Friday, August 30, 2019

Some notes on my Louise Brooks presentation at the Rudolph Valentino Memorial

One week ago, on Friday August 23, I delivered the keynote address at the 92nd Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Despite a technical glitch which delayed my talk by a minute or two, things went well. Returning to my seat, noted author and film historian Jeffrey Vance told me "good job." I was pleased. The memorial was a moving experience and a memorable event. I hope those who couldn't attend the event in person watched it online as it streamed live over Facebook. (I am not sure how many watched it this year, but last year more than 4000 people from around the world tuned-in to the event!)

(Left) At the Hollywood Forever Cemetery  (Right) My wife and I at Valentino's crypt shortly before the service

My talk focused on Rudolph Valentino and Louise Brooks, and their little known "history." I shared some rare material on the two actors - including audio material few if anyone alive has heard. As event organizer and host Tracy Terhune said afterword, it was great to hear a first hand account of Valentino in the voice of someone who was there.

(Left) Preparing for the event (Right) The Memorial program
My power point presentation pointed out what the two silent films stars had in common, and that fact that these two Jazz Age personalities did know one another - if only in passing. We know, for   example, that Brooks encountered Valentino - or at least observed him - from afar at parties and social gatherings. She said as much to author Jan Wahl, a friend and correspondent later in life. As I mentioned, Brooks once told Wahl she had observed a neglected Valentino at a party at Gloria Swanson's house in Englewood, New Jersey. Swanson had thrown the party in Rudy’s honor, and even imported a parquet floor for the night so Valentino could dance the tango. According to Brooks, Valentino had a sallow complexion and sat at the bottom of the stairs, unnoticed. My guess is that party must have taken place shortly before Valentino's death.

Brooks was filming in NYC on the day Valentino died, and as I discovered a number of years ago, she attended Valentino's funeral mass. According to the New York Morning Telegraph, Brooks was among the select mourners at this invitation only event. The newspaper singled her out, stating she had “cried unashamed.”

As I also noted, Brooks continued to remember Rudy as the years passed. We know, for example, that in 1938 Brooks went to a revival screening of The Sheik at the Filmarte theatre on Vine Street in Los Angeles. Valentino was also among the personalities from her younger days who are recounted in the notebooks she began keeping later in life.

In 1962, Brooks was living a quiet life in Rochester, New York. She was considered something of a minor celebrity around town, having once been a “movie star.” A local radio station asked the one-time actress to talk about the personalities she had known in Hollywood. Recordings of those programs were long thought lost, if in fact, they were ever put on tape. Last year, however, I uncovered the audio tapes of Brooks’ unedited commentary, and I concluded my talk with two brief excerpts in which Brooks spoke of Valentino, including the last time she saw Rudy, just a couple of weeks before his death.Here is a transcribed excerpt of my excerpts:
Louise Brooks: I have a sweet story to tell you what happened just two weeks before he died.... he was there in New York for the opening of his greatest picture. It turned out to be the Son of the Sheik. And one night I was sitting in the Lido, the most fashionable night club in New York. He came in all alone in his beautiful black tails and his white tie, and his beautiful back hair and his dark skin. He came over to our table. I was sitting with Ben Ali Haggin and his girl, who was a great friend of Rudy’s – Rudy had many, many women friends. She was a beautiful red head in sea green [dress].... He said “will you dance?” So she got up and they went to the dance floor and the band stopped the fox trot. They started to tango. And something happened that we’ve seen in movies that is always something unbelievable.... So they began to dance a tango and of course they were perfect. It was exquisite. This red head in green, floating drapery. Everyone sat down.... All the celebrities in New York went there. It was café society at the time. They couldn’t help it. They all sat down and watched. And finally the dance ended. And again the right thing happened. No one applauded. No one said a word. Rudy brought Irene back to our table. Said "thank you very much." And bowed. Then he walked back to the stairs that led up under the exit sign and walked through the black velvet curtain and disappeared. And nobody said anything. An absolute stillness. They had seen something beautiful, beautiful. It really was an exit in a way.

