Thursday, July 22, 2021

A Louise Brooks musical tribute from Rick Gallego & Cloud Eleven

Recently, I received a CD in the mail from independent recording artist Rick Gallego. His latest record is titled Pandora's Box (Kool Kat Musik). Rick enclosed a brief note that read, "Hi Thomas, thought you might find this interesting, since this was inspired by Louise!" Rick is right. I liked it a lot.

Pandora's Box is a melodic joy ride whose retro power pop influences include the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Todd Rundgren, Pet Sounds era Beach Boys, early solo Paul McCartney, and latter-day XTC. Rick has been putting out music since 1996. In short, he has a number of recordings to his credit, either as a solo artist or as part of Jiffipop and/or Cloud Eleven. He and his bands have received rave reviews, and had his music featured in TV shows on ABC, NBC and elsewhere. For more on the songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rick Gallego and Cloud Eleven, be sure and visit his website and / or his Facebook page.

Some of the linear notes, which are printed over an image of Louise Brooks, explain how this, his latest effort, came about: "Pandora’s Box isn’t so much a ‘new’ album than a collection of previously unfinished song fragments that had been buried on old cassette tapes, plus some outtakes from other albums, and a few covers. During the lockdown of 2020, I would discover a stray chorus here, a verse there, and commence to completing the songs, then record them. In some ways, Pandora’s Box is Terrestrial Ballet part deux. Sometimes it just feels good to clean out that old junk drawer."

I emailed Rick about his new CD, and he wrote back, saying "I already had the song called "Pandora's Box" (dedicated to Lulu), so I decided to name the album that too." I asked Rick the question I ask everyone. How did you first hears about Louise Brooks? Rick answered, "In January 2020 I was doing a YouTube search for anything 1920's, as I have always been fascinated with that decade. I landed on a video (don't really remember who posted it) that reviewed various cultural attributes of the '20s, and it mentioned Louise Brooks as an icon of the period. I had never heard of her before and was really taken by her look, so did a Google search. It kind of snowballed from there into wanting to know everything about her. After seeing a couple of her movies (swoon!) and getting the Barry Paris book (the University of Minnesota Press 2000 paperback version - I ended up buying the first edition hard cover from you later on!), I was pretty much a big fan of hers by then. Since then, I joined your LBS page on Facebook, bought all of her movies on DVD/Blu-ray, and bought every book I could get my hands on, including of course, Lulu In Hollywood. There's a certain magical quality about Louise Brooks that just draws you in, kind of like the movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, where everyone is compelled with this 'thing' (Devil's Tower), but they don't know why. Louise Brooks is truly a fascinating person, not only beautiful, but intelligent and witty too. So very happy I found her!

The first track on Rick's new CD is titled "Pandora's Box (Schöne Lulu)." The linear notes for this track read, "This song began as a sort of Rundgren-esque synth jam and evolved into what we have here. Basic tracks were recorded in 2018 and completed in 2020. At the time of completion, I was absorbed into all things 1920s, including art deco, silent films, and specifically actress/writer/icon Louise Brooks. Her most memorable role was that of Lulu, in the classic 1929 German film Pandora's Box. This, my first ever instrumental (silent!) track, is dedicated to the lovely Lulu." Here is the video for that track. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream.


And here is the video of the CD's second track, "Row Row Row," Cloud Eleven's version of the children's nursery rhyme. I really like this gorgeous recording. The song features a homage to the Beatles, while this video features a homage to a couple of Kansas icons. You can likely guess which ones.

And lastly, here is the video for one of my very favorite tracks on Pandora's Box, a mock garage rock cover titled "I Can Do Anything I Want!" I think Kansas-born artist Bruce Conner, a Louise Brooks devotee, would have liked this.


Monday, July 12, 2021

New release - Beggars of Life out on DVD and Blu-ray in Spain

I've just noticed that the 1928 film, Beggars of Life, has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray in Spain under the title Mendigos de Vida, which was the title the film was originally shown under in Spain and much of Latin America. 


I don't know much about this release except for what I can gather from the backs of the DVD and Blu-ray version. Though released as both a silent and sound film in the late 1920s, this new Spanish release is a silent film. It runs 81 minutes, and includes both Castilian and English subtitles. (The Kino Lorber version, the best there is, also runs 81 minutes, while the Grapevine DVD is said to run 83 minutes.) There is no indication that there is any kind of musical accompaniment, though Karl Hajos, the original composer for the film, is credited on the back of the release. (Should anyone get a hold of this version, I would be interested to know if there is any sort of musical soundtrack.)

