Tuesday, March 30, 2010

HELP: need Diary of a Lost Girl program or press book

I am currently working on a project concerning the Louise Brooks film, Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). I realize I don't have either a program or press book or campaign book for the film. (A few have slipped through my hands via eBay bidding wars.) And I would really like to look at it.

Does anyone have the issue of Film Kurier with Brooks on the cover (pictured here) which served as a kind of program for the film? Or does anyone have a French campaign book?

I would like to obtain high-res scans (300 dpi) of the Film Kurier issue or of a press book. I would also be interested in stills from the film, as well.

In return, I would be willing to trade high-res scans of other Louise Brooks' French or German press books. I have a bunch of them Please email if you can help.

Molly, in Love em & Leave em

While scrolling through microfilm the other day, a certain cartoon strip caught my eye. It's a four-panel strip from 1929 titled "Molly." Its by John P. Medbury. What caught my eye was the its flapper / Louise Brooks look-alike character (which in itself wasn't uncommon in the late 1920's, especially in the world of cartooning. One need only think of J.P. McEvoy and John Striebel's "Dixie Dugan," or Bill Conselman and Charles Plumb's "Ella Cinders.") The bobbed flapper is kinda cute, and the story here reminded me of the plot behind the Brooks film, Love Em and Leave Em (1926).

I wasn't able to find much on Medbury (1893-1947), except that he was a well known humorist in his day and was involved with the film world as a narrator and contributor of dialogue. He even appeared in Screen Snapshots Series 10, No. 6 (1931) along with Zasu Pitts, Bebe Daniels, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille and others. Two of Brooks one-time  stage and film co-stars,Will Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., also appeared in that short.

Medbury was a contributor to the New York Evening Journal, where he was a contemporary of Rube Goldberg and George “Krazy Kat” Herriman. According to the newspaper, Medbury's "writings in the Evening Journal are the most sensational, humorous additions to the present era of American literature. Recognized among humorous writers of the country as the 'greatest giggle generator,' 'the liveliest laugh laureate' and 'the champion chuckle cannonader.'" And indeed, his four-panel "If Not, Why Not" put a smile on my face.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Doubly interesting

On Friday, I spent the afternoon at the State Library of California in Sacramento going through yet more microfilm of California newspapers. This time, I went through a few years of newspapers from both Yuba City and Marysville, as well as a few reels from Grass Valley and Merced. One advertisement I came across turned out to be unique - and doubly interesting.

So far, in my quixotic quest to document instances of Louise Brooks films being shown in Northern California, I have documented some 750 to 800 screenings. Most took place in the Twenties and Thirties. One screening I came across - from the Atkins Theatre in Yuba City - is unique. I have never come across anything like it. Here is an advertisement for that event.

Many times, as was common in the silent film era, a film was preceded by a short or a stage act with musicians or Vaudeville performers. This was true for Brooks' films. Sometimes, a film played as part of a double bill. Once or twice, two of Brooks' films were even shown together.

What makes this screening unique is that The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) was preceded by a live stage play, The Waifs of New York. Of all of the hundreds of ads I have looked at - I have never come across such a pairing, a film with a stage play. What also makes this doubly interesting is that the film was paired with a thematically similar work. Both stories are set among the down-and-out in New York City.

And if that isn't enough, this unique event took place in February of 1927 - that's nearly a year-and-a-half after The Street of Forgotten Men was released! That's pretty late in the film's history, as most films did not continue to circulate after more than a year or so during the silent film era.

[I haven't been able to find much about The Waifs of New York. It may date from the late 1800's, and may be a one-act. Does anyone know anything about it? Otherwise, I was able to find a little about the Atkins Theatre. I believe it was one of two in Yuba City, and was owned by a fellow named Atkins who lived in nearby Marysville.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brazilian musical tribute

F.C. Perini is a Brasilian fan of Louise Brooks as well as a songwriter. He only just recently discovered the actress, and just as soon joined the Louise Brooks Society. Apparently, Perini was so taken by Brooks that he put together this musical tribute which features his music. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Turning Japanese

Continuing the international flavor of some of the recent LBS blog posts, I notice that a copy of a scarce Japanese book about Louise Brooks is currently for sale on eBay. The seller's description reads, in part: " . . . published by Chuokorou-Sha, Tokyo, 1984, 122 pages, large hardcover in dust jacket with photographic endpapers, 10.25" by 10.25". Text in Japanese. Scarce Japanese book on silent screen legend Brooks, profusely illustrated with over 100 film stills, portraits, and publicity images. Beautifully printed and very uncommon."

Indeed, it is an uncommon and rather nifty book. I have a copy in my collection. Here is a dusty scan of my scuffed copy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creamer tops issued in Switzerland

This always amuses me when ever I come across it. Pictured above is a set of contemporary creamer tops issued in Switzerland by Floralp. It is currently for sale on eBay. 

These are foil tops from the small plastic milk / cream pots used in restaurants. This set carries pictures of famous movie stars on the front - including Marilyn Monroe, Louise Brooks, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Judy Garland, Steve McQueen, Vivien Leigh, and Clark Gable. The reverse side of each top carries the name of a film the actor or actress appeared in.

