Friday, April 17, 2020

New Find 6 - a few Louise Brooks treasures from opened archives

There is still a lot of interesting Louise Brooks & silent film material yet to discover. This post is the sixth in an ongoing series highlighting some of the newly found material I have just recently come across while stuck at home due to the corona-virus. With time on my hands, I have turned to picking through some of the many online databases and archives - some of which are newly accessible (due to the physical restrictions put on researchers because of the corona-virus), and some of which I am returning to in order to more thoroughly explore their holdings. As I am always finding out, it pays to not only have more than one set of key words to search under, but to look in the most unlikely places. You never know what you will find.

A small number of online archives have generously opened up their collections during the corona-virus crisis, thereby giving those of us stuck at home in front of our computers with an interest in the past something more to do with our time. Usually, these archives can be explored only by paid subscribers....

One such archive is Manx Newspapers and Publications, which covers the Isle of Man (a self-governing British Crown dependency situated in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland). I spend a couple of hours looking through it's holdings, and determined that every one of Louise Brooks silent films were shown on the island except for It's the Old Army Game (1926). Why it didn't show there is not known, though I did determine that other Fields films were shown on the Isle of Man. It's the Old Army Game was shown in England (including on the Isle of Wight), as well as in Northern Ireland and Scotland. I have not been able to find any record of it having been shown in Wales. The film was shown in Ireland. Why It's the Old Army Game wasn't shown on the Isle of Man I can't say, but were I to guess I would suggest it was because the Isle of Man didn't have enough theaters to show all film available, and the managers of the local theaters on the island passed it over if favor of some other Paramount release. When it comes to the silent era, it cannot be assumed that every film was shown everywhere. And among Brooks' silent films, It's the Old Army Game has the slightest international exhibition records.

Among Brooks' early efforts, one film that enjoyed a good reception on the Isle of Man was The Canary Murder Case (1929). As a matter of fact, it was shown twice on the island, first in January 1930 (eleven months after it was first released in the United States), and then again for three days in July 1930. Here are the advertisements from the local press which document its exhibition.

"stupendous weekend attraction" or roller skating
the "most fascinating thriller of them all" or ballroom dancing

The Canary Murder Case was released as both a sound and silent film.... (there are those who say that the silent version is better). Which version was shown on the Isle of Man? We don't know for sure, as some theaters in the UK were not yet wired for sound as late as 1930. Additionally, it is worth noting, the Pavilion Cinema was billing itself as "The House of Golden Silence," which suggests it was still showing silent films.

Another archive that has generously opened its archive is LIBRARIA Ukrainian Online Periodicals Archive. I have written about my Ukrainian newspaper search in the past, and the frustration I felt at not being able to access material that I knew was there and otherwise was only available onsite in the Ukraine. But with the opening of this archive, I was able to access a 1929 page from a German-language newspaper in that country. With its half-page spread on Die Buchse der Pandora, I think you can see why I was pleased to take a look at this page.

Speaking of Pandora's Box, just a couple-three days ago I came across a rare clipping about its American showing in New York City in - of all places - a Hungarian periodical archive, Arcanum Digitheca. This new-to-me clipping dates to December 1929 and comes from Uj Előre (New Forward), a Hungarian-language newspaper based in New York City. The film, which was sometimes exhibited in the United States under the title Box of Pandora, was showing at the 55th Street Playhouse in Manhattan. (In Hungary, the film was shown under the title Pandora szelenceje.)

In the past, I have found material on the 1929 showing of Pandora Box in NYC in a variety of ethnic newspapers, including those printed in German, Russian, and Yiddish. This Hungarian clipping, along with my earlier discoveries, will go into a special chapter in my forthcoming work, Around the World with Louise Brooks. That chapter looks at the way Brooks' films were advertised and received in America's non-English language ethnic and emigre press. Here is one more little Pandora's Box gem from the book, which I think you may appreciate. Such a smile....

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