Saturday, December 31, 2016

German Avant-Garde Films in Japan, 1926

In the silent era, language was no barrier to films fro Europe or the United States being shown elsewhere around the world, including Japan. Then, as now, Japan had an active and curious film culture. And that curiosity extend to "avant-garde" films from abroad, including German movies made in the "New Objective" and Expressionist styles. Here are a few examples of German films shown in Japan in 1926. They are the G.W. Pabst directed film The Joyless Street (1925), starring      Greta Garbo, Asta Nielsen, and Werner Krauss; the horrific Robert Weine directed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, and Lil Dagover; and lastly, the Hans Neuman directed A Midsummer Night's Dream, starring yet again once more Werner Krauss.

And yes, the expressionist tinged G.W. Pabst directed Louise Brooks film, Pandora's Box (1929) was also shown in Japan. Come back next year, tomorrow, for another special treat from Japan.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Look Back at this year's Louise Brooks Society Blog

This year, the Louise Brooks Society posted nearly 200 times. Some were short form posts, and some were long form. As a blogger, I am especially proud of the long form pieces which broke new ground, or revealed some new information about Louise Brooks. Here are a few of my favorite posts: if you haven't already checked them out, please do so.

Louise Brooks, at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and 16th Street

Beggars of Life recording sessions, the details

Louise Brooks, Modernism, the Surrealists, and the Paris of 1930

Louise Brooks at a drive-in and other firsts from the 1950s

Louise Brooks as "Lulu the Sinful"

When Louise Brooks almost signed with Pathe

Louise Brooks asks just how short is a short skirt...

Louise Brooks and The Invention of Morel, by Adolpo Bioy Casares

First known event advertisement to name Louise Brooks

Some of these posts proved popular, some less so. Nevertheless, all of them gained at least 100 hits or reads. The following posts stand out as they gained more than 500 hits or reads. A few approached 1000.

Stacks of Brooks

Since this blog was started (on LiveJournal), there have been nearly 2800 posts.  I hope you have enjoyed reading them. There are more to come. Next year, 2017, promises to be a great year for fans of the actress--with the expected release of a new book, at least one new DVD, multiple screenings around the world, and an unprecedented announcement that will rock LB fans everywhere!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Now Online: Treasures From American Film Archives

The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) has made freely available for online viewing 47 films from its first DVD set, Treasures from American Film Archives. Originally released in 2000 and hailed by Roger Ebert as “a treasure trove of old, obscure, forgotten, rediscovered, and fascinating footage from the first century of film,” Treasures marked the first time that America’s archives had joined forces to share their films with home video audiences and showcase the amazing range of American films. It received an award from the National Society of Film Critics and was called the “best set of the year” by The New York Times.  

Treasures eventually sold out, as did an Encore edition made possible through the support of the Cecil B. De Mille Foundation. We are committed to keeping the Treasures films accessible to the public and now present them on our website.

Mastered from the finest archival sources, the 47 films include the first feature-length Snow White (1916), Western star William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges (1916), The Toll of the Sea (1922) in two-strip Technicolor, The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) by James Sibley Watson Jr. and Melville Webber, John Huston’s searing antiwar documentary The Battle of San Pietro (1945), and footage of Orson Welles's 1936 “Voodoo” Macbeth. Together they represent 10 stunning hours, including the first publicly exhibited movie, cutting-edge avant-garde works, silent-era features, pioneering special effects films, landmark independent productions, documentaries, newsreels, animation, political ads, and home movies made from coast to coast. One not to miss is Three American Beauties (1906).

All films are accompanied by program notes by the set’s curator Scott Simmon (University of California, Davis) and feature either their original soundtracks or commissioned scores supervised by music curator Martin Marks (MIT).

Since its release Treasures from American Film Archives has been valued by cinephiles and educators—this online release ensures that a wide audience can continue enjoying these films, either as entertainment, a teaching resource, or, best of all, both.

I have each of the NFPF box sets. You should too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Louise Brooks: A Classic of the Silver Screen

Louise Brooks: A Classic of the Silver Screen . . . .

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Louise Brooks in Our News Reel in Rhyme

A poem mentioning Brooks from Photoplay magazine. And Brooks' co-stars W.C. Fields, Adolphe Menjou too....