Pictured below are the front the backs for both the DVD and Blu-ray releases. I show them both because they are slightly different in layout. Another curiosity is the fact that Wallace Beery, the star of the film, has been eliminated from the packaging imagery (though he is listed in the credits and given top billing).

Here is a newspaper advertisement for the film dating from 1930 when it showed at the Palacio de la Musica in Madrid, Spain. Louise Brooks is given second billing, with Wallace Beery listed third. Richard Arlen, who shares a significant amount of screen time with Brooks and was likely considered better looking than Beery by the senoritas, is given top billing

Beggars of Life is the subject of a chapter in my forthcoming two volume work, Around the World with Louise Brooks, which looks at the way this and other of the actress' films were received all over the world. The acclaimed William Wellman film was also the subject of my 2017 book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film, which can be purchased on amazon all around the world.




Sunday, July 11, 2021

Talking Louise Brooks and Diary of a Lost Girl on the Cinematary podcast

I was recently a guest on Cinematary, a podcast devoted to film history & film criticism. On episode #359, I spoke about Louise Brooks and her sensational 1929 film Diary of a Lost Girl. Check it out HERE or below.

 
Episode 359 - Diary of a Lost Girl (Young Critics Watch Old Movies v.7) 
 

Part 1: Zach, Andrew and Jessica discuss movies they saw this week, including: Zola, No Sudden Move, Fear Street Part One: 1994 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Part 2 (40:25): The group continues their Young Critics Watch Old Movies series with a look at 1929's Diary of a Lost Girl with guest Thomas Gladysz.

Learn more about the Louise Brooks Society here and buy Diary of a Lost Girl on Kino Lorber.

See movies discussed in this episode here.

Don't want to listen? Watch the podcast on our YouTube channel.


Friday, July 9, 2021

Stephen Horne spellbound in darkness, and silents

Musical accompanist Stephen Horne is a longtime friend, not only to myself but also to Louise Brooks and the Louise Brooks Society. In fact, he has probably accompanied the screening of a Louise Brooks film as much as anyone. 

I likely met him "over the internet" well more than 10 or 12 years ago when we did an email interview about Prix de beaute back when I was writing for examiner.com. In the years since, we have met a few times in person when Stephen came to San Francisco to accompany a film at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He is a great guy and a great musician. As examiner.com no longer exists,  HERE is a link to a later incarnation of the interview I did with Stephen about Prix de beaute.

The other day, Stephen was a guest blogger on Pamela Hutchinson's wonderfilled Silent London blog. (It is a blog well worth subscribing to, and supporting.) Stephen's thoughtful piece, which is titled "Silent Sirens: Stephen Horne on playing for the ghosts of silent film," begins with the musician's near mystical experience when he once accompanied a Louise Brooks film. There was nothing "new age" about Stephen's account. Instead, it has to do with the special experience so many of us experience when we view a silent film. We are transported. 

Stephen wrote "At one point Louise was held in an extended close-up – her smiling, enigmatic beauty framed by silver light. Then she started to speak and, although there was no intertitle, it was very clear to me what she was saying. In fact, just for a few seconds, I could actually hear her voice speaking the words. At least, that’s how it seemed. In retrospect, I realised that I had almost certainly been lip-reading. However, something about the moment, as immersive as it was, made the words transform into the sound of a voice within my head." 

He continued, "I didn’t give it another thought until some time later, when I realised that there seemed to be something pleasantly haunting about silent films, particularly when accompanied by live music. They can sometimes feel like a form of cultural séance: the audience gathers in a darkened space, hoping to make contact with long departed cinematic spirits. The musicians are almost like musical mediums and, at its best the music they produce can be a form of channelling." 

That last paragraph really struck me. I hope you will check out Stephen's entire piece "Silent Sirens: Stephen Horne on playing for the ghosts of silent film."

 

Readers may also want to know that Stephen's first CD, Silent Sirens, is to be released on July 9 on the Ulysses Arts label. Silent Sirens is an album of music composed and performed by Stephen Horne. And, it is something I am really looking forward to hearing.