Louise Brooks appeared in films with two of the stars pictured above. Do you know which two? She also may have had an affair with another. . . .

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spin the carousel!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The very definition

One could say that Louise Brooks is the very definition of the term "arms akimbo." According to Wikipedia, "Akimbo is a human body position in which the hands are on the hips and the elbows are bowed outward, or bent/bowed in a more general sense." Wouldn't you agree?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A social butterfly, not really

Louise Brooks was never a social butterfly. She was loner - especially at the end of her life.

Barry Paris concludes his sublime biography with these words."The real epitaph of Louise Brooks was a brutal one, inspired by her merciless self-criticism and intended neither for sympathy not for public consumption. She confided in a letter, a dozen years before she died, to her brother Theodore: "I have been taking stock of my 50 years since I left Wichita in 1922 at the age of 15 to become a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. How I have existed fills me with horror. For I failed in everything - spelling, arithmetic, riding, swimming, tennis, golf; dancing, singing, acting; wife, mistress, whore, friend. Even cooking. And I do not excuse myself with the usual escape of 'not trying.' I tried with all my heart."

Was her beauty her tragedy?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Denishawn Dancer Jane Sherman

Jane Sherman has died. The dancer and author passed away on March 16th.

Sherman (1908 - 2010) was one of the last - perhaps the last - living members of the early / first generation / original Denishawn Dance Company. She was also a kind of unofficial historian of Denishawn and its founders Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Sherman authored a handful of books on the subject, and also appeared in various documentaries.

One of the documentaries she appeared in was Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu. In it, Sherman spoke about Louise Brooks' two season tenure with Denishawn prior to her entry into silent film.

Sherman's time with Denishawn did not overlap with that of Louise Brooks. They missed each other missed each other by about a year. (Had Brooks not have been kicked out of Denishawn, they likely would have toured the Far East together.) Nevertheless, Sherman was aware of her famous predecesor and wrote about Brooks and her small but noted history with Denishawn in various works.

Sherman was the author of various articles and books including Soaring: The Diary of Letters of a Denishawn Dancer in the Far East, 1925-1926 (Wesleyan, 1976), The Drama of Denishawn Dance (Wesleyan, 1979), Denishawn: The Enduring Influence (Twayne, 1983), and Barton Mumaw, Dancer: From Denishawn to Jacob's Pillow and Beyond (Wesleyan, 2000). I have each. Each are excellent.

A little more on Sherman and her life can be found on the arts meme website and on the ballet talk website. Sherman's death was announced by Norton Owen, Director of Preservation, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

[The image below shows members of the Denishawn Dance Company during the 1922-1923 season. Martha Graham is center, Louise Brooks is second from the right.]

Diary of a Lost Girl Soundtrack

Here is something you don't see everyday. For sale on eBay is a CD issued in Greece featuring a contemporary soundtrack recording to the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, Diary of a Lost Girl.

The seller's text reads, "Diary of a Lost Girl, by Minos Matsas, released on Minos in Greece in 1997. OUTSTANDING recording of a live performance of music by Greek composer Minos Matsas, written as the soundtrack to accompany an outdoor screening of the Pabst silent film classic Diary of a Lost Girl, featuring Louise Brooks. Stunningly beautiful music, and a very rare cd." A while back, I did a little further research on the composer and found that he now lives in Los Angeles. This disc was his first recorded release.

I've known about this recording for a while not, but haven't heard it as of yet. Has any reader of this blog heard it? And if so, what are your impressions?

Curiously, this is the second contemporary soundtrack recording for Diary of a Lost Girl to pop up on eBay in recent weeks. I blogged about the other on March 4th.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pepi Lederer

Today is what would have been Pepi Lederer's 100th birthday. Pepi (March 18, 1910 – June 11, 1935) was an actress and writer. She was also the niece of Marion Davies. What little we know about Pepi comes from Louise Brooks' Lulu in Hollywood. In it, she devotes an entire chapter to Pepi, Marion Davies, and Davies' lover, William Randolph Hearst. Louise Brooks knew them all, and spent a little time with each at the Hearst Castle.

If you haven't read Brooks' essay, "Marion Davies' Niece," you should. It is a fine and sympathetic portrait of a tragic figure. 

Film historian Allan R, Ellenberger, the author of recommended books on Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino, has written an excellent, illustrated article on Pepi on his blog. Check it out at http://www.allanellenberger.com      Pepi Lederer is not forgotten.

Lulu, by Samuel Bernstein

Yesterday, I received a copy of Samuel Bernstein's just published book, Lulu a novel. Its out from Walford Press. I've written about this book in the past, on groundhog's day to be exact. Since then, the book's cover has been redesigned and it looks great! I like it. What do you think?

The author describes the book as a non-fiction novel, and it centers on the actress and the period of time around the making of Pandora's Box. There is a bit more info about the book from the publisher here.

I also noticed that the kindle edition of the printed book is now listed on amazon.com. Be sure and check it out. I plan on posting more about this new book in the near future. Here are a couple of early blurbs.