Monday, December 26, 2016

Silent film stars celebrating the Holidays #2

Here are a couple of images of silent film stars celebrating the Holidays.... First Louise Brooks' one-time co-star Esther Ralston, and second the It Girl, Clara Bow.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Louise Brooks Society #2

A vintage Japanese holiday greeting from Paramount. How many stars can you name? One at least!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Louise Brooks Society #1

A vintage Japanese holiday greeting from Paramount. How many stars can you name? Check back tomorrow for another!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The shocking edition of Diary of a Lost Girl

Yesterday, I received something very, very special in the mail - my recent order of a scarce edition of Tagebuch einer Verlorenen / Diary of a Lost Girl. Wow, what a score! It came from Germany, and is in beautiful condition, near fine. I have been hunting for this edition for some time now, ever since I worked on the Louise Brooks edition of Diary of a Lost Girl, which was published in 2010.

This illustrated edition of Margarete Bohme's book contains dozens of illustrations, some of them strangle, and some surprisingly risque.

If I am decoding his bookplate correctly, the owner bought the book in 1917. Also laid in were 4 scarce postcards from the 1918 film version of Tagebuch einer Verlorenen. Each of the postcards depict Erna Morena, who played Thymain (the role played by Louise Brooks in 1929); two postcards also depict Conrad Veidt, who starred in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Casablanca.

I had read that the book in its original German was far more suggestive than the English language translation. The owner, a close reader, discretely penciled in notes, like the cost of prostitutes (notice the amounts penciled next to each portrait below).

He also penciled a comment to the right of the last image: "Morbus gallicus," which translates as "The French disease," or syphilis.  No wonder Walter Benjamin described this book as something like “a complete inventory of the sexual trade.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Silent film stars celebrating the Holidays #1

Here are a couple of images of silent film stars celebrating the Holidays.... First Louise Brooks' one-time co-star Mary Brian, and second, the other bobbed wonder, Colleen Moore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Announcing a Louise Brooks Documentary on Kickstarter

Documentary of a Lost Girl is a new, in-the-works documentary about Louise Brooks which has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help it reach completion. According to its campaign page, "This film will uncover the life of Louise Brooks through interviews, traveling, archival resources and Brooks-style immersive research." It's the brainchild of Charlotte Siller, a dedicated Louise Brooks researcher and devotee. I had the chance to meet Charlotte last year when I visited Rochester, New York and was impressed by her enthusiasm.

I encourage everyone to find out more and to make a donation to this worthwhile cause. I already have . . . . Find out more HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Louise Brooks Society wishlist

In case you are wondering, or even worried, what you might give the Louise Brooks Society this holiday season, wonder or worry no more. The Louise Brooks Society has updated its wish list on, and it can be found HERE. The list contains a handful of books, compact discs, and DVDs of interest to the LBS.

And what's more, RadioLulu also has a wish list made up of CDs and digital music which the LBS is interested in obtaining for possible inclusion on it's streaming music station. The RadioLulu wish list can be found HERE.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Special offer: Give the gift of live cinema

Holiday Special: Member - $200/General - $220 (No service charge!)
More information HERE.
Give the gift of live cinema with an all-program PASS to the 22nd annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, June 1–4, 2017. Believe you me, every silent film and Louise Brooks fan will want to be there!

The 2017 festival passes are available at at big discount for a very limited time. Give the gift of live cinema to that film lover on your list. This offer is only good until December 31.

For a very limited time, you can buy a deeply discounted SFSFF 2017 PASS for that film lover on your list. Four glorious days of silent-era film set to live musical accompaniment! This offer is only good until December 31 at the stroke of midnight, so don’t delay.

“SFSFF is in a class by itself: a feast for lovers of classic film and live music that is as elaborate, ambitious, and masterfully mounted as any I’ve seen.” —Leonard Maltin 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Follow the Louise Brooks Society on Twitter

Do you follow the Louise Brooks Society on Twitter? If not, you should! The LBS ( @LB_Society ) has been on the popular social media platform since 2009 -- that's about 7 years! In fact, the LBS is followed by more than 4,300+ interested individuals (including a few famous names).

And while you're at it, be sure and check out the LBS Twitter profile, and nearly 5,100 LBS tweets ... so far! There's always more to come.....



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pandora's Box screens in Istanbul, Turkey on January 15

The 1929 Louise Brooks film, Pandora's Box, will be shown with live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne in Istanbul, Turkey on January 15, 2017. For more information about this event, please visit THIS PAGE.  What follows is further information from the host website.