After the event, a small group went to Tracy Terhune's apartment for a Valentino-appropriate lunch of spaghetti and meatballs. Tracy is the organizer of the current memorial service, its Master of Ceremonies, as well as the grandson of actor Max Terhune. Tracy wowed my wife and I with a tour of his apartment and its many Valentino treasures. He also told us of how his grandfather got started in pictures -- thanks to close friend Gene Autrey -- and what he knew about Max Terhune's role as one of the three mesquiteers in Louise Brooks' last film, Overland Stage Raiders (1938), which starred John Wayne. Below is a picture of Tracy and I which shows off just a fraction of his fabulous Valentino collection.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood - Quentin Tarantino & Louise Brooks

During a recent trip to Michigan I found myself in Traverse City, where I went past the historic State Theater, which is owned by documentary filmmaker Micheal Moore. The State was showing Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood. Out front, in the sidewalk, are the hand prints of a few celebrities who have visited the theater. I noticed the lovely Geraldine Chaplin (the daughter of Charlie Chaplin and the star of one of my all-time favorite films, Doctor Zhivago).

A week later, I was in Los Angeles, and thanks to dear friends had the opportunity to attend a 35 mm screening of Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood at the historic Beverly Cinema, which is owned by Quentin Tarantino. I enjoyed the film a good deal, and thought I spotted a Louise Brooks-related Easter egg.... shortly after the legendary late 1960s LA nightclub Pandora's Box is depicted in Tarantino's film, a character named Lulu is introduced. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Coincidentally for real, in 1931, the Beverly showed one of the most unusual double bills I've ever come across while researching the career of Louise Brooks. That double bill featured the 1931 Paramount farce It Pays to Advertise (featuring Louise Brooks) and the 1929 German mountain movie White Hell of Pitz Palu (directed by G.W. Pabst during the months between his making Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl). What the patrons of the Beverly thought of this strange double bill one could only guess.

It is worth noting that Quentin Tarantino gave Pabst's White Hell of Pitz Palu a big shout out in his earlier film, Inglorious Bastards, as seen in the image below. Why, I can't say. Perhaps it's because Tarantino, like G.W. Pabst, is an indie director. And perhaps Tarantino feels an affinity for other independents and film history. Q., if you're reading this, drop me a line.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Two Louise Brooks films to screen in Berlin this weekend

Two Louise Brooks films will be shown in Germany this coming weekend at the New Babylon Berlin GmbH (located at Rosa-Luxembourg-Str. 30, 10178 in Berlin, Germany).

Pandora's Box will be shown twice on Friday, with live musical accompaniment. More information can be found HERE.
 D 1929. R: Georg Wilhelm Pabst mit Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, 110 Min
Fr, 30.8. 19:15 Live an der Orgel Anna Vavilkina, Eintritt Frei / gratis!
FR 6.09. 17:15 Live an der Orgel Fedor Stroganov, Eintritt gratis!
Das junge, attraktive Showgirl Lulu ist die Geliebte des prominenten Chefredakteurs Schön. Seiner sozialen Stellung entsprechend, möchte er eine Frau aus seinen Kreisen heiraten und sich von Lulu trennen. Durch einen Skandal platzt die Hochzeit. Schön heiratet stattdessen Lulu, stirbt aber schon in der Hochzeitsnacht durch eine Kugel. Lulu wird wegen Mordes angeklagt, entkommt aber aus dem Gerichtssaal und setzt ihre Affäre mit dem Sohn des Verstorbenen fort. Ihre Flucht vor der Polizei führt sie ins Ausland. Damit beginnt Lulus eigentliche Odyssee… Freie Adaption des gleichnamigen Theaterstücks von Frank Wedekind und seines Bühnendramas „Erdgeist“ mit Louise Brooks als Lulu. Einer der ersten Filme, die lesbische Liebe bzw. Bisexualität offen zeigten.
D 1929. R: Georg Wilhelm Pabst with Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, 110 min

Fri, 30.8. 19:15 Live at the organ Anna Vavilkina, Admission Free / Free!
FR 6.09. 17:15 Live at the organ Fedor Stroganov, admission free!

The young, attractive showgirl Lulu is the mistress of the prominent editor-in-chief Schön. According to his social position, he wants to marry a woman from his circles and to separate from Lulu. Due to a scandal, the wedding is bursting. Schön marries Lulu instead, but dies on the wedding night by a bullet. Lulu is charged with murder, but escapes from the courtroom and continues her affair with the son of the deceased. Her escape from the police leads her abroad. This is the beginning of Lulus' actual odyssey ... Free adaptation of the eponymous play by Frank Wedekind and his stage drama "Erdgeist" with Louise Brooks as Lulu. One of the first films to show lesbian love or bisexuality.

