Friday, September 25, 2020

Another Louise Brooks related film to watch online

Alan Boyle pointed out on the Louise Brooks Society Facebook page the recent availability of Dance with Death: The Ufa Star Sybille Schmitz (2000), a ten year old documentary about the once popular 1930s German actress who not only had a small featured role in the Louise Brooks film, The Diary of a Lost Girl, but was also the inspiration for the title character Veronika Voss in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s celebrated film of the same name. 

Sybille Schmitz and Louise Brooks in The Diary of a Lost Girl
 

Besides Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), Schmitz's other early roles include Carl Th. Dreyer's Vampyr (1932), and eventually F.P.1 (1932), where she played her first leading role. I don't speak German, but was able to watch this fascinating documentary with the closed captions turned on, as if it were subtitled.

In The Diary of a Lost Girl, Schmitz plays Elisabeth, the pregnant housekeeper who is thrown out of the house by Thymian's father. Elisabeth is soon found dead, setting in motion a chain of events with tragic consequences. As Dance with Death notes, it was Schmitz's second film role, and already her second on-screen death. The documentary also notes the dark atmosphere which seemed to hang around the actress. The Wikipedia entry on Schmitz states, "Coincidentally, the last film she made less than two years before taking her own life (1953's The House on the Coast, now considered a lost film) had Schmitz's character committing suicide as a last act of desperation. A much earlier film, Frank Wisbar's The Unknown (1936) ends with the suicide of Schmitz's character, also in a final act of desperate hopelessness.) 

Despite it's gloom, I recommend Dance with Death: The Ufa Star Sybille Schmitz. It is interesting to say the least. For example, with the rise of Nazism, the film suggests Schmitz felt a frustration with a film industry which increasingly devalued her dark features. As her Wikipedia entry states, "... her explicitly non-Aryan appearance relegated her mostly to femme-fatales or problematic foreign women." That got me wondering about Brooks' dark features and what role they may have played in her acceptance among German film goers.

Another documentary about another supporting player in The Diary of a Lost Girl is Prisoner of Paradise, the story of Kurt Gerron. In the Brooks film, Gerron plays Dr. Vitalis, who is featured in the nightclub scene where Brooks' character, Thymian, is auctioned off.

Kurt Gerron and Louise Brooks in The Diary of a Lost Girl

Prisoner of Paradise is a 2002 documentary about one of the great German actors of the 1920s and 1930s. He appeared in many films and stage productions, but today is best remembered for a key supporting role in The Blue Angel (1930), with Marlene Dietrich. After being sent to a concentration camp, Gerron was forced by his captors to direct the pro-Nazi propaganda film, The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews. In addition to exploring his life, Prisoner of Paradise details a remarkable detective story in which Gerron's film, lost for decades after World War II, was tracked down and painstakingly put back together.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Louise Brooks related film to watch online

This year, the world famous Pordenone Silent Film Festival | Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is going online. 

In the wake of the worldwide coronovirus pandemic, the eight days of screenings originally set to take place in October 2020 have been rescheduled for 2021. And in its place, the world famous festival will instead screen a number of rarely seen films and recent restorations, each paired with musical  accompaniment. The daily schedule of films can be found HERE.


Of special interest to silent film buffs and fans of Louise Brooks will be a online screening of Abwege (The Devious Path), by director G. W. Pabst. Made just prior to Pabst's Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, this 1928 drama stars Brigitte Helm (the beautiful android in Metropolis) and Gustav Diesel (creepy Jack the Ripper in Pandora's Box) and tells a story of a marriage gone wrong. It is rich in Weimar Berlin detail.

Compared to the version screened in Pordenone in 1997, Abwege is said to have gone through a kind of rebirth after restoration by the Münchner Filmmuseum in Munich, which has produced this new copy --  beautifully tinted, from the original negative. The original inter-titles have also been reinstated, significantly enhancing an understating of the plot.