Pandora’nın Kutusu / Die Büchse der Pandora / Pandora’s Box

Kadın-erkek herkesin etrafında pervane olduğu cazibeli  ve güzel Lulu (Louise Brooks), varyete şovlarla birçok kişinin gönlünü çalmaktadır. Aşk yaşadığı varyete sahibi Dr. Schön’ün başka bir kadınla evleneceğini duyunca bu evliliği bozmak için elinden geleni yaparak, onu kendisiyle evlenmesi için ayartır. Fakat bu evlilik Pandora’nın kutusunun açılmasına neden olurken kendisi dahil herkesi trajedinin içine çeker. 1925 yılında ilk defa Amerika’da sinema dünyasına adım atan Louise Brooks’un Avrupa’daki ilk filmi olan Pandora’nın Kutusu, Alman oyun yazarı Frank Wedekind’in iki oyunundan uyarlanmıştır. Bu filmdeki Lulu karakteri, Brooks’un sonraki yaşamında bu isimle anılmasına neden olmuştur. Geçen yıl festivalde “Güzellik Ödülü”ne yer verdiğimiz Brooks’un ilk filmi kaçmaz.

Charming and attractive musical revue actress Lulu (Louise Brooks), who inspires admiration of both men and women and steals everybody’s heart, does everything to break the upcoming marriage of Dr. Schönn, a patron of the show and her former lover.  She succeeds in marrying him, but this opens Pandora’s Box ultimately leading to a tragic end for everybody, including Lulu. Louise Brooks began her career in the US in 1925.  Pandora’s Box, adapted from two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind, was her first European movie.  After this movie, the name Lulu became Louise Brooks’ nickname. Last year’s “Beauty Prize” is followed by Louise Brooks’ first European movie. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Louise Brooks and the Maltese Falcon

For the longest time, I have believed that a photograph seen in the 1931 Warner Bros. version of The Maltese Falcon was that of Louise Brooks. Now, I am not so sure. This first adaption of the famed Dashiell Hammett story, directed by Roy Del Ruth, stars Ricardo Cortez as private detective Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels (shown below) as Ruth Wonderly.

I have seen this film twice before at movie theaters here in San Francisco (the setting of the film as well), and each time I spotted the image and said to myself "That's Louise Brooks." I guessed it was one of her French portraits, taken while she was in Paris filming Prix de beaute in 1930. It certainly looks like one of the images taken by the Studio Lorelle, though it doesn't match any of them. Below is a photograph of the Studio Lorelle taken on the streets of Paris in 1930.

The image in question is seen twice in the film. The first time is early on, about 30 minutes into the story. The second time is later on, somewhat near the end. In this later scene, Spade places a telephone call from his apartment. And hanging on the wall near the phone is a picture of a woman we assume to be his sweetheart. That woman, I have long thought, is Brooks.

Or might it be random set decoration? And why would it be there? I haven't been able to find any connections, except that ... in 1931, Brooks appeared in one Warner Bros. movie, God’s Gift to Women, and was considered for another, The Public Enemy. Each was released around the same time as The Maltese Falcon. Might an extra publicity photo around the studio account for why an image of the actress was included in this latter production?

Here is a close-up. What do you think? If it ain't Louise Brooks, might you know who it is?

By-the-way, the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon is available on the "Three-Disc Special Edition" (pictured below) of the Humphrey Bogart classic from Warner Home Video. It is a great set, with lots of swell bonus material.

From the Wikipedia entry on the 1931 film: "The film closely follows the plot of the book. The sanitized 1941 adaptation, which began with a revised version of the 1931 script, closely follows the book as well, although most references to homosexuality, stripping (the missing $1000) and other no longer permissible portions under the Motion Picture Production Code are missing. The dialogue for both films is often taken directly from the novel, verbatim. Differences between the two films are due almost wholly to Pre-Code aspects of the earlier film. In addition to an overall lighter tone and looser pace, the 1931 film contains sexually suggestive situations; in the opening scene, a woman (likely Iva Archer) is shown straightening her stockings as she leaves Spade's office. Miss Wonderly (Bebe Daniels) is shown bathing, and later in the film is strip-searched by Spade over missing money. The 1931 film does not shy away from homosexual themes: Wilmer is called Gutman's "boyfriend". The homosexual subtext regarding Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer is abundant in Hammett's original story. Effie facetiously describes Cairo to Spade as "gorgeous". Spade taunts Dundy by constantly referring to him as "sweetheart", "darling", and "precious". All of this is absent from the better-known 1941 version.

In 1936, Warner Brothers attempted to re-release the film, but were denied approval by the Production Code Office owing to the film's "lewd" content.... For several decades, unedited copies of the film could not be seen in the United States. Once restrictions were lifted from showing this film sometime after 1966, the film was retitled Dangerous Female for U.S. television in order to avoid confusion with the 1941 remake, which had previously been the only version available by the original name."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks, screens 4 times in January in London (UK)

Wow. The British Film Institue (BFI) is screening the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, Pandora's Box, not once, but four times in January! The screenings will take place January 3, 6, 8, and 21, 2017 at the NFT2. Tickets are now on sale. For more information about this historic series, please visit THIS PAGE.