Diary of a Lost Girl will be shown twice on Saturday, also with live musical accompaniment. More information can be found HERE.

D 1929. R: Georg Wilhelm Pabst mit Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Valeska Gert, 104 Min
Sa, 31.08. 20:00 Live am Klavier Ekkehard Wölk, Eintritt gratis!
Sa, 07.09. 20:15 An der Orgel Live Fedor Stroganov, Eintritt gratis!
Die junge Apothekerstocher Thymian wird vom Angestellten ihres Vaters verführt und wird nach der Geburt ihres Kindes in ein Heim gesteckt, wo sie unter der Strenge der sadistischen Erzieher zu leiden hat. Sie flüchtet und landet im Bordell einer Großstadt.

D 1929. R: Georg Wilhelm Pabst with Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Valeska Gert, 104 min

Sat, 31.08. 20:00 live on the piano Ekkehard Wölk, admission free!
Sat, 07.09. 20:15 At the organ live Fedor Stroganov, admission free!

The young apothecary Thymian is seduced by the employee of her father and is put after the birth of her child in a home, where she has to suffer from the severity of the sadistic educators. She flees and ends up in the brothel of a big city.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Diary of a Lost Girl screens at Oslo Silent Film Festival on August 24

The sensational 1929 Louise Brooks film, Diary of a Lost Girl, will be screened at the Oslo Silent Film Festival on August 24. More information about this screening can be found HERE.

The Oslo Silent Film Festival, which runs August 22 through August 25, will also be showing Metropolis, A Cottage on Dartmoor and other notable silent films starring the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. More information about the festival can be found HERE.

According to the website for the Norwegian film festival: "Man skal lete lenge i filmhistorien for å finne en skuespiller med like mye kameratekke som Louise Brooks. Likefullt slet hun i Hollywood. I 1927 sa hun opp en gullkantet kontrakt med Paramount for å reise til Berlin hvor hun skulle spille i G.W. Pabst’ Pandoras eske. I denne og deres andre film sammen, Diary of a Lost Girl, finner man denne sjeldne, nesten magiske kjemien som kan oppstå mellom skuespiller og regissør. Brooks spiller Thymian Henning, som i likhet med karakteren Lulu i Pandoras eske er en ung, vakker kvinne med en problematisk moral. Hun havner på en rehabiliteringsanstalt drevet med militær disiplin, og kommer snart i opposisjon til bestyrelsen. Hun rømmer – og ender opp som prostituert i et bordell.

Ikke overraskende fikk verdens sensurmyndigheter en real håndfull da de fikk Diary of a Lost Girl i fanget. Den ble stort sett sønderklippet i alle land den ble tillatt oppsatt, og fikk kritikker deretter. Når den da i tillegg var særdeles uheldig med timingen – den hadde premiere i oktober 1929, en liten måned før den første lydfilmen The Jazz Singer fikk sin første oppsetning i Berlin – ble den raskt en glemt film og blant de som druknet i lydfilmens suksess. Ikke før på 1960-tallet ble den og Pandoras eske gjenoppdaget, da filmene ble restaurert i henhold til Pabst egen, usensurerte versjon, og fikk en verdig oppreisning. Begge filmene regnes i dag blant den sene stumfilmperiodens genuine mesterverk.

For Louise Brooks gikk ikke karrieren like godt. Etter oppholdet i Berlin dro hun til Paris, før hun returnerte til Hollywood i et forsøk på å gjenoppta karrieren. Stemmen hennes ble ikke funnet god nok, og etter å ha spilt i flere samlebånds-westernfilmer fikk hun nok, og la skuespillerkarrieren på hyllen. Hun flyttet til New York, før hun på 1950-tallet igjen gjorde seg bemerket i filmens tjeneste da hun flyttet til Rochester, der det enorme filmarkivet til George Eastman House ligger, og begynte å utgi grundige og velskrevne artikler om den filmindustrien hun hadde vært en del av på 1920-tallet."

 Which roughly translates as...

