Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lulu by the Bay

Lately, I have been compiling a list of Bay Area screenings for each of Louise Brooks' films. (See yesterday's blog as an example of my efforts.)

And so far, I have put together a ten page document detailing all of the listings I have been able to uncover - listings from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Marin County and places in-between. It's a fun project - though also frustrating. My lists are far from complete, as many screenings (especially those at smaller neighborhood theaters) were not advertised or listed, or the materials which do document them (like old newspapers) simply don't exist anymore or can't be gotten at.

Nevertheless, I forge ahead. Tomorrow, I will head to Sacramento and the State Library of California to look at various Bay Area newspapers held there on microfilm. That library even holds San Francisco newspapers not held by the San Francisco Public Library, like the San Francisco Illustrated News (a glorious old-fashioned tabloid) and the Richmond Record (the latter is a neighborhood newspaper, which hopefully will carry advertisements for the neighborhood theaters in that district).

It is a work in progress.

In early blogs, I posted some of my findings for The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) and King of Gamblers (1937). I have been able to add many more listings. Here, so far, is what I have been able to find for the now-lost film, Just Another Blonde (1926).

New Stanford in Palo Alto (Jan. 13-14, 1927); Sequoia Theatre in Redwood City (Jan 15, 1927); Novelty in Martinez (Feb. 3-4, 1927); Warfield in San Francisco (Feb. 12-18, 1927); Grand Lake in Oakland (Feb. 19-25, 1927); Hub Theatre in Mill Valley (Feb. 26, 1927); Princess Theatre in Sausalito (Feb. 27-28, 1927); California in Berkeley (Mar. 2-5, 1927); Richmond Theatre in Richmond (Mar. 16-17, 1927); Peninsula in Burlingame (Apr. 3, 1927); Orpheus in San Rafael (Apr. 14-15, 1927); Casino Theatre in Antioch (Mar. 19, 1927); Mission in San Jose (Apr. 20-23, 1927); Regent Theater in San Mateo (Apr. 29-30, 1927); Coliseum in San Francisco (May 10-11, 1927); Haight in San Francisco (May 22, 1927); Alhambra in San Francisco (May 28-29, 1927); Wigwam in San Francisco (May 31 – June 3, 1927 with The Lady in Ermine); Castro in San Francisco (June 7-8, 1927); Alexandra in San Francisco (June 8-9, 1927); Irving in San Francisco (June 12, 1927 with Great K & A Train Robbery); Riviera in San Francisco (June 13-14, 1927); Royal Theatre in South San Francisco (July 6, 1927); New Balboa in San Francisco (July 20-21, 1927); Roosevelt in San Francisco (July 22, 1927); California Theatre in Livermore (July 23, 1927); Golden State in Oakland (July 25, 1927); Lincoln in Oakland (July 25, 1927); Hayward Theatre in Hayward (Aug. 2, 1927 with Diplomacy); Rivoli in San Francisco (Aug. 28-29, 1927); Majestic in San Francisco (Oct. 8, 1927).

What's interesting is that this particular film was shown in outlying town like Palo Alto (home to Stanford University) and nearby Redwood City BEFORE it was screened in San Francisco. Usually in the 1920's, films played in the major cities before they made their way elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If we only had a time machine

If we only had a time machine, we could travel back to San Francisco on June 12, 1927 and take in one of three Louise Brooks films showing at four different neighborhood movie theaters. Both the Castro and the Coliseum were showing the now lost 1927 film, Evening Clothes. And, the Irving was showing the lost 1926 film, Just Another Blonde - while across town the New Balboa was screening Love Em and Leave Em (1926).

Imagine that, three different Louise Brooks showing at four different theaters in one city on the same day. If we only had a time machine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Grand Inquisitor

I finally had the chance to see The Grand Inquisitor (2008), a recent short film by Eddie Muller (the author and film historian known as the "Czar of Noir"). I mention it because this exceptionally well done short work contains an homage to Louise Brooks. It is well worth checking out. This 22-minute movie can be viewed online at Strike.TV.