From the BFI website: "Pabst’s landmark adaptation of two plays by Frank Wedekind boasts an iconic performance by Louise Brooks as Lulu, the guiltless, guileless beauty who wreaks havoc among all those seduced by her raw sexuality, only to fall prey to an even darker force. A precise and subtle expressionism inflects the sets, costumes and make-up, highlighting the ruinous appeal of unbridled eroticism."

These screenings will feature live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne (3 Jan), John Sweeney (6 Jan), Wendy Hiscocks (8 Jan), and Costas Fotopoulos (21 Jan).

Pandora's Box is now considered a classic, but when it was first shown in the UK in 1930, the press had some reservations.

Speaking of Stephen Horne, the well known silent film accompaniest will be accompanying Pandora's Box again in January, not in London, but in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow THIS LINK for further information.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Beggars of Life recording sessions, details around the music

In the previous Louise Brooks Society blog, I referenced the Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), an online database which contains details of recordings from the first decades of the 20th century. I have looked at this database in the past, but was reminded of its existence while reading Michael Hammond's essay, "Cowboys, Beggars and the ‘Deep Ellum Blues’: Playing Authentic to Silent Films," in Today's Sounds for Yesterday's Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema, edited by K.J. Donnelly and Ann-Kristin Wallengren.

What can be found there related to Louise Brooks and Beggars of Life?

Let's start with the familiar theme song by Karl Hajos (composer) and J. Keirn Brennan (lyricist). It was released as a 78 rpm on the Victor label. Click on the video to listen to a recording played on a 1927 Orthophonic Victrola, model 8-30.

The DAHR page tells us a lot about this recording, and even when it was recorded. This version, an instrumental with vocal refrain, is by The Troubadours, and was recorded in New York City on September 13, 1928, about a week before the film's official release and almost two weeks after the silent version of the film began showing in the United States. [A prior recording session, held on August 30th, didn't seem to work out, with two of its three takes being destroyed.] We can safely assume this commercial recording was not featured on the film's soundtrack, though its label indicates it was the "Theme Song of the Motion Picture Production Beggars of Life."

The Troubadours were a studio group directed by the well known Nathaniel Shilkret; the instrumentation on this recording was listed as 4 violins, cello, bass, 4 saxophones, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, tuba, banjo, 2 pianos, and 2 traps. The vocal quartet was composed of Wilfred Glenn (bass), Jack Parker (tenor), Phil Dewey (tenor), and Frank Luther (tenor).

"Beggars of Life" proved popular. At least two different pieces of sheet music were issued (pictured below), along with at least three other 78 rpm recordings by other artists like the Bar Harbor Society Orchestra (with Irving Kaufman), Seger Ellis, Scrappy Lambert, and others. I recently purchased a rare platter of the Bar Harbor Society Orchestra 78 rpm.

The song was also issued for player piano. Here is an image of just such a recording, which I also purchased some years ago..


This is fascinating stuff, to be sure. But here is where the DAHR database really gets interesting.

Because it is considered lost, there has been a lot of speculation about what the original soundtrack for Beggars of Life might have sounded like. (The film was released in two versions, one was silent for those theaters not yet equipped to handle sound films--then a new thing, and one was with an accompanying soundtrack recording featuring music, sound effects, and a song reportedly sung by Wallace Beery. Those theaters that received a silent version likely would have also received or would have purchased from their local exchange a cue sheet for use by their local musician so they could provide their own music.)

Clues to what the sound version of the film sounded like can be found in the DAHR database, as it includes details for each of the recording sessions for the soundtrack for Beggars of Life! Each of the Beggars of Life sessions were recorded by the Motion Picture Orchestra (a group of otherwise anonymous studio musicians) under the direction of Emmanuel Baer and others. At each session, various takes were recorded for each reel of this 9 reel film. Here are pertinent details.

Reel 1 was recorded on 8/20/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Irvin Talbot (assistant director).

Reel 2 was recorded on 8/20/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 34 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Irvin Talbot (assistant director).

Reel 3 was recorded on 8/21/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 34 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Nathaniel Finston (assistant director), as well as a male vocal quartet used on take 4. Max Terr was choral director for the male vocal quartet, which was composed of Donald Wells, William Cleary, R. Moody, and A. Ray. Train sound effects were also recorded on the first two takes, but not on the last two.

Reel 4 was recorded on 8/21/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Nathaniel Finston (assistant director), as well as a solo male vocalist, Donald Wells.

Reel 5 was recorded on 8/22/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Nathaniel Finston (assistant director). Studio ledgers note Max Terr was present.