"One has to look long in the history of film to find an actor with as much coverage as Louise Brooks. No matter how much she struggled in Hollywood. In 1927, she terminated a gold-lined contract with Paramount to travel to Berlin where she would play in G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box. In this and their other film together, Diary of a Lost Girl, one finds this rare, almost magical chemistry that can arise between actor and director. Brooks plays Thymian Henning, who, like the character Lulu in Pandora's Box, is a young, beautiful woman with a problematic morality. She ends up in a rehabilitation facility powered by military discipline, and will soon be in opposition to the board. She escapes - and ends up as a prostitute in a brothel.

Not surprisingly, the censors of the world got a real handful when they got Diary of a Lost Girl in their lap. It was largely cut in all the countries it was allowed to set up, and received criticism thereafter. In addition, when it was particularly unlucky with the timing - it premiered in October 1929, a month before the first sound movie The Jazz Singer got its first set in Berlin - it quickly became a forgotten movie and among those who drowned in the success of the sound film. It was not until the 1960s that it and Pandora's Box were rediscovered, when the films were restored according to Pabst's own, uncensored version, and received a worthy restoration. Both films are today considered among the late silent period genuine masterpieces.

For Louise Brooks, her career did not go so well. After her stay in Berlin, she left for Paris, before returning to Hollywood in an attempt to resume her career. Her voice wasn't found well enough, and after starring in several comic book western movies, she had enough, leaving her acting career on the shelf. She moved to New York before reappearing in the film in the 1950s when she moved to Rochester, where George Eastman House's huge movie archive began, and began publishing thorough and well-written articles about the film industry she had been a part of the 1920s."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Louise Brooks presentation at the 92nd Rudolph Valentino Memorial service

On Friday August 23, I will be speaking about Louise Brooks and Rudolph Valentino at the 92nd Rudolph Valentino Memorial service at the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Blvd) in Hollywood, California. I hope those who live in Southern California can make it to this special event. If you can't make it, or live outside the greater Los Angeles area, please note that this event will be broadcast live over Facebook.

During my brief, ten minute presentation, I plan to share some extremely rare material on the subject of Brooks and Valentino - including audio material few if anyone alive has heard. If you are a fan of either Brooks or Valentino (or Gloria Swanson), you won't want to miss it!

At this annual event, fans from all corners of the globe come together to mark the passing of a true talent and film legend. The Valentino Memorial, held each year on August 23rd (beginning at 12:10 p.m., the time of Valentino's death in 1926), is the longest running annual event in Hollywood, pre-dating the Academy Awards. The event is free and open to the public. Arrive early as seats go quickly. For more on this historic event, check out these articles by Allen Ellenberger. And here is a LINK to a Facebook page previewing the memorial from two years ago.

I wish to thank the event's current organizer and master of ceremonies, Tracy Terhune, for inviting me to speak at the event. Not only is Tracy an authority on the life and films of Valentino, but he is also the author of a book on the remarkable history of the memorial, Valentino Forever: The History of the Valentino Memorial Services. It is a fascinating read. I should also add that Tracy is the grandson of Max Terhune, one of the stars of the Three Mesquiteers series of Westerns which included Overland Stage Raiders (1938), Louise Brooks' final film!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Louise Brooks inspired THE CHAPERONE debuts on PBS Masterpiece Prime August 10

While there is still no word on when The Chaperone will show on PBS, word comes that PBS Distribution will begin streaming the Louise Brooks inspired bio-pic on the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel starting August 10.

Based on Laura Moriarty’s bestselling novel of the same name (which we recommend you read), the film reunites the writer (Julian Fellowes), director (Michael Engler) and star (Elizabeth McGovern) of Downton Abbey for an immersive and emotional period piece.

The movie tells the story of the teenage Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson plays the future silent film star), who as a 15-year-old student in Wichita, Kansas earns an opportunity to study with the Denishawn dance troupe in New York; Brooks is accompanied by a local society matron (McGovern) who has her hands full dealing with the precocious teen.

The movie also stars Campbell Scott, Géza Röhrig, Miranda Otto, Robert Fairchild and Blythe Danner. In our humble opinion, Haley Lu Richardson is absolutely terrific in the role of Brooks and deserves an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.

The subscription rate for PBS Masterpiece is $5.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. The Chaperone will also be streaming in PBS Passport, a digital member benefit available through local stations.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Louise Brooks died on this day in 1985

Louise Brooks died on this day in 1985. Her passing made news around the United States and the world. The most extensive coverage came from the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, where Brooks had lived since the late 1950s. There, her death was front page news. LBS friend Jack Garner contributed many articles.