The Grand Inquisitor stars 1940's film star Marsha Hunt as Hazel Reedy, and debut actress Leah Dashe as Lulu. Hunt is superb, and Dashe is oh so charming in this noirish tale. More on the film can be found at Check it out - I really liked it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A portrait of Louise Brooks

A portrait of Louise Brooks by M.I. Boris (circa 1925/1926)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Louise Brooks on the cover

My thanks go to Jason, who tipped me off to the appearance of Louise Brooks (or at least her distinct hair) on the cover of this just published novel by Kate Walbert. Not sure if the actress herself makes an appearance in the book, which was published by Scribner. Here is some publisher supplied copy.

About the book: National Book Award finalist Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women is a profoundly moving portrayal of the complicated legacies of mothers and daughters, chronicling five generations of women from the close of the nineteenth century through the early years of the twenty-first.

The novel opens in England in 1914 at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself for the cause. Her choice echoes in the stories of her descendants interwoven throughout: a brilliant daughter who tries to escape the burden of her mother's infamy by immigrating to America just after World War I to begin a career in science; a niece who chooses a conventional path -- marriage, children, suburban domesticity -- only to find herself disillusioned with her husband of fifty years and engaged in heartbreaking and futile antiwar protests; a great-granddaughter who wryly articulates the free-floating anxiety of the times while getting drunk on a children's playdate in post-9/11 Manhattan. In a kaleidoscope of voices and with a richness of imagery, emotion, and wit, Walbert portrays the ways in which successive generations of women have responded to what the Victorians called "The Woman Question."

As she did in her critically acclaimed The Gardens of Kyoto and Our Kind, Walbert induces "a state in which the past seems to hang effortlessly amid the present" (The New York Times). A Short History of Women is her most ambitious novel, a thought-provoking and vividly original narrative that crisscrosses a century to reflect the tides of time and the ways in which the lives of our great-grandmothers resonate in our own.

About the Author: Kate Walbert is the author of Where She Went, a New York Times Notable Book of 1998; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the Connecticut Book Award for fiction in 2002; and Our Kind, finalist for the National Book Award in 2004. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and numerous other publications.

Has anyone read this book?

Friday, July 10, 2009

SFSFF starts today

I'm excited about this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. It starts today. No Louise Brooks film, but plenty of cinematic action. Here is what I am especially looking forward to.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A wow Louise Brooks discovery

My latest discovery . . . . It depicts Louise Brooks' image in a window display promoting the release of The Canary Murder Case. As you can see, the actress is prominent in this display. My guess is that this image was shot in early February, 1929.

It is one of five different images I have uncovered of different store windows taken in Los Angeles at various department stores and shops including the May Company and the Owl Drug store.

Apparently, there was a widespread push to promote the film. Some of the images feature hearts and candy (suggesting a pre-Valentine promotion - the film was officially released on February 16th), while others include photoplay book edition of the novel on which the film was based. Nevertheless, Louise Brooks - in the form of a lifesize cardboard display piece - is front and center in each of the displays.

Wow wow wow wow wow! I have never seen these before.

The Art of Nell Brinkley

Throughout the teens, twenties, and early thirties, Nell Brinkley was about as big a name as there was in the world of cartooning and illustration. Brinkley’s independent-minded and always pretty heroines pirouetted, waltzed, shimmied, and vamped their way through various adventures – often with a dashing young man by their side.

I don't think she ever drew Louise Brooks, but she certainly drew a number of silent film stars. Early in her career Brinkley drew actresses like Mae Murray, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, as well as entertainers like Irene Castle, Evelyn Nesbit, and the Dolly Sisters. Other of her characters (though not identified as such) bear a strong resemblance to silent stars Ronald Colman, Nils Asther, John Gilbert, and others.

Brinkley's work is the subject of a new book, The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons, 1913-1940 (Fantagraphics). My illustrated article on the book can be found at

Friday, July 3, 2009

Author line-up announced for Silent Film Festival

Though they're not showing any Louise Brooks films this year, there are still plenty of reasons to attend the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Along with a line-up of must-see films, a number of historians, biographers, archivists, scholars and authors will be in attendance at the annual event.

I've just published an article highlighting the those who will be signing books and DVD's at this years silent film lovefest. My article can be found here. Please check it out!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Louise Brooks and Pandora's Box still attract

Here is the text of my June 30 article: "Louise Brooks and Pandora's Box still attract." 