Reel 6 was recorded on 8/22/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Nathaniel Finston (assistant director). Studio ledgers note Max Terr was present.

Reel 7 was recorded on 8/23/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director).

Reel 8 was recorded on 8/23/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director).  

Reel 9 was recorded on 8/24/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director), as well as a male vocal quartet composed of William Cleary, Donald Wells, A. Ray, and R. Moody.

But wait, there's more! There were also recording sessions for a prologue and an epilogue to the film, something I was not previously aware of.

Prologue session #1 was recorded on 8/23/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director), along with a male vocal quartet composed of William Cleary, Donald Wells, A. Ray, and R. Moody, and a recitation by Harrison Brockbank! [In my 20-plus years of researching this film, I have never come across a reference to a recitation in any of the hundreds of reviews I have collected. It's possible it wasn't used after all. And before you ask, I have no idea what the recitation entailed. Perhaps it was the lyrics to "Beggars of Life," or perhaps it was some passage from Jim Tully's book? Or perhaps it was something wholly unrelated and in all likelihood sentimental.]

Prologue session #2 was recorded on 8/24/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director), along with a male vocal quartet composed of William Cleary, Donald Wells, A. Ray, and R. Moody,

Epilogue session was recorded on 8/24/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director), along with a male vocal quartet composed of William Cleary, Donald Wells, A. Ray, and R. Moody.

After all these sessions, and after the film had opened in a small number of markets (Indianapolis, Indiana and Salt Lake City, Utah on September 1, and in Battle Creek, Michigan on September 2),  most everyone went back to the studio to rerecord new tracks. The Victor records note:

Reel 3 was rerecorded on 9/4/1928 and 9/10/29 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra  (takes 1A-3A) and an orchestra of 29 men (takes 4-6A), with Emmanuel Baer (director) and and Max Terr (assistant director). Notably, the sound effects were dropped, as was Nathaniel Finston (the original assistant director).

Reel 4 was rerecorded on 9/4/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director). Notably, the male vocalist was dropped, as was Nathaniel Finston (the original assistant director).

Reel 9 was rerecorded on 9/4/1928 in the Camden, New Jersey studio with an orchestra of 27 men, with Emmanuel Baer (director) and Max Terr (assistant director). Notably, the male vocal quartet was dropped.

This image from 1925 shows a recording session from the time.

Over the years, many well known jazz and classical musicians recorded at Victor's Camden, New Jersey studio. Caruso’s later recordings, including his last recording in 1920, were done there, as were the first recordings by Arturo Toscanini and the visiting La Scala Orchestra, also in 1920. A few years later, in 1927, Vladimir Horowitz’s first recordings were recorded at the Camden Church Studios. Among the many popular artists who recorded there were Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and the Carter Family.

In addition to electrical phonograph record recording, the Camden Church Studio also did some early motion picture sound recording.  Beginning in 1927, equipment for recording motion picture sound tracks on disks synchronized with film was added to the studio. Reportedly, one of the first sessions was for the William Wellman-directed Wings, starring Clara Bow, Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers. Additionally, Rodgers recorded his popular song "(I'd like to be) A bee in your boudor" at the Camden Church Studio in 1930. (That song, as well as Beggars of Life, can be heard on RadioLulu.)

In 1935, the city of Camden decided to extend its subway system below the church location. At first the construction and later the subway noise ended the church building as a recording location. Most recording was moved to New York or other locations. 

Back to Beggars of Life. Newspaper articles and advertisements of the time tell us a little about the nature of the sound version of Beggars of Life. Commenting on its New York City premiere at the Paramount Theater, Women's Wear Daily noted "All of these stars outdo themselves in this picture. Wallace Beery talks in this picture, sings a hobo song and ends with an observation about jungle rats in general." The New Yorker also commented on "the synchronized accompaniment of sentimental music."

Elsewhere, the New Orleans Item observed, "Vitaphone helps the story along with music that is fitting and well arranged. The 'Hallelujah I'm a Bum' rhythm helps the story's speed." Peggy Patton of the Wisconsin News wrote "Wallace Beery, Richard Arlen (also playing in Wings) and Louise Brooks play the featured roles. All do praiseworthy work. By the way it is a sound picture and Wallace Beery speaks a few lines and sings a song. His speaking voice is splendid." Frank Aston of the Cincinnati Post penned, "The direction is admirable. Vitaphonic sounds lend some extra force. Beery is heard singing." The San Diego Union added, "Accompanied by a synchronized musical score of more than average excellence, the picture provides an hour and a half of film entertainment radically out of line with the general run of cinema drama. It is pungent, powerful, appealing, masterfully directed and superbly acted."