"It's like a scandalous Jackie Collins novel set in the 1920's, but written with the sophisticated wit of a man who in a past life, was surely there to see it all." - Karen McCullah Lutz, screenwriter of Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth and House Bunny as well as bestselling author of The Bachelorette Party.
"In his follow up to the wonderful Mr. Confidential Samuel Bernstein brilliantly brings actress Louise Brooks to life in this evocative non-fiction novel that blends both fact and fiction in a way that will keep readers turning pages and begging for more. - Julie Kenner, bestselling author of Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom and The Prada Paradox.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Austrian postcard

Here is an uncommon image of Louise Brooks on an uncommon postcard. The card comes from Austria, and likely dates from the late 1920's. (The designation Iris Verlag means the card came from Austria; the other common designation seen on vintage postcards, Ross Verlag, means it comes from Germany.) The card pictured here is currently for sale on eBay. The seller is asking quite a lot for it. Nevertheless, it is nice.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keeping up with Rufus Wainwright and Lulu

As mentioned earlier on this blog, singer / songwriter Rufus Wainwright has a new album coming out in the USA on April 20th. It's called All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, and its on the Decca label. The album title is a reference to Shakespeare's Sonnet 43 and Wainwright's own concept of Lulu, which he describes as a "dark, brooding, dangerous woman that lives within all of us." In particular, the Lulu to which Wainwright refers is Louise Brooks, who starred as Lulu in the 1929 film Pandora's Box.

All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu is available to pre-order in two formats, a standard jewel case and pre-order only digi pack which features an exclusive bonus track. The album was written by Rufus Wainwright, produced by Wainwright (with Pierre Marchand on three songs), and mixed by Marchand.

Wainwright will be touring all across Europe in the Spring to promote the album. Wainwright also has concerts planned for Canada in June, including a June 21st gig at the Theatre St. Denis. That is the same venue where a young Louise brooks danced as a member of the Denishawn Dance Company in April, 1924. And on November 22nd, he will return to the historic Royal Albert Hall in London for an exclusive one off concert. For more info on Wainwright previous work and upcoming concerts, visit his website at http://www.rufuswainwright.com/

Stay tuned for further details about this story as things develop.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Louise Brooks' film makes Martin Scorsese's 10 Essential Movie Posters

According to an article (and accompanying slide show) on the GQ website, a poster for the 1929 Louise Brooks' film Diary of a Lost Girl is one of director Martin Scorsese's favorites.

The article, "Martin Scorsese's 10 Essential Movie Posters," is excerpted from a newly published book Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood, by Ira M. Resnick. Scorsese wrote the forward to this new coffee table book, which was recently published by Abbeville Press.

In the forward, the acclaimed director writes "I share Ira Resnick's passion for collecting movie posters. And you may very well begin to share that passion after you look through Starstruck and are caught by stunning reproductions of, for example, a lobby card for Orphans of the Storm, a German poster for Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl, a window card for Bringing Up Baby, or stunning posters for pictures you may not even know of like Private Detective 62 with William Powell or Daphne and the Pirate with Lillian Gish." 

I just got a copy of this book (Louise Brooks shines throughout) - and it is gorgeous! I plan on writing more about it in the very near future. In the mean time, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood can be purchased online or at better independent bookstores. [For those who can wait, author Ira Resnick will be signing copies of his book at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July.]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vienna Art Orchestra

For completists and others who are into such things, there is a copy of a hard-to-find Vienna Art Orchestra CD for sale on eBay. This European release features a tracked titled "Louise Brooks: Lulu's Ragtime." It was released in 2007 on the Universal Music label.

According to their website, "The Vienna Art Orchestra - Europe’s leading international Jazz orchestra - was created in 1977 by mathias rüegg. Since its international breakthrough in 1981, the orchestra has made guest performances in over 55 countries, including the USA and Japan, as well as in numerous other countries in Asia and Africa. More than 100 of these performances took place at international jazz festivals. The orchestra has made more than 40 recordings, many of which have been singled out for awards. For its special brand of contemporary jazz music, which is innovative yet which pays due respect to the European and American traditions from which it comes, the Vienna Art Orchestra has also received acclaim as Best Big Band in numerous countries, including in 1984-85 from Down Beat (USA)."

I have a copy of this CD. Other tracks on this release include:

1. Jean Harlow : Blond, Sharp & Loud
2. Rita Hayworth : Latin Twister
3. Louise Brooks : Lulu's Ragtime
4. Katharine Hepburn : La Grande Dame
5. Grace Kelly : One Day My Prince Did Come
6. Judy Garland : Wizards & Blizzards
7. Josephine Baker : She Need Never Regret
8. Lauren Bacall : Smile Of Gold
9. Mae West : Bombs And Other Shells
10. Bette Davis : Smokin' With Bette
11. Ava Gardner : Gardener Of Unrealized Wishes
12. Marilyn Monroe : Behind The Mirror Of Desire
13. Jayne Mansfield : Rises And Falls

Friday, March 12, 2010

Internationalism, and sex appeal

Just how international was silent film? Here is one small example.

