Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Happy Halloween from the Louise Brooks Society

The closest Louise Brooks ever came to appearing in a horror film was being considered for the lead role in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the James Whale classic. Of course, the role went to the another actress with iconic hair, Elsa Lanchester, who was brilliant in the dual roles of the Bride and Mary Shelley. Would Brooks have been any good in the role?

The following year, Brooks appeared in another Universal film with a spooky plot point, Empty Saddles (1936), a creaky programmer starring Buck Jones which Barry Paris describes as a "Confused western about outlaws attempting to take over a haunted dude ranch." Of course, it's not really haunted, just deserted, and the ghosts are .....

Nevertheless.... Happy Halloween from the Louise Brooks Society.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Louise Brooks in Australia - now and then

A major film retrospective, "Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks," is currently taking place in Australia at the Melbourne Cinémathèque. The retrospective, which runs through November 6, features seven of Louise Brooks silent films, including the majority of her iconic performances from the United States and Europe profiling her working under such noted directors as William Wellman, Howard Hawks, and G. W. Pabst. More information, including newly added links to articles, may be found HERE.

Coincidentally, for the last year, I have been working on a two volume book project, Around the World with Louise Brooks, in which the nation of Australia is something of a star! (The first volume looks at Louise Brooks, the actress. The second volume looks at Brooks' 24 films. As of now, I have about 850 pages completed, and hope to have the books done by the end of the year... fingers crossed.)

In a nod to Australia and its ongoing appreciation of the actress... what follows are a couple three highlights from my work in progress

Notably, one of the films to be screened at the Australian retrospective is the surviving fragment of Now We're in the Air. The Louise Brooks Society had a hand in the preservation of the film, and no doubt, the Melbourne Cinémathèque screening marks the first time the once popular comedy has been shown in Australia in nearly 90 years. 

The above newspaper advertisement appeared on the front page of April 14, 1932 edition of the Wooroora Producer, a newspaper based in Balaklava, Australia (95 km north of Adelaide) and circulating in nearby 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 communities in South Australia. The advertisement documents what may well have been one of the last recorded public screening of Now We’re in the Air anywhere in the world, a 1927 film which today survives only in incomplete form. This ad is unusual in that it is specifically dated, informing locals a couple of days in advance of the small community’s once a week screening – in this instance two five year old silent films. The other film is IT, starring Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno. The venue, the Balaklava Institute, was likely the local town hall. It still stands.

A 1927 Brooks' film which is now considered lost is Rolled Stockings. It too had what is likely its last recorded public screening anywhere in the world in Australia. The otherwise unremarkable newspaper advertisement pictured below documents the occasion, which took place in October 1931. Four years after its American release – and well into the sound era, Brooks’ 1927 “youth picture” was paired with William Wyler’s action adventure film, The Thunder Riders (Universal, 1928). This silent double-bill was shown at a theater in Darwin, Australia known as The Stadium (aka Don Stadium or Don Pictures), an approximately 100-seat open-air sports and entertainment venue largely used during the dry months of the year. Below left is an exterior view, and below right is an interior view.

Image source: Northern Territory Library
Darwin, the former frontier outpost named after the British naturalist, is situated on the Timor Sea and is the capital of the Australia’s Northern Territory. Far from just about everywhere but the closest port to the Dutch East Indies, Darwin was an alternative entry or departure point for entertainment companies coming to or departing from the Australian mainland. Consequently, the Stadium theatre also hosted occasional vaudeville shows, including vaudeville and silent pictures, or vaudeville and boxing. I can't quite tell, but it appears there might be a boxing match going on in the interior view on the right.

And yet another lost 1927 Brooks' film which had what was likely it's last documented public screening in Australia is The City Gone Wild. It too was shown in Darwin in the Don Pictures Stadium theatre. The newspaper advertisement shown below dates from September 1931, four years after its initial American release. And again, well into the sound era! Back in the 1930s, Darwin, Australia was pretty far from everywhere and it was where "old" silent films went at the end of their exhibition life. Where they went from there is anybody's guess....

