in August. Here is a link to an article mentioning the film and other silent films which are being shown over the course of the Summer.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just Another Blonde status

Fragments of the 1926 Louise Brooks' film, Just Another Blonde, still exist. The film has long been considered lost. To find out more, visit this archive record on the UCLA website

Monday, July 16, 2007

Prix de beaute shows tonight

Prix de beaute (1930) shows at the Harvard Film Archive tonight at 7:00 pm. For more information about this superb Louise Brooks film and tonight's event, check out this webpage.

Friday, July 13, 2007

RadioLulu r.i.p. ?

The days left for RadioLulu may well be numbered. Should the new royality rates go into affect, and should that cost be passed along to me - the broadcaster, I think I will have to shut down the station. I am a poor fan - and don't think I would be able to afford an increase in annual fees.

I hope everyone who loves Louise Brooks and silent film and popular music of the 1920's and 1930s has had a chance to listen to the many fabulous rarities broadcast on the LBS on-line radio station.

SaveNetRadio wrote yesterday:
Time and options are running out for Internet Radio. Late this afternoon, the court DENIED the emergency stay sought on behalf of webcasters, millions of listeners and the artists and music they support.UNLESS CONGRESS ACTS BY JULY 15th, the new ruinous royalty rates will be going into effect on Sunday, threatening the future of all internet radio.
We are appealing to the millions of Internet radio listeners out there, the webcasters they support and the artists and labels we treasure to rise up and make your voices heard again before this vibrant medium is silenced. Even if you have already called, we need you to call again. The situation is grave, but that makes the message all the simpler and more serious.
PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES RIGHT AWAY and urge them to support the Internet Equality Act. Go to (Link) to find the phone numbers of your Senators and Representative.
If they've already co-sponsored, thank them and tell them to fight to bring the bill to the floor for an immediate vote. If the line is busy, please call back. Call until you know your voice has been heard. Your voices are what have gotten us this far - Congress has listened. Now, they are our only hope. We are outmatched by lobbying power and money but we are NOT outmatched by facts and passion and the power of our voices.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An embroidered portrait

Erkia, friend of the LBS, sent this image of an embroidered portrait of Louise Brooks which she recently completed. Isn't it awesome?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Berkeley Daily Planet article

I am looking forward to this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Here is what the Berkeley Daily Planet had to report on what has become the best silent film festival in the country.

Moving Pictures: Silent Film Festival a Portal To the Picturesque Past
By Justin DeFreitas

In today’s fully wired world of digital video and handheld viewing devices, it may be difficult to fathom a time when the moving picture was itself a revolutionary technology. In the first few decades of the 20th century, as the new medium was developed and perfected, it brought with it a radical cultural shift, bringing images from all over the world to neighborhood theaters. The cinema essentially held a monopoly on mass entertainment, for this was before television brought the moving image into the home, and even before radio, which first brought the immediacy of live news and entertainment into the living room in the 1930s.

It was likewise before commercial aviation, a time when travel was more daunting, more arduous, and less accessible to the working class. Thus cinema provided a unique and engaging portal to the world for many who might not otherwise venture beyond regional borders.
The 12th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, running this weekend at the Castro Theater, is a portal of its own, taking audiences back to a time when film was establishing itself as the dominant art form of the new century. The festival’s mission is to showcase the art of silent film as it was meant to be seen, with quality prints presented at proper projection speeds and accompanied by period-appropriate live music.

In those early years, cinema, despite the tiredness of the cliché, was a new and universal language. Photography in newspapers and magazines could provide a glimpse of other cultures and other lives, but moving pictures, captured in faraway lands and projected on a screen, brought vivid images of a life beyond: clouds of dust kicked up by wagon trains moving west; waves unfolding on distant shores; the gleam of moonlight on cobblestones in a European village; the very ways in which people moved and lived throughout the world. It was a time when cinema was simpler in means yet just as rich in content, relying almost exclusively on image and motion to convey plot and import.

It was the lack of dialogue in fact which lent the movies much of their universal appeal, establishing film as a visual language that would be undermined once the images began to talk. For along with the advent of synchronized sound came the cultural barrier of language, a gap bridged only by such awkward translation devices such as dubbing, the falsity of which created a visual-verbal dissonance, and subtitling, which detracted from cinema’s impact by drawing the eye away from the image. Silent film instead relied on intertitles, an imperfect device to be sure, but one which at least had the virtue of separating the printed words from the image, leaving the visuals untouched and undiluted. And translation was simply a matter of replacing the title cards as a film crossed international borders.