Cuurently for sale on eBay is this postcard which depicts the the American actress Fay Lanphier. She lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was the first Miss America from California.

In 1925, she won the Miss America contest held in Atlantic City. To exploit her fame, Lanphier was quickly cast in The American Venus (1926), a Paramount comedy about a beauty pageant in which Louise Brooks also appeared. The film proved popular - due, in part, to the fact that it featured many pretty girls in bathing suits. The film played all over the world.

What's so international about this postcard is the fact that it was manufactured in Germany, for the European market. In Germany, The American Venus was shown as Die Schönste Frau der Staaten. And interestingly, the seller of this postcard lives in Latvia. Silent films certainly did get around.

Here is a rare example of a German advertisement for The American Venus. It depicts Lanphier, and promotes a screening at one of the largest and most prestigious motion picture theatres in Berlin.

Many, if not most, American films played oversees during the silent film-era. Or at least that is the case with the films of Louise Brooks. I have found numerous examples of Brooks' films showing all around the world in the 1920s (on every continent even, except Antartica). However, the American-ness of these film was not always appreciated. In England, for example, The American Venus was shown as The Modern Venus.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walter Benjamin, His and This Arcades Project

The other day, I picked up a copy of The Arcades Project, by Walter Benjamin. I got it because I had noticed (via Google book search) that Margarete Böhme is mentioned in this massive, posthumously published work. I am doing a bit of research on Böhme and her books for a project I am working on.

Who is Margarete Böhme, you may ask? And who is Walter Benjamin? And what do they have to do with Louise Brooks? Let's take a stroll through the glass covered shops in the passage way of the 20th century. . . .

Böhme (1867 - 1939) was a turn-of-the-last century German writer whose sensational 1905 book, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, was the basis for the 1929 film, Diary of a Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks. Though little known today, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen was described in one scholarly work I recently examined as part of my research as one of the best selling autobiographical narratives of the 20th century. And, in fact, by the time G.W. Pabst made his film of the book with Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, and Valeska Gert, sales of this controversial title in Germany had reached more than 1,200,000 copies! Um, that's a lot.

Benjamin (1892 - 1940) was a German-Jewish philosopher, literary critic, theorist, essayist and translator of Charles Baudelaire. Benjamin knew and was friends with seemingly everyone from Rainer Maria Rilke (lover of Lou Andreas Salomé, who was the possible inspiration and namesake of Lulu) and Bertolt Brecht (who attended Frank Wedekind's funeral) and Theodor Adorno (who essayed Alban Berg's unfinished opera, Lulu). Benjamin also knew Georg Lukács, Georges Bataille, Hannah Arendt, Hermann Hesse, Kurt Weill and others remembered today. Tragically, and desperately, Benjamin killed himself while fleeing the Nazi invasion of France. According to Wikipedia, "Over the last half-century the regard for his work and its influence have risen dramatically, making Benjamin one of the most important twentieth century thinkers about literature and about modern aesthetic experience."

Benjamin's The Arcades Project, begun in 1927, is a monumental study on which he continued to work until his death. At one point, the manuscript was destroyed and thought lost forever. However, a second copy was found and published. Unfinished, it is a mass, a mess, a conglomeration of notes and considerations concerning European and French bourgeois life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you will, it is an intellectual ramble down a collective memory lane.

The Nobel Prize winning South African novelist J. M. Coetzee, writing in the Guardian newspaper, described the work this way. "[The Arcades Project] suggests a new way of writing about a civilization using its rubbish as materials rather than its artworks: history from below rather than above. . . . What does The Arcades Project have to offer? The briefest of lists would include: a treasure hoard of curious information about Paris, a multitude of thought-provoking questions, the harvest of an acute and idiosyncratic mind's trawl through thousands of books, succinct observations, polished to a high aphoristic sheen, on a range of subjects . . . . and glimpses of Benjamin toying with a new way of seeing himself: as a compiler of a 'magic encyclopedia'."

It was into this bound labyrinth - into this unfinished attempt to liberate the suppressed "true history" of the 19th and 20th centuries - that I strolled in search of Böhme. I found a single reference, a single line of text on page 559 couched between similarly brief jottings on the nature of Jugendstil (the German name for Art Nouveau). The single line read:

"Segantini and Munch; Margarete Böhme and Przybyszewski."

What the fuck? Come on Walter, give me something more to work with than just mere juxtaposition. For Christ's sake! Or was it for the sake of something else. . . . I wondered, and looked things up.

Giovanni Segantini (1858 - 1899) was an Italian painter of the Symbolist persuasion. Same with Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944), the famous Norwegian Symbolist painter and printmaker.

Böhme, as mentioned above, was German novelist whose brand of melodramatic realism could be toned grim. As in Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, she often wrote about the lives  of young women, and prostitutes. Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868 – 1927) was a Polish novelist, dramatist, and poet of the "decadent naturalistic school." He is also associated with the Symbolist movement, which was a considerable force in Middle Europe at the turn of the last century. Elsewhere, it's been noted that Przybyszewski's fascination with the philosophy of Nietzsche and Satanism plunged him into a bohemian lifestyle.

