Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scrapbook novel depicts 1920s story

Speaking of great new books, here is a non-Louise Brooks related title I would like to recommend. It is called The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston.

Charming and a different, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (Ecco / HarperCollins Publishers) is a hybrid work where the pictures do the talking. One might even describe it as something F. Scott Fitzgerald might have come up with for the Saturday Evening Post had he been a collage artist or even, in today's parlance, a graphic novelist. And, like the best stories of that Jazz Age writer, this engaging work is poignant, tender and leaves you wrapped up in the tangled plight of its protagonist.

In many ways, Frankie Pratt is a typical small town young woman of the Jazz Age - she's envious of the flappers she has read about in magazines, but is tentative about copying their modern ways. She is also looking for love and success, and dreams of being a writer.

For her graduation from high school, Frankie receives a scrapbook along with her father’s Corona typewriter. A bright young thing, she begins to fill her scrapbook with clipping as well as her own thoughts and observations. Frustrated in her ambition, and about to see her dreams fade away, Frankie forgoes a scholarship to Vassar in order to help her widowed mother. Still living at home, a mysterious WWI veteran named Captain James sweeps Frankie off her feet, and her mother must find a way to protect Frankie from the less-than-noble intentions of this unsuitable beau.

Frankie eventually makes it to Vassar, and there crosses paths with other co-eds turned flappers as well as a real writer - alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay, who encourages Frankie to move to Greenwich Village and pursue her dreams.

In New York, she finds a job writing for a pulp magazine and also experiences big city heartbreak. Frankie then sets off for Paris and enroute keeps company with a spinster adventuress. Once in the French capital, Frankie takes a room above Shakespeare & Company - the hub of expat life, and pursues her dreams until a the Captain from her past reappears.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a coming-of-age story composed of visual scraps - postcards, photographs, letters, advertisements, ticket stubs, maps, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, headlines, fashion spreads, menus, and other ephemera from the roaring Twenties. Silent film stars Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish, John Barrymore, Vilma Banky and others are all referenced visually. Though images dominate, text nevertheless plays a vital role in advancing the narrative - and ever-so gracefully, Preston's tone is right on the mark.

I was impressed, for example, when I read that the 1918 Corona Portable used by Preston in the typewriting of the captions in The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is the same model used by another writer who came of age in the 1920's, Ernest Hemingway. That is the kind of detail one finds in this unusual book which helps enrich the story. (Font enthusiasts will know what I mean.) One reviewer has described this book as "lighter than lightweight" - but in a sincere, complementary way. It is that, certainly, and also a lot of fun and a worthwhile read.

Preston's new book will appeal to memorabilia collectors and those who scrapbook, as well as Jazz Age enthusiasts and those seduced by the charm and history behind Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist or Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. They each tread similar ground. And what's more, there is full-color vintage ephemera from the author's collection pictured on every page.

Preston has collected antique scrapbooks since she was in high school, and has become an expert on the history of the scrapbook in America. She has worked as an archivist at the Peabody / Essex Museum and Harvard University Houghton Library. Preston is also the author of three previous novels, Jackie by Josie (a New York Times Notable Book), Lucy Crocker 2.0, and Gatsby’s Girl. That latter book is another charming Jazz Age period piece, the story of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love - a pre-Zelda Chicago socialite named Ginerva.

A few selected pages from the book and more can be found on examiner.com Check it out! If you read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt be sure and post your thoughts. I think fans of Louise Brooks will find a bit of the actress in Frankie.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best 2011 releases for the Louise Brooks fan

It’s that time of the year when bloggers issue their "Best of" lists - the year’s recommended new releases in books, film, music and more. Last year saw the release of a handful of important new releases related to or in homage to Louise Brooks. This year is no different. Though the number of new works related to or inspired by the actress is smaller, it is nevertheless distinguished. Prominent among them in 2011 is Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in which Brooks is pictured in a book and included in a brief clip from her 1929 film Pandora's Box. Otherwise, fans of the legendary silent film star will want to check out each of these recent releases.

Ebook: My Afternoon With Louise Brooks, by Tom Graves (Rhythm Oil Publications)

-- In 1982, writer and journalist Tom Graves hoped to write a biography of one of the most reclusive stars in the history of cinema. My Afternoon With Louise Brooks is the author's brief account of his now long ago meeting and subsequent dealings with the actress, much of which centered on his never realized biography. Or, as the ebook description puts it, "After 30 years Graves finally tells his tale as the last journalist to ever be admitted into the bedroom of this cult legend." Following its release earlier this year, Graves expanded his ebook to include additional material, making it a more satisfying read. My Afternoon With Louise Brooks is available as an ebook on Amazon.com

Music: Lulu, by Lou Reed and Metallica (Warner Bros.)

-- Like the 1929 Brooks' film Pandora's Box, this musical collaboration between rock greats Lou Reed and Metallica was inspired by Frank Wedekind's two Lulu plays, which together tells the story of a young dancer's life and loves. At times noisy, repetitive, harsh, aggressive, droning, abrasive, and droll - this is 21st century expressionist music which stems not from any rock tradition, but rather an art-music background. Lulu won't be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, it has been poorly received among fans of Reed and Metallica. Nevertheless, it's a strong brew.