Wire service articles appeared in just about every newspaper in the United States, Canada, Australia  and elsewhere the following day. Here are two examples of note.

Obituaries and articles also appeared in Europe, where Brooks' passing was major news. There were even front page articles in newspapers in France, where the actress was a beloved figure. A half-page of articles devoted to Brooks and her film career were printed in the Italian newspaper shown below. As in France, Brooks was also a beloved figure in Italy.

The end.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Louise Brooks and Now We're in the Air in Australia

My previous post wrote up the forthcoming Louise Brooks retrospective at the Melbourne Cinémathèque in Melbourne, Australia (October 23 through November 6). Though I won't be able to be there in person, the Louise Brooks Society will be there "in spirit" in the form of the credits which roll following Now We're in the Air (1927).

"Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks" features seven Louise Brooks films, including the recently found surviving fragment of Now We're in the Air. The Louise Brooks Society had a hand in the preservation of the 1927 film, and are so credited in the credits of the preserved fragment.

The Melbourne Cinémathèque screening of Now We're in the Air marks the first time the film has been shown in Australia in nearly 90 years. In fact, as my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks documents, one of the last known screenings of the film anywhere in the world took place in southern Australia in the small town of Balaklava in 1932 -- five years after its American release and well into the sound era.

This newspaper advertisement appeared on the front page of April 14, 1932 edition of the Wooroora Producer, a newspaper based in Balaklava and circulating through Port Wakefield, Bowmans, Long Plains, Avon, Erith, Whitwarta, Mount Templeton, Everard Central, Nantawrra, Hamley Bridge, Mallala Stockyard Creek, Barabba, Alma, Owen, Halbury, Hoyleton and other nearby communities in South Australia. It documents what is in all likelihood the last recorded screenings of Now We’re in the Air. This ad is unusual in that it is dated April 16th, informing locals two days in advance of this small community’s once-a-week screening – in this instance two five year old silent films.

It is probably not coincidental that both films being advertised were released by Paramount. Distant from just about everywhere, Balaklava was likely at the end of the distribution line. Nevertheless, as far as I know, this April 16th screening represented the debut of the film in this part of the world. [Similarly, the last documented screening of another of Louise Brooks' 1927 films, the now lost The City Gone Wild, took place in Darwin, Australia in September, 1931.]

The venue, the Balaklava Institute, was the local town hall. The building opened in 1881, and still stands. Here is what it looks like today.

In researching Around the World with Louise Brook, I've found that Louise Brooks' films were popular in Australia. They showed all over the country, including the island state of Tasmania, in towns and cities both large and small.

If you want to learn more about Now We're in the Air, I would recommend the only book on the film, my 2017 book Now We're in the Air. This companion to the once "lost" 1927 Louise Brooks' film tells the story of the film’s making, its reception, and its discovery by film preservationist Robert Byrne. Also considered is the surprising impact this otherwise little known film had on Brooks’ life and career. The book also features two rare fictionalizations of the movie story, more than 75 little seen images, detailed credits, trivia, and a foreword by Byrne. The book is available on Amazon in many countries, including Australia.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks

My recent trip to Berkeley (see previous post) resulted in a little more material for my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks. It's a worldly look at the silent film star, and how she was seen in various countries around the world in the 1920s and 1930s. I hope to have it completed by the end of the year.

Something must be in the air, because coincidentally I just learned that the Melbourne Cinémathèque in Melbourne, Australia is putting on a major film retrospective along similar lines. "Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks" takes place October 23 through November 6. More information may be found HERE.

According to the Cinémathèque site:
“An actress of brilliance, a luminescent personality, and a beauty unparalleled in film history” is how film historian Kevin Brownlow described Louise Brooks (1906–1985), whose short but iconic career was almost lost to history.

Brooks signed her first contract with Paramount Pictures in 1925, but her ultra-modern style, jet-black bob and inscrutable expression made her an actress out of time. After three years and 14 films, Brooks, fed up with Hollywood, left the US for Germany, where she made two seminal films with G. W. Pabst in 1929 – Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. She subsequently returned to Hollywood but languished in obscurity, quietly retiring in 1938.