What did Segantini - Munch & Böhme - Przybyszewski have in common? Certainly there was the shared theme of the troubled / in trouble young women. Above is Munch's 1894 painting, "Ashes." It's one of a number of works by this artist which depicts distressed female youths. Other examples can be found at the bottom of his Wikipedia page. There, don't fail to note the painting called "Vampire," which also depicts a young women embracing her lover.

Böhme's fiction made a specialty of sympathetically portraying the lives of troubled / in trouble young women. That's the story of Thymian Gottebal, the lost girl or "lost one" whose story is told in Tagebuch einer Verlorenen - and portrayed by Brooks in Diary of a Lost Girl. When Böhme's book was released in England in 1907, it even carried an endorsement from Hall Caine, a then well known man of letters to whom Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, was dedicated. His blurb read in part, "It is difficult for me to believe that a grown man or woman with a straight mind and a clean heart can find anything that is not of good influence in this most moving, most convincing, most poignant story of a great-hearted girl who kept her soul alive amidst all the mire that surrounded her poor body."

Just two years after it was first issued in Germany, Böhme's publisher put out a special edition to commemorate the printing of the 100,000th copy of the book. Not surprisingly, at least to me, I happen to have one of those vintage editions.

Here is a scan of its rather striking cover. And yes, that is a Medusa-haired Devil holding up a the dead baby.

Whether Benjamin read this book isn't known. But considering it popularity and controversial nature in Germany and even across all of Europe (it was translated into 10 languages and published in Poland, Finland, Russia, etc...), and considering he name checks the author in The Arcades Project, it seems likely. How could he have missed it? It seems right up his alley.

Which then raises the question: Had Benjamin seen the 1929 G.W. Pabst film? That is also not known, though the always on the move Benjamin was known to be in Berlin in 1929, the same year Diary of a Lost Girl and the earlier Pandora's Box premiered there.

I was curious. Had Benjamin mentioned Wedekind in The Arcades Project? The answer is yes. He does so twice on page 492, in the course of a passage.

Wedekind, of course, was the similarly controversial German playwright whose works include the still popular and still performed Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening, 1891) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904). Like Böhme, he too wrote about troubled youth. Lulu - whose archetype may be traced back to Lilith and forward to Lola-Lola in the Blue Angel and even to Lolita (penned by another late 1920's Berlin resident) - is Wedekind's most famous character.

In The Arcades Project, Benjamin writes, "On what is 'close' (Veuillot: 'Paris is musty and close') in fashion: the 'glaucous gleam' under the petticoats, of which Aragon speaks. The corsets as the torso's arcade. The absolute antithesis to this open-air world of today. What today is derigueur among the lowest class of prositutes - not to undress - may once have been the height of refinement. One liked the women retroussee, tucked up. Hessel thinks he has found here the origin of Wedekind's erotics; in his view, Wedekind's fresh-air pathos was only a bluff. And in other respects?"

WTF. Again, I am left uncomprehending. I look up Hessell (there is a handy "Guide to Names and Terms" in the back of the book) and find out that he is Franz Hessell (1880-1941), a German writer and translator. And interestingly, with Benjamin he produced a German translation of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (in English translation, In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). Interesting, because Proust may well have been Louise Brooks favorite writer. In an article entitled "Books that Gave Me Pleasure" in the New York Times of December 5, 1982 Brooks is quoted as saying "I have been reading Proust all my life, and I'm still reading him."

What I also learned about Hessell is that he was one of the first German exponents of the French idea of flânerie, and later published a collection of essays on the subject related to his native Berlin, Spazieren in Berlin. He was also the inspiration for the character of Jules in Henri-Pierre Roche's celebrated novel Jules et Jim, the same book which became the François Truffaut film.(The possible real life inspiration for the young woman between Jules and Jim was the artist Beatrice Wood, whom I met late in her life. She must have been nearly 100 years old at the time. Ever flirtatious, she kissed me on the cheek. But that's another story. . . . ) However, others think the young woman at the heart of the triangle may have been Hessel's wife, Helen.

The one other reference to Wedekind in The Arcades Project comes in the editor's notes. Entry three in section C [Ancient Paris, Catacombs, Demolitions, Decline of Paris] reads thus (please buckle up, it's chunky):

"Certain of these muses of Surrealism can be identified more precisely: Luna, the moon; Kate Greenway (1846-1901), English painter known for her illustrations of children's books; Mors, death; Cleo de Merode (1875-1966), French dancer who epitomized the demimonde; Dulcinea, the beloved of Don Quixote and the image of idealized woman; Libido, an allusion to Freud; Baby Cadum, publicity and advertising; Frederike Kempner (1836-1904), German poet and socialite. A comparison with the two other 'catalogues of muses' reveals that Dulcinea is a variant of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and that Benjamin thought of adding the painter Angelika Kauffmann (1741-1807), a friend of Goethe's. Another list, presumably the earliest, is found in 'The Arcades of Paris.'"