Where the sound version of the film played, newspaper advertisements often proclaimed something along the lines of “Come hear Wallace Beery sing!” But what that song was is uncertain. The stout, gravel-voiced actor was not known as a crooner. Reliable sources, including the director's son, site one of two similar titles, “Hark the Bells” or “Don’t You Hear Them Bells?” While at least two newspaper advertisements for the film, including the NYC advertisement pictured above, mention the songs "I Wonder Where She Sits at Night" and "Beggars of Life."
"Completely synchronized with sound"

Some years ago, I obtained censorship records for Beggars of Life from the State of New York. Among the documents was a cover letter dated October 22, 1928 which stated that attached was a copy of the dialogue for the sound print of the film. That dialogue was contained on a single page, and was titled "Song Sung by Wallace Beery in Beggars of Life." Provided these records are complete (I have the records for each of Brooks' films, and some are obviously incomplete, with documents having been removed over the years), here is the "spoken dialogue" to Beggars of Life.

I mentioned earlier that the soundtrack to Beggars of Life is considered lost. It's likely that there were 9 large sound soundtrack platters which accompanied the film, one for each reel. However, I know with certainty that at least one of those platters still exists in the hands of a private collector. I have been told that it is the first platter, which may or may not contain the mysterious recitation. I can't say anymore, as I don't know anymore than this.

Maybe, someday.

The lyrics to "Beggars of Life" read:

"Beggars of life, beggars of life;
Gypsy hearts that are sighing
For skies of blue, sunlight and dew,
Out where swallows are flying.
Each one longing to be led
To a happy homestead,
Where love will cry,
'Don't pass me by!'
Beggars of life, come home!"

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Today's Sounds for Yesterday's Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema

There is a fascinating new book out from publisher Palgrave Macmillan. It is Today's Sounds for Yesterday's Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema, edited by K.J. Donnelly and Ann-Kristin Wallengren.

From the publisher, "In recent years, there has been something of an explosion in the performance of live music to silent films. There is a wide range of films with live and new scores that run from the historically accurate orchestral scores to contemporary sounds by groups such as Pet Shop Boys or by experimental composers and gothic heavy metal bands. It is no exaggeration to claim that music constitutes a bridge between the old silent film and the modern audience; music is also a channel for non-scholarly audiences to gain an appreciation of silent films. Music has become a means both for musicians and audiences to understand this bygone film art anew. This book is the first of its kind in that it aims to bring together writings and interviews to delineate the culture of providing music for silent films. It not only has the character of a scholarly work but is also something of a manual in that it discusses how to make music for silent films."

The book is a collection of essays on the documenting, composing, and performing of music for silent films. Two introductory chapters set the tone (pun intended), "Music and the Resurfacing of Silent Film: A General Introduction" and "How Far Can Too Far Go? Radical Approaches to Silent Film Music" They are followed by chapters like "Silent Film, Live Music and Contemporary Composition" and "Soviet Fidelity and the Pet Shop Boys," to "Scoring Ruttmann’s Berlin: Musical Meaning in Historical and Critical Contexts," "Bringing a Little Munich Disco to Babelsberg: Giorgio Moroder’s Score for Metropolis," and "To be in Dialogue with the Film: With Neil Brand and Lillian Henley at the Master Classes at Pordenone Silent Film Festival." You get the score (pun intended). Among the contributor's are Matti Bye and Gillian B. Anderson, two names well familiar to me.

What caught my ear was the chapter by Michael Hammond, "Cowboys, Beggars and the ‘Deep Ellum Blues’: Playing Authentic to Silent Films." Hammond is a member of the Dodge Brothers, a UK-based musical group who have accompanied / performed to the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life on a number of occasions, including once at the pop music festival at Glastonbury, as well as at the Royal Albert Hall, and elsewhere. I have written about the band on a few occasions in the past, and interviewed Hammond back in 2010. When I visited with Kevin Brownlow in London earlier this year, he spoke highly of the group.

In "Cowboys, Beggars and the ‘Deep Ellum Blues’: Playing Authentic to Silent Films," Hammond recounts the times they played not only to Beggars of Life, but also the 1921 William S. Hart film, White Oak.

Hammond states that their approach to musical accompaniment was to "consult" history, rather than to try and reconstruct it; additionally, Hammond states that the Dodge Brothers strive to be "authentic," rather than accurate. Certainly, this approach is a valid one, and in many instances, the only path possible where the original score is missing; an authentic score, based on any surviuving clues, is an option for the musician who wishes to (re)create what it a movie goer might have experienced in the silent era.