There are other films of interest as well. The George Eastman Museum has restored Cecil B. DeMille’s 1917 western, A Romance of the Redwoods, starring Mary Pickford, which is described as a beautiful example of the director’s work from the 1910s, one of the busiest periods of his long career. There is also Where Lights are Low (1921) featuring Sessue Hayakawa, a series of shorts with Laurel and Hardy, and more. Also included in the online event will be streamed discussions with archivists, musicians and film scholars, as well as the 35th year of the Jean Mitry Award presentations. (A bilingual catalogue will be downloadable on the website and later available in printed form.) 

I have always wanted to attend the Pordenone festival, but have never done so. I am excited, as this online event is a chance to experience the festival in a small way. I am registering for the event, and am looking forward to seeing Pabst's Abwege. How about you? This online festival requires registration, with a basic pass to the entire festival costing only € 9,90. That's a lot less than flying to Italy! More information about registration for the 39th annual Pordenone Silent Film Festival can be found HERE.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Major Louise Brooks Retrospective in Zurich, Switzerland Oct 5 - Nov 18, 2020

FilmPodium has announced the dates for its rescheduled Louise Brooks retrospective. The 15 film series, originally set to take place earlier this year but cancelled due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, is now set to take place October 5 through November 18, 2020. It looks to be a must attend event for any Louise Brooks fan or silent movie buff or film scholar in the region. FilmPodium is located in Zurich, Switzerland. For more information on the series, including informative program notes and the times and dates of each screening, visit HERE.


I have known about this event since it was in the planning stages, and have exchanged emails with Filmpodium offering suggestions. I am especially pleased the series will include the surviving fragment of Now We're in the Air, whose preservation I had a small hand in helping with. (You'll find my name in the credits, as well as in the credits at the end of Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu.) Once considered lost, Now We're in the Air has not been shown in Switzerland since the late 1920s! I don't know how long it is, but as well it must be decades since films like The Show Off, Love Em and Leave Em, or even God's Gift to Women were screened in Switzerland. More bold choices. And too, I don't know of any other series or retrospective which has shown both the silent and sound versions of Prix de Beaute back to back! That is a bold programming; also a fresh choice was showing a film in homage to Brooks, The Chaperone. The films in the series include:

It's the Old Army Game (1926) with Now We're in the Air (1927)

The Show Off (1926)

Love Em and Leave Em (1926)

A Girl in Every Port (1928)

Beggars of Life (1928)

Die Buchse der Pandora (1929)

The Canary Murder Case (1929)

Tagebuch einer Verlonenen (1929)

Prix de Beaute (1930) both the silent and sound versions

God's Gift to Women (1930)

Overland Stage Raiders (1938) with Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (1998) documentary

The Chaperone (2018)

Most of the films will only be shown once, though a few will be shown on multiple occasions. All of the silent films will feature live musical accompaniment, which will feature acclaimed UK silent film accompaniest Neil Brand, friend to the Louise Brooks Society Stephen Horne, Martin Christ, André Desponds, Ephrem Lüchinger, Samuel Messerli and Neal Sugarman. Notes for the series were penned by Elisabeth Bronfen, who described Brooks as an icon of the Roaring Twenties, noting that "Her natural acting style was decades ahead of her time, her appeal remains immortal."

Last year, the Melbourne Cinémathèque in Melbourne, Australia put on a major film retrospective along similar lines titled "Enduring Modernity: The Transcontinental Career of Louise Brooks". Something must be in the air! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Louise Brooks - Lulu and Beyond with Pamela Hutchinson

On October 28, film historian Pamela Hutchinson will talk about the life and legacy of 1920s star Louise Brooks during an online event sponsored by the City of Westminster Libraries & Archives in the UK. More information about this free online event can be found HERE.