All but forgotten for the next two decades, interest in her career was rekindled by the Cinémathèque Française’s “60 Years of Cinema” exhibition in Paris in 1955, which featured a giant portrait of Brooks mounted above its entrance. Asked why he had chosen the relatively obscure Brooks over Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich for such prominent placement, exhibition director Henri Langlois exclaimed, “There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!” Aesthetic tastes had caught up to her onscreen persona, and Brooks was finally recognised as a magnetic screen presence and, in the words of French critic Ado Kyrou, “the only woman who had the ability to transfigure no matter what film into a masterpiece”. Now recognised as an icon of the Jazz Age, Brooks’ intense femininity, flapper style and coyly ambiguous sexuality have made her one of the era’s brightest and most enduring stars.

This season includes the majority of her iconic performances in both Hollywood and Europe and profiles her collaborations with key directors such as Pabst, Wellman and Hawks.
The schedule features seven of Louise Brooks silent films, including the recently found surviving fragment of Now We're in the Air. The Louise Brooks Society had a hand in the preservation of Now We're in the Air, and no doubt, this screening marks the first time the popular comedy has been shown in Australia in nearly 90 years. In fact, as Around the World with Louise Brooks documents, one of the last known screenings of the film anywhere in the world took place in southern Australia in the small town of Balaklava in 1932 -- five years after its American release and well into the sound era. As described on the Melbourne Cinémathèque website, here is the schedule of films.

October 23

6:30pm – PANDORA’S BOX
G. W. Pabst (1929) 136 mins PG

Screen goddess Brooks burns up the screen as the sexually energised and self-destructive Lulu in Pabst’s most celebrated film. A complex reflection on the sexual pathology and social hedonism of Weimar Germany, Pabst and Brooks’ exciting and provocative partnership created one of silent cinema’s most enduring, liberating and strangely moving works, with critics and audiences still waxing lyrical about its smoky sensuality today. David Thomson claimed it as “among the most erotic films ever made” and praised the “vivacious, fatal intimacy” of Brooks’ magnetic performance.

Courtesy of The British Film Institute

Malcolm St. Clair (1929) 82 mins Unclassified 15+*

Brooks features as The Canary, an audacious nightclub singer whose penchant for blackmail and two-timing leaves no shortage of suspects after she falls victim to foul play. This tantalising whodunit was originally completed as a silent picture, but Paramount insisted on converting it to a “talkie”. Already ensconced in Berlin, Brooks refused to return to the US to complete any voice work, so her role was dubbed (and partly reshot) by Margaret Livingston (the Woman From the City in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans). With William Powell, Jean Arthur and Eugene Pallette.

October 30

G. W. Pabst (1929) 113 mins Unclassified 15+*

The second collaboration – after Pandora’s Box – between Brooks and German director Pabst is a frank and revealing look at male chauvinism and bourgeois hypocrisy in Weimar Germany. Based on the controversial bestselling novel by Margarete Böhme and filmed in the social-realist style of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, it was considered pornographic on its release, touching on rape, lesbianism and prostitution. Brooks expressively plays an innocent girl cast adrift in a world of lecherous and predatory men, a victim of circumstance doomed to a life of ill repute.

Howard Hawks (1928) 78 mins Unclassified 15+*

Since last screened by the Melbourne Cinémathèque in 2002, the seismic shifts in societal perceptions of gender representation have made Hawks’ rambunctious late silent perhaps even more fascinating. Brooks’ character has been praised as an embryonic Hawksian woman – strong-willed, independent, sexual – but her depiction as a grasping schemer threatening the purity of the sailors’ masculine bond is as revealing and provocative as it is problematic. This key early Hawks’ film co-stars Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong.

Print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive.

Preceded by

Now We’re in the Air
Frank R. Strayer (1927) 23 mins (fragment).

Louise Brooks makes a memorable appearance in this newly discovered fragment of a World War I aviation comedy.

35mm print courtesy of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Library of Congress, Washington.

November 6
William A. Wellman (1928) 100 mins Unclassified 15+*

This gritty study of hobo life on the rails is based on the novelistic memoir of the same name by real-life vagabond Jim Tully. Brooks expert Thomas Gladysz holds that while Wellman’s “artfully photographed, morally dark tale of the down-and-out” gives future Oscar winner Wallace Beery top billing for “an especially vital performance”, it is Brooks who “dominates the screen in what is arguably her best role in her best American film”. With its provocative themes of sexual abuse and murder, the film presents a truly transgressive view of the US just before the Great Depression.