The Dodge Brothers intention is to approximate what a moviegoer might experience in a small town theater in Texas or elsewhere, where the locale's local aural flavor would inform the musical accompaniment. This is in opposition to the musical accompaniment one might experience in the big city, like New York City, where the accompaniment was orchestral and more-so highbrow.

The Dodge Brothers lowbrow musical approach is informed by a cornucopia of old-timey music, or what today might be termed "roots music." That is, an exuberant hybrid of country blues, field recordings, country and western, jug band, bluegrass, songsters, and more. There are songs about being lonesome, and songs about trains. The rhythms are rural, and those of the rail in the instance of Beggars of Life. Hammond references Greil Marcus's notion of "the old weird America" as a musical keystone.

For me, the revelation in Hammond's essay is found in his reference to Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR). There, Hammond notes, details of the recording sessions for the original Beggars of Life soundtrack can be found. I will write more about those records and what they reveal in the next blog.

In my opinion, Today's Sounds for Yesterday's Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema is one of the most interesting books of the year. I encourage everyone to check it out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best Film Books of 2016 part 2

Here is part two of my annual look at the best film books of the year. Whether you are into biographies, film history, pictorials, “making of” books, or critical studies, there was something for just about everyone in 2016. This year’s list may well top last year’s, which was also bountiful. As a matter of fact, there were so many worthwhile books in 2016 that I split this selection into two pieces. Visit “Best Film Books of 2016” on Huffington Post to check out part one of this year’s recommended titles.'

Revolution and Tradition

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Roger Ebert were three of America’s most widely read film critics, better known, perhaps, than many of the movies they wrote about. What’s little known is that their film criticism was influenced by four earlier critics—Otis Ferguson, Manny Farber, James Agee, and Parker Tyler. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture (University Of Chicago Press) by David Bordwell tells that story. Why were they called “Rhapsodes”—it was because of the “passionate and deliberately offbeat nature of their vernacular prose.”

Image is Everything

The movies are a visual medium, and image counts for just about everything. Hollywood Icons: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation (Antique Collectors Club) by Robert Dance collects some of the most stunning portraits of Hollywood stars you are ever likely to see. This new book, the latest to mine the great Kobal collection, features approximately 200 photographs focusing on the great faces that drew moviegoers into movie theaters by the tens of millions. There’s Gloria Swanson and Louise Brooks, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr, as well as Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly and a gorgeous Shirley MacLaine. While some of these images may be familiar, many are not. There are also mini-biographies of the photographers, like Eugene Robert Richee, Ruth Harriet Louise, and George Hurrell.

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop (Regan Arts) by Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness, is a fascinating, literally behind-the-scenes history of the painted backdrops and the scenic artists who brought them to the big screen. Also out this year are two small press books on the intersection of film and fashion, The Fashion of Film: Fashion Design Inspired by Cinema (Mitchell Beazley) by Amber Jane Butchart, and Fashion in Film (Laurence King Publishing) by Christopher Laverty. For those keen on the subject, each is worth checking out.

She Could be Chaplin!

Few film historians have done as much to preserve our cinematic history then Anthony Slide. An accomplished and prolific author, Slide’s latest is She Could Be Chaplin!: The Comedic Brilliance of Alice Howell (University Press of Mississippi). Howell (1886–1961) is slowly gaining recognition as one of the important slapstick comediennes of the silent era. This new study, the first book-length appreciation, identifies her place in the comedy hierarchy alongside the best-known of silent comediennes, Mabel Normand. Beginning in 1914, Howell quickly developed a distinctive style and eccentric attire and mannerisms, successfully hiding her good looks, and was soon identified as the “Female Charlie Chaplin.” She was a star by 1915, and continued her career through 1928 and the advent of sound. Howell was also the matriarch of a prominent American family that includes son-in-law and director George Stevens and grandson George Stevens Jr., founder of the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center Honors, who provides a foreword.

Speaking of Charlie Chaplin, Dover has just released The Charlie Chaplin Book: Ten Stories Adapted from Classic Shorts by Robert Keene Thompson, a noted screenwriter of the time. It’s fun. Also just out is Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in America, 1947–77 (Palgrave Macmillan) by Lisa Stein Haven.

Silent Women

As with Alice Howell, there’s renewed interest in documenting the too often little recognized careers of the cinema’s pioneering women—both behind and in front of the camera. Two books that advance the cause are Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema (Aurora Metro Press) edited by Cheryl Robson and Melody Bridges, and REELS & RIVALS: Sisters in Silent Films (BearManor Media) by Jennifer Ann Redmond.