And here is where it gets interesting. The note continues, "Countess Geschwitz, a lesbian artist, is a character in Frank Wedekind's Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora, plays which inspired Berg's unfinished opera Lulu. The identity of Tipse remains a mystery. When Benjamin writes that the mother of Surrealism was eine Passage, he plays on the feminine gender of the noun in German." That right, he does.

Geschwitz, played by Alice Roberts, is pictured here dancing with Lulu, played by Louise Brooks, as her new husband Dr. Schon, played by Fritz Kortner, looks on. Could Walter Benjamin have envisioned himself as Schon? Perhaps.

And perhaps it is helpful to mention, in reference to Goethe, that as early as 1935 (according to Barry Paris' sublime biography of Louise Brooks), director G.W. Pabst was intent on making a film of the poet's Faust, "whose dream cast was clearly fixed in his mind. Pabst's Faust would star Greta Garbo as Gretchen and Louise Brooks as Helen of Troy." I can't imagine it. . . .

Also worth noting was Brooks' own fictionalized account of her life called Naked on My Goat. Its title derived from Faust. [The rare 1952 clipping pictured here references the book, though you will have to use an magnifying glass to read the fine print. Brooks destroyed the manuscript by throwing it down an incinerator. Into the flames of hell it went, in a sense, and there it remains one of the great lost books - great in the sense of all that it would have revealed.  I was once told that a few pages of it, along with this clipping, were once found in the back of a Kansas closet. Who knows?]

I can't imagine Naked on My Goat would have been a very satisfying read. Brooks' style as a writer had not yet formed, and her earliest efforts, as when she wrote the September 17, 1925 New York Times review of No, No Nanette assigned to journalist Herman Mankiewicz, were saturated in purple prose. Mankiewicz, you see, was drunk, and Brooks, the brainy showgirl, was game. It would takes years of practice later in life to achieve her style. She did it by literally rewriting her favorite authors -  Brooks copied passages over and over again from favorite books in her distinct arthritic longhand, until she could do so no longer.

Why did she do it? What was she searching for? What did she hope to find? What was Brooks' Rosebud?

According to acclaimed composer David Diamond (again via BP), a Rochester, New York friend of the actress, one of Brooks' cherished books was The Journal of Eugenie de Guerin. Its author was a brilliant, pessimistic, obscure French diarist (1805-1848). One of Brooks' favorite passages was this " . . . This globe is an abyss of misery and all we gain by stirring its depth is the discovery of funereal inscriptions and burying places. Death is at the bottom of everything and we keep continually digging as though we were seeking for immortality."

This passage and its archeological allusions evokes, for me, The Arcades Project - which reads as an unearthing, an unburying of some lost or repressed ideas, or even feelings, a welling up to the unconsciousness and intellect. Was then The Arcades Project the primordial example of archeologicalism? It makes me wonder, what was Walter Benjamin's Rosebud?

Well, enough of this. I spent far too long on this rambling blog. I had meant to do some more background research on Margarete Böhme but got lost in the arcades. This afternoon, I had meant to watch a DVD documentary on Theda Bara - there may still be time - and look at Bram Dijkstra's two brilliant books, Idols of Perversity and Evil Sisters. I had better get on with it.

If anyone is interested, Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project is available for purchase  on-line or through better independent bookstores. And for kicks, here's a scan of Louise Brooks' bookplate. Looks kind of decorative Jugendstil to me.

"A painstaking act of literary reconstruction has fleshed out Walter Benjamin's lost masterpiece. . . . We may consider here Benjamin's wonderful remark that 'knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.' The Arcades Project is the reverberation of that thunder in a thousand different directions. . . . This posthumous volume suggests that, in its incomplete and fissiparous state, his reflections are themselves an unflawed mirror for the world which he was attempting to explore. He seems to have retrieved everything, and anticipated everything." - Peter Ackroyd, The Times of London

"The Arcades Project is truly a kaleidoscopic montage of a dream of the meanings of society, a dream deferred by the advance of Nazis into Paris. In 1940, when Benjamin fled, he left behind the sprawling, incomplete masterpiece he had begun in 1927. But by then, it had already become, he wrote, 'the theater of all my struggles and all my ideas.'" - Forrest Gander, Providence Journal-Bulletin

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Smoking with Lulu director David Giles dies

Stalwart UK Louise Brooks fan Meredith Lawrence tipped me off to the sad news that acclaimed British theater and television director David Giles has passed away. A long obituary ran in yesterday's Guardian (UK).

Giles directed many Shakespeare plays for the BBC in the hope of showing every play written by the playwright on the BBC. His other credits include The First Churchill’s, The Barchester Chronicles, Miss Marple, and The Darling Buds of May in the early 1990s. He also directed stage plays, working with actors such as Ian McKellen.

Among his more recent efforts was Smoking With Lulu, the play by Janet Musil which was based on the meeting of Louise Brooks and Kenneth Tynan. Giles directed it for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, when it was transferred to the Soho Poly in London. It was well received. Here is an earlier Guardian (UK) review.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More six degrees of separation: Mack Sennett

Speaking of six degrees of cinematic separation - I just finished writing about a fantastic new book about Mack Sennett. It's called Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, and it's by Brent E. Walker. The book was recently published by McFarland.