Louise Brooks and Pandora's Box still attract

June 30, 2009 | San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Author: Thomas Gladysz | Section: SF Silent Movie Examiner

The popularity of Louise Brooks, the now iconic silent film star, seems to be on the rise.A series of her films screened in May at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles reportedly drew capacity crowds. And on July 1st, her best known work, Pandora’s Box, will be shown at the 2,000 seat Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. That event has been sold out for some time. That’s not bad for an actress who was considered little more than a footnote in film history a few decades ago. 

The Wednesday screening at the Orpheum Theatre is sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and is being presented as part of their 23rd Annual Last Remaining Seats series. It promises to be a special event. Hugh Munro Neely, director of the 1998 Emmy-nominated documentary Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu, will host the evening. Acclaimed organist Robert Israel will accompany Pandora’s Box on the Mighty Wurlitzer. And Hugh Hefner, Playboy founder, film buff, and a longtime fan of the actress, is sponsor. [Notably, the film co-stars Francis Lederer, the late Czech-born actor who lived for many years in the San Fernando Valley.]

The main attraction, however, is Louise Brooks. Free of her contract with Paramount, the Kansas-born actress traveled to Germany in 1928 to appear in a film of which she knew little about. It was just something to do. And, it was a perfect fit. Today, Pandora’s Box is considered not only Brooks’ best work, but one of the masterpieces of the silent film era. In a nutshell, Pandora’s Box tells the story of Lulu, a lovely and somewhat petulant show-girl whose flirtations with a number of men have devastating results. The film was based on two turn-of-the-last-century plays by the German writer Frank Wedekind (who also authored the text behind the recent Broadway smash Spring Awakening). Lulu has been described as vamp and femme fatale, but in fact, she is a kind of innocent. As one writer put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” (And not just men. Lulu’s sexual magnetism knew no bounds, as Pandora’s Box features what may be the screen’s first lesbian character, played by Alice Roberts.) At times, the film - heavily censored in its day and still incomplete - can seem like melodrama. In Pandora’s Box, Brooks’ nevertheless reveals her considerable gifts as an actress through an individualized interpretation of her archetypal character. 

Largely due to Brooks’ truly sensational performance, this G.W. Pabst directed film enjoys its current stellar reputation. It wasn’t always the case. The film made its world premiere February 9, 1929 at the Gloria–Palast in Berlin. German reviews of the time were mixed. When Pandora’s Box opened at a small art house in New York City in December of that same year, American newspaper and magazine critics were equally indifferent. Photoplay, one of the leading fan magazines of the time, noted “When the censors got through with this German-made picture featuring Louise Brooks, there was little left but a faint, musty odor. It is the story, both spicy and sordid, of a little dancing girl who spread evil everywhere without being too naughty herself. Interesting to American fans because it shows Louise, formerly an American ingénue in silent films, doing grand work as the evil-spreader.” That was a good review. Mordaunt Hall, critic for the New York Times, famously wrote “Miss Brooks is attractive and she moves her head and eyes at the proper moment, but whether she is endeavoring to express joy, woe, anger or satisfaction it is often difficult to decide.” Quinn Martin, critic at the New York World, echoed Hall’s remarks when he stated “It does occur to me that Miss Brooks, while one of the handsomest of all the screen girls I have seen, is still one of the most eloquently terrible actresses who ever looked a camera in the eye.” Variety put the nail in the coffin when its critic opined “Better for Louise Brooks had she contented exhibiting that supple form in two-reel comedies or Paramount features. Pandora’s Box, a rambling thing that doesn’t help her, nevertheless proves that Miss Brooks is not a dramatic lead.”

What is it that draws contemporary audiences to Louise Brooks? And why would 2,000 people gather to see a once disregarded 80 year old silent film? Perhaps, the answer lies in our modern ability to see beyond appearances, to appreciate qualities beneath the skin. Lottie Eisner, the great German film critic, once described Brooks as “An astonishing actress endowed with an intelligence beyond compare.” Kevin Brownlow, the great British film historian, more recently described Brooks as “One of the most remarkable personalities to be associated with films.” Louise Brooks is certainly both of those things, and more. The thousands who gather Wednesday night will be able to judge for themselves.

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