Book: Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler by Paul Bauer and Mark Dawidziak (Kent State University Press)

-- Many saw the dark side of the American dream, but few wrote about it like Jim Tully (1886 - 1947). This first ever biography of the writer describes the hardscrabble life of the Irish American storyteller - from his immigrant roots, rural upbringing, and life as a hobo riding the rails to his success and eventual fame as a journalist and novelist in 1920s and 1930s Hollywood. Tully also authored Beggars of Life, a novelistic memoir made into a 1928 film starring Brooks. The two met then, and did not hit it off. Three years earlier, Brooks - in the company of Charlie Chaplin - attended the stage adaption of the book on Broadway.

Book: Making the Detective Story American: Biggers, Van Dine and Hammett and the Turning Point of the Genre, 1925-1930, by J.K. Van Dover (McFarland)

-- In 1929, Louise Brooks and William Powell co-starred in The Canary Murder Case; the film was based on bestselling book of the same name by the pseudonymous S.S. Van Dine, a once-popular and critically esteemed author of detective fiction. Though little read today, Van Dine is considered an important early figure in the development of the modern detective story. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, many of his books were bestsellers, and many were turned into popular films and radio programs. Van Dine is one of three writers featured in a this new book - a critical study.

Book: Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, by Emily W. Leider (University of California Press)

-- One might not associate Louise Brooks with Myrna Loy. Both were from Western cities, and both were teens when discovered. One was a silent film actress whose career largely faded with the coming of sound, the other a star of the sound era best known for her role in the Thin Man series of the 1930's. (The co-star of that series was William Powell.) Their careers intersected early on when Loy played one of the many international female sirens in A Girl in Every Port (1928), which starred Brooks. Later in life, in 1982, both were chosen as recipients of the George Eastman House for lifetime contribution to the movies. Emily W. Leider has penned a first ever biography of a wry and sophisticated actress whose extraordinary career spanned six decades. [Speaking of A Girl in Every Port, it is one of the films covered in The Fox Film Corporation, 1915-1935: A History and Filmography, by Aubrey Solomon (McFarland). A couple of passages about the film can be found in this other new book.]

Book: The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead)

-- Looking ahead, the big Louise Brooks-related release in 2012 promises to be Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone (Riverhead). Set for publication in June of next year, this captivating new novel tells the story of the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 (on her way to becoming a Denishawn dancer), and the summer that would change them both. Moriarty, who hails from Kansas, is a processed fan of the silent film star. Her earlier novels include While I'm Falling (2010) and The Center of Everything (2004).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chaplin's Gold Rush to screen in San Francisco Bay Area

Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) is considered not only one of Chaplin's best films and one the great films of all time - but it also plays an important, even pivotal role in the life story of Louise Brooks.

Legendary in the annals of film history, The Gold Rush is the film in which Chaplin as the Little Tramp eats his boot and, at a would-be New Year's Eve dinner gathering, poignantly performs the "Dance of the Rolls." In 1998, the American Film Institute chose The Gold Rush as one of the 100 greatest films ever made.

A newly restored 35 mm print of The Gold Rush screens for seven days beginning December 23 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, California.

Seldom satisfied with his work, Chaplin added original music to the film in 1942, while also trimming several minutes and bridging the gaps with narration. Now, for the first time, the complete 1925 version - without narration - has been painstakingly restored. With the permission of the Chaplin estate, composer Timothy Brock has arranged Chaplin's 1942 orchestral score to accommodate the length of the original version. The film now runs 90 minutes, as it did at its New York City premiere at the Strand Theater.

That premiere, in the Summer of 1925, drew the famous comedic actor and director to New York. And it was there, at a cocktail party hosted by producer Walter Wanger, that Chaplin first met Louise Brooks - then a Ziegfeld Follies dancer performing at the New Amsterdam Theater. The two hit it off - and spent pretty much the entire season in one another's company. Chaplin (though married at the time) and Brooks even lived together for a time.

Chaplin and Brooks, who were often see together in public, were the subject of gossip as well as reports in some of New York City's numerous newspapers. The two also attended various plays and shows including Outside Looking In, the stage adaption of Jim Tully's book Beggars of Life. Brooks would later star in the film adaption of Tully's bestseller, as well as in later life recount the time spent with Chaplin in the Summer of 1925.

Today, The Gold Rush is regarded as one of Chaplin's best films. Though his opinion of his own work changed over the years, to the end of his life Chaplin often declared that of all his films this was the one by which he would most wish to be remembered. For those in the Bay Area, it is a great opportunity to see a great film.

More info: The Gold Rush plays at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street) December 23 through December 29, 2011. A list of dates and show times for The Gold Rush at the Rafael Film Center can be found at http://www.cafilm.org/rfc/films/1644.html

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A special offer from the SF Silent Film Festival

Holiday Specials from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Here is the perfect stocking stuffer for the holiday season! Give heavily discounted SFSFF 2012 all-program Festival Passes to the film lovers you love. Until January 6, all Festival Passes are being offered at a very special holiday rate - lower than our early bird rates! We're planning at least 17 programs at our July 2012 Festival-wonderful films with extraordinary musical accompaniment by musicians from around the world, so don't miss out!

Buster Keaton Holiday

For each pass you purchase, you'll receive a gift voucher card suitable for giving during the holiday season. At the SF Silent Film Festival in July, you or your recipient can present the voucher card at the Will Call table at the Castro Theatre in exchange for the Festival Pass.

Members take their discount at checkout.
For questions, please email concierge@silentfilm.org 
or call 415-777-4908 x 1
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