Courtesy of The George Eastman Museum.

Augusto Genina (1930) 93 mins Unclassified 15+*

Not widely seen for decades after its production, and only available in an incomplete form until recently, Genina’s dynamic movie is notable for being Brooks’ final lead performance. The film blends stark neo-realism and elaborate fantasy in its exploration of a young woman’s rise to fame and her discomfort with the social expectations of the female sex. Cinematographer Rudolph Maté’s extraordinary treatment of light and dark beautifully complements Brooks’ sparkling onscreen presence. Screenplay by René Clair and G. W. Pabst.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Yesterday's Louise Brooks research trip to Berkeley

Yesterday, I ventured to the University of California in Berkeley in search of yet more material related to Louise Brooks, and found a few more gems.

Over the years, and especially when I lived in San Francisco, I visited the Doe Library at U.C. Berkeley dozens of times, spending hundreds of hours scrolling through the library's massive microfilm collection. This was before the newspaper and microfilm collection was moved from its low-hung basement room which often smelled of ant spray to its current home in a cavernous four floor "vault" created out of the post-earthquake ruins of another wing of massive library building. My many trips to this library have left me with many pleasurable memories.... I love doing research, and love finding things no one has seen in decades.

Doe Memorial Library, named after benefactor Charles Franklin Doe, is a Beaux Arts landmark whose main portal
is graced by Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
photo via Cal Alumni Association

I hit most of my marks, but not all. I have always wanted to find pictures and coverage of "60 Ans de Cinema," the landmark exhibit organized by Henri Langlois in Paris in 1955. As Barry Paris recounts, "Visitors entering the building were greeted by two gigantic portraits looming down from wires in positions of co-equal honor: Falconetti from Dreyer's The Passion of Jeanne d'Arc (1927) and Brooks from Pandora's Box. What stunned people was that the two dominant faces belonged to such obscure actresses.... Asked to justify his choice of Brooks over Garbo or Dietrich or a hundred others more worthy of the honor, Langlois made a ringing declaration that became the rallying cry of Louise's resurrection:

There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!" 

I spent about an hour scrolling through the June, 1955 microfilm of both Le Monde and Le Figaro, two leading newspapers, but came up empty handed. Paris had other newspapers at the time, as well as film magazines, so my search will go on.

However, I did find other material of note, like this Russian newspaper advertisement from 1932. There are five film programs being promoted, and the one in the middle for the Nero-Film Лулу, should catch your eye. (Лулу = Lulu, as the film was titled in the Soviet Union.) For those who don't read Russian, like me, Louise Brooks is here spelled as Луиза Брук.

Unless you know what you are looking for, and where to look for it, and when in time to look, it is difficult to search Russian language publications, which are written in Cyrillic. Also difficult for me to search through are Japanese-language newspapers and magazines, which are written in kanji, but sometimes contain bits of English-language text. That's how I came across this brief clipping related to The Canary Murder Case from The Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese-language newspaper published in Los Angeles, California.

The Canary Murder Case debuted at the Paramount theater in February of 1929, where it enjoyed a successful run. It then played a week at the Egyptian in March, and then was revived for another week at the historic Million Dollar. According to Wikipedia, "The Million Dollar Theatre at 307 S. Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles is one of the first movie palaces built in the United States. It opened in 1917 with the premiere of William S. Hart's The Silent Man. It's the northernmost of the collection of historical movie palaces in the Broadway Theater District and stands directly across from the landmark Bradbury Building. The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places."

I found a few other clippings in The Rafu Shimpo dating from 1937 related to King of Gamblers and When You're in Love. This later material was printed in English.

Besides foreign-language publications, I also looked through a database of LGBTQ publications and came across this UK clipping. Louise Brooks has long been a figure of interest within the gay and lesbian community, so it's no surprise I found this enthusiastic 1993 article, as well as others. THis piece comes from a now-defunct London-based tabloid publication called The Pink Paper. And its author, Nigel Robinson, if I am not mistaken, is also the author of a few science fiction novels as well as a handful of later Doctor Who titles.

Like the good Doctor, I too travel though time and place in search of Lulu. 

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