This year’s festival presents something of the international appeal and range of silent-era cinema by bringing together an eclectic selection of films. The festival kicks off Friday with a mainstream American studio production, The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg. This is Germany by way of MGM, with big Hollywood stars Norma Shearer and Ramon Novarro directed with continental flare by the great Ernst Lubitsch.
Continuing with the international theme, Saturday will feature an afternoon screening of Maciste, an Italian classic that the festival’s programmers—Executive Director Stacey Wisnia and Artistic Director Steve Salmons—came across at the Pordenone Silent Festival in Italy. This was the first in a series of Maciste films starring Barolomeo Pagan as a heroic strong man rescuing damsels in distress. Sunday’s screenings include “Retour De Flamme” (“Saved From the Flames”), a program of early rarities by French cinema pioneers, presented, with his own piano accompaniment, by Parisian film collector Serge Bromberg, and The Cottage on Dartmoor, a British “psycho-noir” by director Anthony Asquith.

Another aspect of the Silent Film Festival’s mission is to educate its audience about the preservation and restoration of our rapidly disappearing cinematic heritage. Thus for the second year the festival is hosting “Amazing Tales from the Archives,” a free Sunday morning presentation on the effort to preserve that history. The program is the brainchild of Wisnia, who, despite the skepticism of her colleagues, thought last year’s presentation might draw a decent crowd. All were surprised when the turnout nearly filled the Castro’s main floor. This year’s program will focus on “peripheral” films—trailers, newsreels and shorts—and on obsolete formats, such as 28-millimeter, a format originally sold for use in homes and schools. Many 28mm films shorts will be screened throughout the festival, including travelogues, educational films and short comedies, even one of Harold Lloyd’s rarely screened “Lonesome Luke” films.

Though Wisnia and Salmons’ tastes may skew toward the lesser-known films from the era, they make an effort to fill a range of genres, from comedy to drama, from blockbuster studio productions to quieter, more experimental work, from star-studded large-scale productions to forgotten gems by actors and directors nearly lost to film history. Other films on the menu include:

• Valley of the Giants, a drama set amid the towering redwoods of the Sierra Nevada, featuring nearly forgotten actor Milton Sills.

• Beggars of Life, a follow-up to last year’s screening of Pandora’s Box, featuring the legendary flapper-vixen Louise Brooks. This time Brooks takes a radically different role, spending most of the film attired in men’s clothes in a story of hobos riding the rails in Depression-era America.

• The Godless Girl, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, one of the greatest showmen to take up film. His films were spectacles, full of melodrama and hysteria, and, more often than not, a steady stream of vice, usually denounced toward the end of the film to accommodate censors.

• Miss Lulu Brett, by William DeMille, a successful Broadway playwright and accomplished film director whose work was often overshadowed by that of his younger, brasher, more ostentatious brother. Miss Lulu Brett is considered his best film, based a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Zona Gale. William takes a quieter, humbler approach than his more famous brother, telling a tale of a small-town girl stuck as a servant in her sister’s household while looking for a path toward a happier and more meaningful life.

• Camille, a distinctive and innovative Warner Bros. production starring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino.

• And every festival includes at least one program focusing on the silent era’s comic masters. This year spotlights producer Hal Roach, screening four short comedies from Roach Studio stalwarts like Charley Chase and the Our Gang ragamuffins.

Friday, July 13 through Sunday, July 15 at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro St., San Francisco. (925) 275-9005.

Photograph: Doris Kenyon and Milton Sills in Valley of the Giants (1927).

Monday, July 9, 2007

An invitation to the Commonwealth of Happiness

Check out this rare promotional card from the 1924 George White Scandals. Louise Brooks is not named - she really wasn't important or famous enough to be named - but there she is.

I am not sure what the purpose of the card might have been, except promotional. On the back of the card it reads "Commonwealth of Happiness - G.W.S. - PERMIT.” The owner of the card plans to sell it at auction. I betcha it goes for a bunch!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

French colors

From an article about the La Rochelle film festival in Le Monde, the French newspaper. ( Click here for the article.) I guess Louise Brooks is something of a pop art star.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Beautiful Fairy Tale

I have been meaning to write something more about A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran, by Richard Buller. I had taken it with me to New York City, where I read long passages while waiting at the airport, in-flight, and while waiting for various buildings to open. I was so glad to have it with me in NYC - a kind-of mythical place for anyone interested in Louise Brooks and a place important as well in the life story of Lois Moran. A Beautiful Fairy Tale is a great read. I really enjoyed it. Richard Buller did a fine job in both researching Moran's life and in writing about it.

Moran led a fascinating life. Did you know, that as a teenage girl, Moran lived in the same Paris hotel as James Joyce? She was photographed by Man Ray, and knew Kiki of Montparnasse. Also fascinating is her later friendship (and maybe more ?) with Jazz Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Moran was a major star in the mid-1920's, and she knew and worked with many of the other leading stars and directors of her day. I would recommend this biography to anyone interested in movies of the 1920's.