About Louise Brooks - Lulu and Beyond with Pamela Hutchinson

Louise Brooks was born in Kansas, and made her name as first, one of the most beautiful dancers on Broadway, and then as one of the most rebellious starlets in silent-era Hollywood – known for her insouciant face, hot temper and distinctive flapper haircut. Her lasting fame was secured by a trio of art films she made in Europe after turning her back on Los Angeles, starting with the German silent Pandora's Box, in which she plays Lulu, a dangerous Weimar femme fatale who brings the men and women who love her to their knees. After seeing all there was to see in the movie industry on both sides of the Atlantic, Brooks lived to tell the tale, and to be reclaimed as a true star of the early cinema. In her later life, her uniquely provocative voice shone in a series of articles that told the unpalatable truth about the movie business.

Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic and film historian who contributes regularly to Sight & Sound, the Guardian, Criterion, Empire and the BBC, specialising in silent and classic cinema and women in film. She is a guest lecturer at the National Film and Television School, and a member of both Fipresci and the London Film Critics' Circle. She has written essays for several edited collections and is the author of the BFI Film Classic on Pandora's Box and the editor of 30-Second Cinema (Ivy Press). She also writes the silent cinema website Silent London.

The event will be broadcast via MS Teams which can be accessed via a web browser on an app from your appstore. Start time is 11:30 – 12:30 GMT / PDT on Wednesday, October 28. Registration is required


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Pierre Bismuth - Following the Right Hand of Louise Brooks in Beauty Prize

Just coming to auction is Pierre Bismuth's "Following the Right Hand of Louise Brooks in Beauty Prize," a 2009 mixed-media piece. The piece, which will be featured in a live auction on September 30,  is permanent marker on Plexiglas with digital print on Dibond and measures 29.5 h × 39.3 w in (75 × 100 cm). The auction estimate is $2,000 - $3,000, with an opening bid of  $1,400. More information about the auction HERE.

Pierre Bismuth (b. 1963) is a French artist and filmmaker based in Brussels. His practice can be placed in the tradition of conceptual art and appropriation art. His work uses a variety of media and materials, including painting, sculpture, collage, video, architecture, performance, music, and film. He is best known for being among the authors of the story for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2005 alongside Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. Bismuth made his directorial debut with the 2016 feature film Where is Rocky II? Among the other artists he has collaborated with is the late Clash guitarist Joe Strummer. This 2014 article in Document helps explain the artist's approach.

To create this works from the Following the Right Hand series, the artist projected a feature film on a Plexiglas sheet and followed the movement of the lead actresses right hand with a marker from the beginning of the film until the frame that seen behind the drawing appears. The piece is signed and dated to lower left 'Pierre Bismuth 09'. 

Provenance: Team Gallery, New York | Acquired from the previous in 2009, Important New York Collection 

Literature: Pierre Bismuth: Things I Remember I Have Done, But Don't Remember Why I Did Them-Towards a Catalogue Raisonne, Bismuth, Pinto and Schafhausen, pg. 171, no. 1013

A Google image search using the artist's name as keyword turned up a few other similar pieces featuring films stills depicting Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Sophie Loren and others. I also noticed a variant of the above pictured piece. The variance is apparent when one compares the tip of Louise Brooks' nose.

I also came across another manipulated image of Brooks, this time a still from Pandora's Box

If the artist, Pierre Bismuth, reads this blog, the two questions I would like to ask are "Why Louise Brooks?" and "Why her right hand?" He may answer those questions, or at least suggest his strategy, at the very beginning of this unrelated interview.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Two poems - one Louise Brooks, one Lulu - second installment in memory of my feelings

With time on my hands due to the coronavirus pandemic quarantine, I was digging around the corners of the internet the other day - two different corners actually, when I came across a couple of poems which I thought might be of interest to readers of this blog which concerns itself with all things Louise Brooks and Lulu. This is the second installment.

Unlike Frank O'Hara's poem featured in the previous blog, I don't know anything about Emilio Vasquez's poem, "Kutinijata Wa, Lulu!"