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Louise Brooks as Lulu to make Blu-ray debut

BIG news. Pandora's Box, Louise Brooks' greatest screen triumph, is set to debut on Blu-ray next month. The acclaimed 1929 film starring Louise Brooks as Lulu will be released in Germany on November 15 (the day after LB's birthday) by Atlas Film GmbH. The 2 disc set -- described as a "limited mediabook" -- can be found on amazon's German site and as of now nowhere else. NOTE: this is a region B / 2 DVD/ Blu-ray release, and it may not play on all DVD/ Blu-ray players. This list price is given as 21,99 Euros. The link to the page for this new release can be found HERE.

Earlier Atlas Film media book releases are well regarded. Visit this Atlas Film page for more information on this new release HERE.

This Atlas Film media book marks the 90th anniversary of the film. This copy of Die Büchse der Pandora / Pandora's Box is the restored 2009 George Eastman House collaboration with the Cinémathèque Française, the Cineteca Bologna, the Gosfilmofond of Russia, the Narodni Filmovy Archive Prague and the Deutsche Kinemathek. Pandora's Box is accompanied by Peer Rabens' 1997 Kurt Weill-inflected score, stylishly performed by the Kontraste Ensemble. The film's run time is given as 109 minutes, with the total run time of each disc including bonus material at 133 minutes. The cover of the Mediabook is based on the original 1929 premiere poster.

According to the page, the release includes the short documentary The Shadow of My Father: Michael Pabst on G. W. Pabst's The Pandora's Box; an extensive booklet with historical documents and information on the history of the film; and three postcards with different vintage posters for the film. IMHO, it looks good.
This is great news, and about time! Hopefully, this German release will spur Criterion or some other American company to also release the film on Blu-ray AND with lots of bonus materials!

Today, coincidentally, I was working on the Pandora's Box chapter of my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, which in part, details the little known history of the film in Cuba, Indonesia, Japan, Poland and elsewhere. This Atlas Film release adds the story....

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Some snapshots from Saturday's Louise Brooks TCM talk (part two)

I want to post a couple more pictures and a few more thoughts from Saturday's talk about Louise Brooks, which I gave over lunch to the Sacramento TCM Club. The event was organized by Sacramento TCM chapter head Beth Gallagher, a longtime friend. In Facebook posts prior to the event, Beth aptly described Brooks as "mesmerizing and modern onscreen" and a "fabulous and frustrating cinema icon." That's Beth, the redhead, pictured below.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I gave some prepared remarks before beginning a free form talk on Brooks, which also involved questions from those in attendance. What follows are my prepared remarks, with which I hoped to set the stage regarding Brooks and her career.

In her day, Louise Brooks was never considered a major star. And her career, relatively speaking, was brief. The actress appeared in only 24 films between 1925 and 1938 — a period spanning 13 years, four of which she was absent from the screen. By comparison, her celebrated contemporary Clara Bow (the “It” girl) appeared in 57 films over 11 years, while another contemporary, silent era star Colleen Moore, appeared in 48 films over 18 years. Of Brooks’ 24 films, she received top billing in only three productions. Notably, these were the three films she made in Europe. In the United States, Brooks was usually given second or third billing. In only one of them, Rolled Stockings - a film shot in Berkeley, was she considered the lead.

Brooks worked with film legends W.C. Fields, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, Michael Curtiz, and John Wayne. And while still young — then just 32 years old, she gave it all up and turned her back on Hollywood. Once the toast of two continents, Brooks went from the heights of world wide celebrity to a down-and-out existence, barely getting by and all but forgotten by her peers.

As film historians have pointed out, few actors have attained such a large reputation through so few films. Today, Brooks’ remarkable popularity rests on her iconic look — while her cinematic renown comes largely from her role as Lulu in the once derided, now acclaimed German silent, Pandora’s Box. That film, often ranked among the greatest of its time, was largely forgotten until its rediscovery in the 1950s. Since then, and especially in the last few decades, Brooks’ other surviving films have been reevaluated, and her reputation as an actress has grown significantly.