The former looks at early female producers, early female directors, and early African–American female filmmakers, among others; as well, Shelley Stamp contributes an essay on critics, reformers and educators, and Kevin Brownlow contributes his earlier interview with director Dorothy Arzner. REELS & RIVALS is a lot of fun, and something of a revelation. Who knew there were so many sets of sisters in early Hollywood? Beside such superstars as Constance, Natalie, and Norma Talmadge, and Lillian and Dorothy Gish, and Dolores and Helene Costello, there were also the Flugraths (which included Viola Dana, Shirley Mason and the little known Edna Flugrath) and the Youngs (which included Loretta Young, Sally Blane and the little known Polly Ann Young). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also Laura and Violet La Plante….

Some Biographies of Early Actresses

McFarland is one of the leading publishers of books related to early film. New this year are three biographies of three early actresses, each of which serves as a worthwhile introduction to their subject. The books include, Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Madcap (McFarland) by Timothy Dean Lefler, a look at the great early comedian, Pola Negri: Temptress of Silent Hollywood (McFarland) by Sergio Delgado, a look at the Polish-born superstar who conquered two continents, and Bebe Daniels: Hollywood’s Good Little Bad Girl (McFarland) by Charles L. Epting, a first ever look at the popular silent film star.

Also, don’t miss The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous & Tragic Life of Audrey Munson, America’s First Supermodel (Regan Arts) by James Bone. Not only was Munson (1891 – 1996) a great beauty and a remarkable personality sometimes referred to as the “American Venus,” she was also the first American actress to appear naked in a film.

German Film 

Prepare to be impressed by The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (University of California Press), edited by Anton Kæs, Nicholas Baer, and Michæl Cowan. This 720 page doorstop is filled with critical essays by the likes of Béla Balázs, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Siegfried Kracauer alongside writings from directors and producers like Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, Billie Wilder, G.W. Pabst and Erich Pommer, alongside literary writers such as Bertolt, Brecht, Joseph Roth, Alfred Doblin, and Heinrich Mann, alongside actors like Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, and Henny Porten, alongside film world figures like Lotte Eisner, Leni Riefenstahl, and Walter Ruttmann. There are also pieces by the likes of Lou Andreas-Salome, Karl Kraus, Kurt Weill, and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. All of it is vintage material, and together, side by side, a vital frisson arises. This is the most comprehensive collection of German writings on film published to date. It is a stunning anthology, and a stunning achievement, and as such qualifies it as the film book of the year.

Also impressive is an adjunct website located at

Film Noir

You know film noir when you see it: the shadowy setting, the cynical detective, the femme fatale, the twist of fate. And then something ends badly. Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950 (Running Press) by Mark A. Vieira highlights this resurgent genre with dozens of compelling photographs and a guide to 82 of its best films. Vieira, one of our fine film historians, quotes the artists who made these movies and the critics who wrote about them, taking readers on a year-by-year tour as movies like Detour, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Sunset Boulevard were released upon an already anxious public. Purchase this book before attending one of the film noir festivals springing up around the country.

More Biographies of Actresses

Three stars who achieved of their greatest fame in the late 1920s and early 1930’s are profiled in three new books.

Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies (University Press of Mississippi) by David L. Lightner tells the story of one of the best female comedians of the sound era, and how her career was ruined. Una Merkel: The Actress with Sassy Wit and Southern Charm (BearManor Media) by Larry Sean Kinder tells the story of a quirky actress who more often than not played supporting roles to the more celebrated actors of her day—Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Carole Lombard, and Marlene Dietrich, to name a few. A whole new generation of fans came to know this beautiful brunette actress in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), though few may have known of her work alongside Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart decades earlier; her story is told in Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear (BearManor Media) by Scott O’Brien.

Also Worth Checking out

Admittedly, this last group of books is a catch-all. Nevertheless, each of these titles is well worth checking out. Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life (Running Press) by Manoah Bowman, and with a foreword Robert Wagner and an afterword by Robert Redford, profiles the child actor (Miracle on 34th Street) who successfully transitioned to adult stardom (Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story). Her contemporary, and co-star in Rebel Without a Cause, is profiled in The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best (Chicago Review Press) edited by Peter L. Winkler, with a foreword by George Stevens Jr. It is a personal look at the iconic star.

I enjoyed Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s (McFarland) by John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella. The authors bring back into the light rough gems like Der Tunnel (1915), about the building of a transatlantic tunnel, and The Emperor’s Baker—The Baker’s Emperor (1951), a bizarre Marxist take on the Golem legend.

Last but not least are these two scholarly books, Today’s Sounds for Yesterday’s Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan) edited by K.J. Donnelly and Ann-Kristin Wallengren, and Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Films and the Invention of the Postwar Southwest (University of Arizona Press) by Jennifer L. Jenkins.

a variant of this article first appeared on the Huffington Post
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