What caught my attention were the handful Mack Sennett regulars who were also associated with Louise Brooks through an appearance in one or more of her films. Of course, familiars Ford Sterling and Wallace Beery come to mind. Each of them were in two films with Brooks. 

Also, the mustached Chester Conklin was in A Social Celebrity (1926), while the lovely Natalie Kingston (pictured right) was in A Girl in Every Port (1928). One fact I was amazed to find out is that Kingston was the great granddaughter of General Vallejo, for whom the city of Vallejo, California is named. That's not far from where I live! Kingston grew up there.

And as well, Sennett standout Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle directed Brooks in Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931), a short made for Educational when both Brooks and Arbuckle were on the way down in their respective careers. Another Sennett associate is James Abbe, the acclaimed photographer who took a handful of fantastic photographs of Louise Brooks at the time she was in Paris filming Prix de Beaute (1930). Later in life, Abbe ended up as the TV critic for the Oakland Tribune newspaper. Some day, somebody should publish his memoirs. He lead an incredible life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton's just released 3D version of Alice in Wonderland is only the latest in a long line of films inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic 1865 story. Just this past weekend, I watched the 1933 version. It's an enjoyable film.

However, what struck me was the number of actors who appeared in the 1933 version who had also appeared in a film or stage production with Louise Brooks. 

Among them were Richard Arlen (Rolled Stockings, Beggars of Life) as the Cheshire Cat, Leon Errol (Louie the 14th) as Uncle Gilbert, W.C. Fields (It's the Old Army Game) as Humpty-Dumpty, Skeets Gallagher (It Pays the Advertise) as the Rabbit, Cary Grant (When You're in Love) as Mock Turtle, Raymond Hatton (Now We're in the Air) as Mouse, and Ford Sterling (The American Venus, The Show-Off) as White King. And Louise Fazenda, who played the White Queen, was once mistaken for Louise Brooks at the time Just Another Blonde was released in Los Angeles.

Of course, such overlap is not surprising considering the 1933 version of  Alice in Wonderland was an ensemble production. . . . anyways, I think Brooks would have made a great Alice! Anyone interested in watching this version can purchase it online.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening in Egypt

I want to call your attention to a blog I just came across about a production of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening being put on in Egypt. The blog can be found at http://springawakeningegypt.blogspot.com/ Certainly, this blog speaks to the universal qualities of Wedekind's writing. I would encourage you to check it out.

The blog's author writers, "Translated into arabic, the text of german writer Frank Wedekind (Spring Awakening, 1891) has been adapted in regard to the prevailing situation of Egyptian youth, their common experiences were taken as a base. It´s a challenge with 25 Million Teenagers living in Egypt."

"Becoming acquainted with their daily life included listening to flowery ringtones as much as (unspoken) doubts or believes. The subject is sensitive: How does it feel, when individual longings and sexual desires are confronted with certain social, political or religious agreements? Or when the criticism of infidel behavior generates both curiosity and guilt? In interviews, workshops and scenic lectures the text of Wedekind has been re-read from different perspectives. Teenagers and grown-up "experts" tracked down the changes and consequences adolscences brings. Sometimes in a very direct way, sometimes by not answering."

"In April you will meet some of the teenagers again. Not personally. But transformed into fictitious characters of the egyptian Spring Awakening. The borders between document and fiction are flowing. Reality bites meet fantasy pecks. Between tradition and western influence young adolscences, actors and dancers will try their part. On how it works. Or how it doesn´t. Being a teenager."

The play will debut in Cairo in April, with subsequent performances in Alexandria and Minya.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Another favorite portrait

Here is another favorite portrait of Louise Brooks. To me, this is an iconic image, and one of the best ever taken of Louise Brooks. Look at it. Look at it.

To me, there is something inherently contradictory about this image. To me, it is intimate in that Brooks' very direct gaze is so intense. And, it is impersonal - Brooks appears as an almost sculptural form, unmoving. To me, this image is perfectly composed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Frank Wedekind dominates contemporary stage

Frank Wedekind, the once little regarded German playwright, now seems to be everywhere! Wedekind (1864-1916) was an early 20th century writer whose sometimes controversial plays, poems, journalism, and fiction include two dramatic works which simply won't fade from the contemporary stage. 

Those two works are Frühlings Erwachen (or Spring Awakening, 1891) and Die Büchse der Pandora (or Pandora's Box, 1904). The latter, of course, was the basis for the classic 1929 silent film by G.W. Pabst which stars Louise Brooks as Lulu.

Recently, Wedekind's Spring Awakening was the
basis for the very popular musical adaption by Duncan Sheik which dominated Broadway (it won a remarkable 8 Tony Awards) and now can be seen in touring productions around the world. Among them is a forthcoming production in Dallas, Texas and a current production in Sydney, Australia.