Though she left her mark on her time and accomplished a great deal, Brooks always thought of herself as a failure. Late in life she wrote “I have been taking stock of my 50 years since I left Wichita in 1922 at the age of 15 to become a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. How I have existed fills me with horror. For I have failed in everything — spelling, arithmetic, riding, swimming, tennis, golf, dancing, singing, acting, wife, mistress, whore, friend. Even cooking. And I do not excuse myself with the usual escape of ‘not trying.’ I tried with all my heart”.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, with whom she was acquainted, wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” Brooks proves the exception.

Quite nearly everyone at the table sighed after I read the Brooks paragraph about taking stock of her life. I believe Brooks has found a few more fans.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Some snapshots from Saturday's Louise Brooks TCM talk

I had a great time Saturday talking about Louise Brooks to the Sacramento TCM Club. The event was organized by Sacramento TCM chapter head Beth Gallagher, a longtime friend and longtime admirer of Brooks. (Beth and I first became acquainted in the late 1990s, when Beth, then living in  Massachusetts, organized a chat board on the old web forum.) My informal talk, held over lunch, took place at La Trattoria Bohemia, a restaurant serving traditional Italian and Czech fare in mid-town Sacramento. Check it out sometime!

Uncertain as to what everyone knew or didn't know about Louise Brooks, I gave a general introduction, and then spoke about my history with the actress - how I first came across Pandora's Box and first read the Barry Paris biography, how I started the Louise Brooks Society, what I have found out through endlessly researching the actress, the films I have seen, the DVD audio commentaries I have done for KINO Lorber, the four books I have published on the actress, the forthcoming PBS debut of The Chaperone, my recent talk about Brooks and Rudolph Valentino at the annual Valentino Memorial in Hollywood, and a few threads which connect Brooks with Turner Classic Movies (TCM), namely through the Mankiewicz family, as Herman was Brooks's friend from her Follies' days and Ben, Herman's grandson, is one the station's current on-air hosts, plus the fact that the appellation "Louise Brooks Society" came from something Herman Mankiewicz once said. As you can tell from the prior sentence, my talked was something rambling - but seemed to be appreciated by all. Three of those in attendance purchased copies of my books, and each asked me to sign them. And in a first, another asked me to autographed her copy of the University of Minnesota edition of Brooks' Lulu in Hollywood, which I helped bring back into print and in which my name appears as an acknowledgement. I bit embarrassed, I signed near my name.

This being a special occasion, I even wore my Eugene Richee pearls portrait Louise Brooks t-shirt. My thanks to Beth Gallagher for organizing the event, and to the dozen film buffs who showed up and listened and even took notes! Thanks also to Antoinette C. for the letting me post her pictures of the event. Beth recorded the event and may turn it into a podcast.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks - retrospective begins October 23

The Melbourne Cinémathèque in Melbourne, Australia is putting on a major film retrospective titled "Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks." The retrospective runs 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 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.

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.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Upcoming silent films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival December event

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has announced the schedule of films for it's upcoming December event, which is set to take place on Saturday, December 7th. Among the films is one which every Louise Brooks will want to see. It is a film that Louise Brooks quite nearly appeared in. In fact, she went on location, was fit for a costume, and started work on the film, only to be pulled from the production in order to star in another film in which she wears feathers. Can you guess which film it is?

Here are all the details for our annual holiday show—A DAY OF SILENTS—at the beautiful Castro Theatre on Saturday, December 7. Five programs with musical accompaniment by the great Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Donald Sosin, and Berklee Silent Film Orchestra! TICKETS are now on sale. Don’t miss a thing and save money with the all-day PASS. More information HERE.
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle discovered Buster Keaton and these three sparkling shorts demonstrate the striking chemistry between the two geniuses. The program includes THE COOK (1918), GOOD NIGHT, NURSE (1918), and THE GARAGE (1919).
Navajo Wing Foot navigates between his western education and the traditions passed down by tribal elders. Shot in breathtaking two-color Technicolor at locations in New Mexico and Arizona (including Acoma Pueblo and Canyon de Chelly).
French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché got into the movie business at the very beginning—in 1894! One of the very first directors to make narrative films, her work is marked by innovation—she experimented with color-tinting, and special effects. The program includes six of her shorts.
Ernst Lubitsch works narrative magic with knowing looks and subtle gestures in this superb comedy centering around two couples—the sublimely-in-love Monte Blue and Florence Vidor, and the less-so Adolphe Menjou and Marie Prevost. 
The very first film version of Phantom stars Lon Chaney—the Man of a Thousand Faces—in his most celebrated role, the disfigured, cloaked “phantom” who haunts the Paris Opera House and will do anything for his beloved Christine. With original Technicolor and hand coloring!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Silent films at the Brooklyn Public Library, series turns 18