All I know about it is that it was published in the July-August 1929 issue if Amauta, a significant avant-garde journal published in Peru (though read around the world). Is this Lulu poem is some way about our Lulu, Louise Brooks? It is hard to say.  It was published a few months after Pandora's Box debuted in Germany, though a few months before the film made its way to South America. (Pandora's Box was first screened in Latin America in December of 1929, though coverage of the film began appearing the previous month.)

Here is a poor translation of the poem, via the google translation function. Words in bold I could not translated. Can anyone suggest a better translation, or suggest a meaning for the words in bold?

KUTINIJATA WA, LULU

So under those past moons
as kelluncho mananero
pecked in your eyes in my waters

Today looking for you in his cabin
my suicidal loneliness gallops desperately

Song of kena soledana
my voice calls yelling at you
           kirkincho rose from your ears

Your sneak like recent wikunite
and only the wind burns me with its kiss

My eyes lacewing you in false

Why do you throw me up to kiss the earth

            But
you will return at dawn of fresh milk
like the puqu-puqu to its nest another day

We will start later in song and dance
the same waynu started a sowing day

Your green skirt turns wonder
our path will set afire again


There is little online about the author, Emilio Vasquez, who is unfamiliar to me. However I did find a passing reference to him on the web which mentioned he is considered an Andean modernist. That led me to pull my copy of Dudley Fitts' 1942 New Directions collection, Anthology of Contemporary Latin-American Poetry, and I found this brief biographical blurb.

I emailed a scholar of Latin American poetry, but have yet to hear back.

Coincidentally, the Blanton Museum of Art (at the University of Texas at Austin) along with the Museo de Arte de Lima (in Peru) just organized a new exhibit, The Avant-garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s, which relates to the very magazine in which I found this poem. The exhibit description reads: "The 1920s were a period of rapid modernization and artistic innovation across the globe; magazines played an integral role in disseminating bold new ideas and movements. The Avant-Garde Networks of Amauta: Argentina, Mexico, and Peru in the 1920s explores this history in Latin America through the magazine Amauta, published in Peru from 1926 to 1930. With an expansive network of collaborators, Amauta captured major artistic and political conversations of the decade including international discussions of the avant-garde, traditional craft as innovation, the visual identity of leftist politics, and the movement of Indigenism. The exhibition has more than 200 objects — including paintings, sculptures, poetry, ceramics, tapestries, woodcut prints, publications, and ephemera —  that richly evoke the milieu of this radical period."


The musuem webpage has a rather nifty virtual tour of the exhibit, which to my eyes, suggests the influence of German expressionism on the Amauta artists. So who knows? Perhaps Emilio Vasquez was hip to what was going on in Germany, especially the considerable amount of coverage given Brooks and her role as Lulu in Pandora's Box, and was inspired to write a poem? Who knows?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Two poems - one Louise Brooks, one Lulu - first installment in memory of my feelings

With time on my hands due to the coronavirus pandemic quarantine, I was digging around the corners of the internet the other day - two different corners actually, when I came across a couple of poems which I thought might be of interest to readers of this blog which concerns itself with all things Louise Brooks and Lulu. This is the first installment.

The first poem is one I have known about for some time; it is called "F.Y.I. (Prix de Beauté)" and it is by Frank O'Hara (1926-1966), one of the key New York School poets and one of the key American poets of the 1960s. (His 1964 book, Lunch Poems, is a classic and a favorite!) Not only does the poem's title reference a Brooks' film, namely Prix de beauté (1930), it also begins with a quotation from that film, "Et peut-être je t'aimerais encore," or "And maybe I will still love you," which is ascribed to the actress. Here, the poem is dated 7/31/61.


I found the poem while looking through a keyword searchable database of post WWII small press publication which included some lesser known poetry magazines, or what we might today call 'zines. This find was surprising, in that it references the actress rather early on in the history of the Brooks' revival - and that it comes from a poetry journal, not a film journal. The publication was called Audit-Poetry, and it was published out of Buffalo, New York. This issue, vol IV, no. 1, from 1964, featured the work of Frank O'Hara.