Be sure and check out the author's website at

Friday, July 6, 2007

Domenic Priore

Tonight, I hosted an event with rock music historian Domenic Priore, author of the just released book Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock'n'Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood. His book is really fascinating and detailed look at the explosion of art, youth culture and music in Los Angeles in the mid-1960's. (One of the special guests at the event was Michael Stuart-Ware, the drummer for LOVE, one of the bands profiled in Priore's book.)

I mention this somewhat off-topic event only because Priore - as it turns out - is a big Louise Brooks fan. Before the event, while we were still setting up, I found him sitting by himself looking at Peter Cowie's book, Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever. That led to a conversation about the actress and her continuing appeal . . . .

By the way, if you visit Domenic's MySpace page, you will notice a link to one of his MySpace friends - actually the name of a L.A. rock music club - called "Pandora's Box." This contemporary club takes its name from a legendary 1960's establishment - also called Pandora's Box - which was torn down in 1967. How cool is that ! That there was a club called Pandora's Box - not that it was torn down. (And while you are there, don't forget to listen to the Keith Allison's 1967 recording, "Louise," which can be found on the club's MySpace page.)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Some interesting books

One of the books I recently received via inter-library loan is The German Bestseller in the 20th Century: A Complete Bibliography and Analysis 1915-1940, by Donald Ray Richards. This 1968 book does NOT make for interesting reading, as it is mainly composed of charts and listings. I borrowed the book on a hunch. I wanted to find out if Margarete Bohme's novel, The Diary of a Lost One, was really a "bestseller" - as it is sometimes described. Bohme's book - now little known to American readers - was the basis for the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, The Diary of a Lost Girl.

Well, as it turns out, it was a big, big seller. The book was first published in 1905. And, if I understand Donald Ray Richards' analysis correctly, by 1931 Bohme's book had sold an astounding 563,000 copies. How does that compare to other titles? Bohme's sales placed it among the top 15 selling books for the period between 1915 and 1940. The bestseller for the period was Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, which sold more than 1,300,000 copies in about as many years. And seemingly, Erich Marie Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front sold more than 900,000 copies in one year's time. Remarque's anti-war novel, which was also made into a film, placed third.

It would be interesting to know if Pabst's 1929 film helped boost sales of Bohme's book? I also wonder if there was any sort of movie tie-in edition issued in Germany or Austria . . . .

Late last year and earlier into this year, I had searched the online used book market in hopes of acquiring just such an edition. But no luck. However, I did acquire a number of other interesting editions including an illustrated copy, a dramatization, and a rare parody of Bohme's book.

A couple of other interesting books I borrowed were two by Christa Winsloe, The Child Manuela and Girls in Uniform. If these titles sound somewhat familiar, they should. Each served as the basis for Madchen in Uniform, the extraordinary and provocative 1931 German film about a sensitive girl sent to an all-girls boarding school who develops a romantic attachment to one of her female teachers. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS FILM - GO OUT AND RENT IT IMMEDIATELY. IT IS REALLY EXCELLENT - AND SOMEWHAT THEMATICALLY REMINISCENT OF DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. The Wikipedia entry on the film has lots of interesting background information.

I wasn't sure about the exact relationship of the two books to the film. What I found out is that Girls in Uniform is a play in three acts. And, according to the title page, it was "Adapted from the German Play Gestern und Heaute Upon Which the Film Madchen in Uniform Is Based."Girls in Uniform was published in English translation in the United States in 1933. The Child Manuela, which is a novel, was also published  in English translation. According to a publisher's note found in that book, "The author of the play Children in Uniform and the film Maedchen in Uniform originally conceived the story as a novel and so wrote it. The novel, here published for the first time, tells in detail the story of the child Manuela and her family before she left to go to the school which was the setting of both the motion picture and the play."

I am looking forward to reading the play sometime soon.

Has anyone who might read this blog ever seen Madchen in Uniform?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"Pandora's Box" screens tonight in NYC

Pandora's Box , starring Louise Brooks, will be shown tonight in New York City.

The screening will take place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The film will be accompanied by Ben Model on the mighty Miditzer virtual theater organ.
Pandora’s Box
Series: 30 Years of Kino International [June 29 – July 12, 2007]
Director: G.W. Pabst,, Country: Germany, Release: 1929, Runtime: 100

G.W. Pabst’s immortal film version of the Wedekind play gave us one of the most enduring presences in cinema: Louise Brooks’ Lulu. She was a “new kind of femme fatale,” wrote J. Hoberman in The Village Voice, “generous, manipulative, heedless, blank, democratic in her affections, ambiguous in her sexuality.” As Brooks herself put it to Kenneth Tynan, “It was clever of Pabst to know even before he met me that I possessed the tramp essence of Lulu." She has inspired countless bob-haired imitators, but Brooks still reigns supreme. With Fritz Kortner and Franz Lederer.
For more information, see
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