The tracks on the album are intended to stand alone from the films from which they were initially inspired. However, according to the artist, most of these films have two things in common. "Firstly, they share a certain haunting quality, leaving unanswered questions to reverberate in the viewer’s mind long after ‘The End’. Secondly, at least for me, the strongest impression is made by the films’ leading women – the actresses and their roles. Combining these two elements suggested the theme of Silent Sirens."

More information on Stephen Horne's Silent Sirens, including purchase and streaming options, can be found HERE.

For more on this musician's approach to accompanying silent film, here is a video interview from 2009. Stephen Horne spoke to Marek Bogacki at the Killruddery Silent Film Festival about his career in silent film music.


 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Nothing and everything to do with Louise Brooks

As part of my ongoing series of posts on recently found material - some of it related to Louise Brooks, some of it not - I am showing here a couple of pages which I just recently came across and which have nothing and everything to do with the actress. The first is a late 1920s German magazine page which features some of the then current international film magazines ("The international Filmpress").

To me, this page is fascinating because it suggests in which magazines I might look for material on Louise Brooks, just as it tells a Clara Bow or Pola Negri or Rudolph Valentino or Buster Keaton or Colleen Moore fan where they might look. I have seen examples, if not long runs, of most of the magazines listed above, either online or via microfilm loans. The only two titles new to me are De Rolprent (from Holland) and Cinema d'Orient. I will try and track them down.

I have been researching Louise Brooks for a couple of decades, and regularly come across material new to me about the actress - whether it is a review of a film, a foreign advertisement, or even a photo of the actress. How somethings end up where they do sometimes baffles me. I have found a previously unseen image of Brooks from her Ziegfeld days which was published in Europe (before her film career began), and a rare images of Brooks in The Street of Forgotten Men (in an uncredited bit part in her first film) which was published in Latin America. And then there are the images of Brooks taken in Germany which were sent only to Japan! 

Even though Brooks was only a second tier star in the 1920s, she still had an amazing international presence which speaks not only to her appeal and popularity, but also to the inter-connectivity of the world back then, especially the film world. Of course, all of this material will end up in my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, which I plan to finish by the end of the year.

The advertisement pictured above is from Kinematograph, a German film magazine. The section at the bottom for Kinematograph notes in which countries and at what price this important German trade magazine could be gotten, suggesting the magazine had a worldwide readership. There are listings for America, Argentina, Bulgaria, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, and the even the former Tschechoslovakia, etc.....

The other magazine pages I came across, pictured below, were even more revelatory. These pages are from the Portuguese-language version of Paramount Messenger, the studio's in-house organ for spreading the Paramount brand in Brazil, Portugal and the Portuguese speaking world. (Its contents were similar, but not an exact match, to the Spanish-speaking version of this publication; the differences were articles of interest to readers in specific nations served by the different publications.)

All but two of Brooks' American silent films, and two of her talkies (It Pays to Advertise, and King of Gamblers), were Paramount releases. Which is fortunate for me as this map of "Imperial Paramount" tells me where they might have played. According to the map's legend, the Paramount logo represents "places where the company's territorial representative is based. In the United States there are twelve centers and the general headquarters in New York." The stars on the map indicate "leasing or sub-central agencies, of which there are 44 in the United States and Canada, as well as numerous in other countries." The legend also notes that Paramount had studios in Hollywood, New York, London and Paris.

 

Paramount  was serious about conquering the world, at least cinematically. The map legend indicates the various distribution hubs the studio had around the world. For example, Sydney was the hub for Australia as well as New Zealand, Java (
Island in Indonesia), Estados de Malacca (Malaysia), and Siam (Thailand). To date, I haven't been able to find evidence of Brooks' films having been shown in Thailand, but now, knowing that Paramount films were in fact shown there, I will have too redouble my efforts.

The map legend, shown below, also notes that Rome was the hub for not only Italy, but also Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Shanghai (an international city), was the hub for China and the Philippine Islands. Havana was the hub for Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the West Indies. Paris controlled France, Belgium, and French colonies in North Africa. While Berlin controlled Germany, Holland, parts of Eastern Europe, Finland and the Baltic nations, etc....