This year marks the 18th year in which the Brooklyn Public Library shows silent films for FREE. The series is curated and hosted by Ken Gordon, a big fan of Louise Brooks and a supporter and member of the Louise Brooks Society. Congratulations Ken and the BPL on turning 18! (They are a bit older than that, actually.) More information on the current series, which features live musical accompaniment by Bernie Anderson, can be found HERE.

Though there not showing a Brooks' film, this season looks appealing. The BPL will be showing The Phantom of the Opera (1925), starring Lon Chaney, The Extra Girl (1923), starring Mabel Normand, and The Informer (1929), a British silent directed by Arthur Robison.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Greetings from a Rochester Louise Brooks Fan

The other day, the Louise Brooks Society received an email from Tim Madigan, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. Aside from his academic interests, Tim is also a self-professed major fan of Louise Brooks. On October 2, spoke about Louise Brooks at the Rochester Public Library (see previous post).

Tim wrote, "Many thanks for giving my October 2nd talk about Louise Brooks at the Rochester Public Library a shout-out on your website. I have long been an admirer of your work on Brooks and I had some fear and trembling giving a talk about her at the Rochester Public Library, knowing that at least some of the people attending would be far more learned about her life and career than I am. But it turned out to be a nice gathering and I actually reconnected with some folks I hadn’t seen in several years. I also met with Tim Moore, who filled me in on local Brooks activities I was unaware of."

Tim continued, "There was some method to my madness in giving the presentation. At its end I made a modest proposal that the Rochester Public Library have an annual Louise Brooks Event (or Happening), of which mine could be the first. I’d also like to see the library have a dedicated Louise Brooks Room, with photos and other memorabilia (perhaps including, in a case, some of the library books she annotated).... As I mentioned in my talk, like many others I’ve been obsessed with Brooks for decades and often teach about her in my Philosophy through Film courses at St. John Fisher College. I also held a 100th birthday party for her in 2006, complete with a cake with her image on it. And as the attached photo demonstrates, her image can be found throughout my office, including a photo of me visiting her grave at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery."

"I think there were about 40 or so folks in attendance, some of whom remembered seeing Louise when she was still able to walk the streets of Rochester. At some point I hope to type up the remarks I made."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Reminder - Reluctant Icon Louise Brooks event set for Wednesday, October 2

A reminder that the upcoming Louise Brooks event at the Rochester, New York Public Library. The event, "Reluctant Icon: Louise Brooks (1906-1985)" is set to take place on Wednesday, October 2 in the Kate Gleason Auditorium in Rochester's Central Library. Start time is 6:00 pm, and the event is expected to run one hour.

Rochester resident Tim Moore took these pictures of the some of the library's in-house promotion for the event.

According to the library website: "2019 marks the 90th anniversary of Louise Brooks’ most famous film, Pandora’s Box, a print of which has been newly restored. In this presentation, Tim Madigan will discuss how a young girl from Kansas came to Weimar, Germany to play the iconic role of Lulu in that movie, as well as how she later moved to Rochester, where she spent the rest of her life, becoming a noted chronicler of Hollywood and a figure of mystery. He’ll also discuss her depiction in the 2012 novel The Chaperone and its 2018 movie version, and why she lives on as a modern-day muse.

Tim Madigan is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at St. John Fisher College where he regularly discusses Pandora’s Box in his “Philosophy through Film” course." The event is free and open to the public. More information may be found HERE.

As many Louise Brooks fans should know, Louise herself visited this library on many occasions. She was a great reader of books, and at least a few of the books she checked out (and even annotated) still resides on the library shelves. The Central library also has a small collection of books and movies related to Brooks, including copies of some of the publications of the Louise Brooks Society.
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