I was first made aware of the poem by Bill Berkson (1939-2016), a good friend of O'Hara's and a poet of renown who is also associated with the New York School of Poets. I had known Berkson back when I lived in San Francisco. We met after I had mounted a small exhibit of Louise Brooks memorabilia at a local coffee shop in my San Francisco neighborhood. Among those who visited the exhibit were the artist/filmmaker Bruce Conner (who wrote in the guestbook, see below), the artist known as Jess (who was brought by the poet Norma Cole), and Berkson himself.


Berkson, who lived in my San Francisco neighborhood, suggested we meet. He told me about his own interest and affection for Brooks and that he had written a poem related to the actress which was titled "Bubbles." He also told me about "F.Y.I. (Prix de Beauté)" and his friendship with O'Hara. Berkson said that both of their poems were inspired by a July 31, 1961 screening of Prix de Beauté at the New Yorker theater in New York City which the two young poets attended. O'Hara's poem, dated to the day of the screening, was first published three years a later in Audit-Poetry, and then again in The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited by Donald Allen, a book which shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry. [I treasure my old hardback copy of this collection, which I had autographed by the late poet John Ashbery (who once met Brooks, which he told me about) and who wrote the introduction. I regret that I did not have Donald Allen sign it as well, as I was acquainted with him during my days as a bookseller in the late 1990s. He was a bit of a curmudgeon.]

Well anyways, Berkson and I got to know one another a bit, and we talked about Brooks, poetry, and art when we met (Berkson was also well known art critic, and I recall the Philip Guston paintings which hung in his apartment). He gave me a copy of his 1984 book Lush Life, which contained "Bubbles." I put on a poetry reading with him at the bookstore where I worked. (The store used to issue trading cards for most all of its events, and I collected a set of signed cards.)


Around that time, I also began making a series of limited edition broadsides in conjunction with some of those bookstore readings, and one that I issued in conjunction with Berkson's reading was of his Brooks-related poem. These broadsides were printed at home on my laser printer on hand-fed watercolor paper (it was a laborious project trying to feed thick textured paper through a printer not meant to accept such paper), usually in an edition of 25 or 50 copies, with each autographed by the poet. Here is the "Bubbles" broadside , which includes a portrait of Brooks in The American Venus discretely drawn like a watermark into the background, just as the actress discretely inspired Berkson's oblique poem. (BTW: Some of the language in this poem is drawn from Brooks' own writings, especially her piece on the making of Beggars of Life.)

 
Bill told me he liked what I had made, and went about signing the edition of 50. I gave him a few copies, and he told me that one would go into his archive which a university was considering purchasing. I was pleased. I also told Bill about my hopes to make a similar broadside for O'Hara's "F.Y.I. (Prix de Beauté)". In fact, I showed him a draft copy, which Bill also liked. He was enthusiastic about the project, and gave me the email of O'Hara's estate so I could write and get permission to publish a broadside. I did so, but was turned down. Alas. And that was the end of that. Here is a low res scan of one of two draft copies. [I recall I gave Berkson one, and kept one.]


post script. I printed a few more broadsides back then, though not all were related to Brooks. Among those that were include an August Kleinzahler poem, "Watching Young Couples with an Old Girlfriend on Sunday Morning," which references Louise Brooks and her "annealed" hair. Beautiful. I also made a Barry Paris broadside at the time I put on event for his reissued biography of Brooks. That was back in 2006....  

 
One of my best efforts was a triptych of broadsides (edition of 25 copies per each poem, total edition of 75) made at the time I did an event with the acclaimed poet Mary Jo Bang for her superb book, Louise in Love. Here is a picture of the three poems, "Louise in Love, - " She Loved Falling" - The Diary of a Lost Girl", along with the cover of Bang's 2001 book.



This blog is a prose poem, if you will, written in memory of my feelings, as it were. The next blog,  the second installment, concerns a Lulu poem written by an obscure Andean modernist published in 1929. Stay tuned.

SEARCH this Blog