Wedekind's original plays are also being staged at two American Universities. As the Daily Collegian newspaper reports, "The University of Massachusetts theater department’s production of Spring Awakening: A Sin of Omission is a pleasing new adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play." I'm not sure that "pleasing" is a word that Wedekind would have found . . . pleasing. But this student production, which runs through March 6, does have appeal and does seem to embody the earthy spirit of the original. Here is a slide show of images from the production.

As this production comes to a close, just opening at Brown University in  nearby Providence, Rhode Island is a new production of Wedekind's Pandora's Box. This staging is being called Lulu, and its being directed by Spencer Golub. Lulu runs March 4-7 and March 11-14 at the local Stuart Theatre.

According to the University's Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, "Lulu follows the rise and fall of one dangerous and doomed creature: the sexually educated but passive woman who will go by any name her lovers wish to call her. From presiding over high society Parisian balls to selling herself in London basement rooms, Lulu ruins those around her, and is ruined, for love. Donald Lyons called Lulu a 'symphony – or rather a cacophony – of deotic sexual rhetorics….among the supreme masterpieces of nineteenth-century theatre.' Director Spencer Golub calls Lulu 'very nasty.'"

"An Eyes Wide Shut for an earlier century’s turn, Lulu is a sex tragedy - or comedy - about how basic need and desire are made base by social convention, bourgeois morality and the fantasy life of the mind. Smart, dark, beautiful, twisted, tragic, haunting – you will not forget Lulu, or Lulu." Amen.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who attends this roduction of Lulu. And I would be interested to know more about the actress who plays Lulu. She has some small shoes to fill.

[Not surprisingly, Frank Wedekind is an interest of mine.  I have a small archive of information on various productions of Wedekind's famous play, and the various films and musical works, including Alban Berg's opera, which were based on it. Also, this article on examiner.com has some curious information about the little known American origins of Frank Wedekind. Check it out.]

Diary of a Lost Girl soundtrack for sale

Often times, Louise Brooks ephemera or memorabilia is listed for sale on eBay as "rare." One might wonder if its true - and then you notice too many other baubles also listed as rare. And then you check the asking price and see that the seller has started the bidding at $2.99. And then you ask yourself, how can something be rare if its only selling for $2.99?

Of course, the selling price of an item has not necessarily anything to do with its scarcity. That rule of thumb applies to both vintage and contemporary material. The point I am trying to make is that too often the word "rare" is thrown around all too casually. Just today, for example, I came across an item on eBay that is truly RARE, or at least really rather uncommon. The asking price is 100 euros, or approximately $136.90.

Its a contemporary soundtrack recording to the 1929 Louise Brooks film The Diary of a Lost Girl (translated by the seller as Diary of a fallen maid.), which was released in Germany as Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. In France, the film proved popular as Journal d'une fille perdue. And that's the title on the album cover. This particular recording, release in France on the PSI Label,  features the music of Robert Viger (string quartet) and Alain Bernaud (piano).

These albums seldom shows up on eBay. Though that was my source when I bought one a few years back. Thank my lucky stars I still have an old turntable to play it on. Now that's . . . .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back in the USSR

This Soviet era Louise Brooks postcard is currently for sale on eBay. The seller, who lives in Poland, states the postkarte is from 1928. (The portrait, incidentally, is by M.I. Boris, a NYC-based photographer who once was the, or a, court photographer to the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to WWI. Or at least that's what his son once told me. Boris took this image in 1925.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beggars of Life to screen in UK with live music

Mark Kermode is a BBC film critic who loves the movies. Kermode is also the resident film critic on Radio Five Live's Mayo Show and on the News Channel, and a presenter on The Culture Show who often appears on Newsnight Review.

Today, on his twice-weekly video blog, Kermode mentioned that his musical group, The Dodge Brothers, will accompany the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life. I am not sure where or when, as Kermode doesn't mention the details. Maybe they will emerge sometime soon . . . .

One of my favorite portraits

Though this is a poor reproduction, this image of Louise Brooks remains one of my favorite portraits of the actress. It is also one of the first I remember feeling smitten over.

There is something about it. The perfection of her bob. The imperfection of her bangs. The tilt of her head. The reluctant smile. The direction of her chin.

And, I like the sailor's suit-like dress she is wearing. It suggests, if only subconsciously, something slightly androgynous about the actress.

Is this all about me? Or do you feel it too?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Andy's Theatre holiday fare 1927

Had I been a Louise Brooks' fan living along the north coast of California, I would have paid at least a couple of visits to Andy's Theatre in the town of Albion (near Mendocino). As can be seen from these two newspaper advertisements, this small town theatre showed two Brooks' films during the 1927 holiday season.

Now We're in the Air was shown on November 20th, along with the shorts One Sunday Morning and M.G.M. No. 20. And The City Gone Wild was shown on December 22th (as A City Gone Wild), along with an unnamed comedy and Paramount News, 33. Interestingly, One Sunday Morning (1926), was directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and stars Oakland-born comedian Lloyd Hamilton.

These advertisements are typical of the kind found in small town newspapers. I found them this past weekend while researching film exhibition in Northern California. What I wasn't able to find was any information about Andy's Theatre. The always informative Cinema Treasures website didn't have an entry on this local venue with the idiosyncratic name.
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