To me, this is fascinating material, suggesting new countries and regions to research. So far, I have been able to document Brooks' films having been shown in nearly five dozen countries, including some which no longer exist and some which were yet to come into existence. There are city-states, like Danzig, now former colonies (like Algeria and Morroco), and countries renamed. This newly found map should help to point the way to even more film history treasure.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

A Couple Three Nifty New Finds From Around the World with Louise Brooks

While continuing to write and research my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, I continue to come across remarkable stuff. Last night, for example, while researching the 1930 French film Prix de beaute, I came across some articles which specifically identified which actresses dubbed Louise Brooks' speaking and singing voices in the various incarnations of the film. If you recall, Prix de beaute was released in four different languages (French, Italian, English and German) as both a silent and sound film. If these plans were realized, that means there are eight different variants of Prix de beaute! That is kind of remarkable, and French newspapers at the time thought so and claimed it had never been done. Articles of the time also claimed that the rights to the film had been sold all over the world, including the United States. Who knew, since it often said that the film was something of a failure and little seen. In fact, it was shown all over Europe (including Iceland and the Ukraine) as well as in French Algeria, Madagascar, Japan, Turkey, and the U.S.S.R. However, despite the fact that Prix was also shown in the 1930s in Western Hemisphere (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Uruguay, and Venezuela), I don't believe it was shown in the United States or Canada until the late 1950s or early 1960s. Perhaps the timing was wrong for a dubbed foreign film in the USA.


Speaking of lovely portraits, I just recently came across a eye-catching image of the French film actress actress Arlette Marchel taken by one of the most gifted photographers of his time, M.I. Boris. I was going to describe Boris as everyone's favorite Louise Brooks photographer (since he took some outstanding photo's of the actress at the beginning of her career), but I might guess that everyone's favorite Brooks photographer is Eugene Robert Richee, the Paramount staff photographer. Well anyways, here is the portrait of Marchal, embellished a little more than usual in Boris' customary manner of etching the photographic print. (Marchel appeared in Wings and a couple other Clara Bow and Adolphe Menjou films.) I think Vincent might like this one; it was published in a rare Brazilian film mag.

Despite the eye appeal of the above two images, the one I was most pleased to find is this "pattern poem" or "picture poem," which was also published in a rare Brazilian film magazine. It is a prose-poem (how else to describe it?) formatted into the shape of a goblet, a symbol of both femininity (right Dan Brown) and rarity, or preciousness. It mentions a number of beautiful actresses (Norma Talmadge, Greta Nissen, Lya De Putti, Pola Negri, Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, Billie Dove, etc...), as well as Louise Brooks "with the dark night of its provocative sensualism." I think George Herbert would like this one.

My next post, in a couple of days, will feature another remarkable image regarding the presence of Paramount films around the world.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Louise Brooks podcasts - past and forthcoming

There have been a few Louise Brooks related podcasts in the past. The most recent streamed just a few days ago, on Soundcloud. It is titled "The Fire in the Eyes of Louise Brooks," episode #262, from the Important Film Club. The first half or so of this 41 minute podcast is devoted to Brooks, with the rest centering on direct-to-video action actor Steven Seagal. That is quite a range, beauty to the beast.

I will be the guest on an upcoming episode of Cinematary, whose current series, "Young Critics Watch Old Movies," will feature an episode on the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, The Diary of a Lost Girl. The episode will stream July 9th. I hope you will tune-in via the Cinematary website, or through one of the various streaming channels such as iTunes, Spotify, Sticher, YouTube, etc....

As well, I am looking forward to listening to the July 23 episode on Madchen in Uniform (1931), a favorite film of mine. Madchen in Uniform was recently released on DVD and BluRay by KINO, with an insightful audio commentary by Jenni Olson. If you like the two films Brooks made in Germany, you will also like -- even love, Madchen in Uniform. Check it out.

Diary of a Lost Girl is a film near and dear to my heart. And I also have a lot to say about it.... 

In 2010, I brought the book that was the basis the for film back into print in the United States (after more than 100 years of being out-of-print). Besides rare illustrations, my corrected and annotated "Louise Brooks edition" of Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl features an introduction detailing the remarkable history of the 1905 book along with its relationship to the 1929 film. My efforts received good reviews:

"Read today, it's a fascinating time-trip back to another age, and yet remains compelling. As a bonus, Gladysz richly illustrates the text with stills of Brooks from the famous film." - Jack Garner, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"In today's parlance this would be called a movie tie-in edition, but that seems a rather glib way to describe yet another privately published work that reveals an enormous amount of research and passion." - Leonard Maltin

"Thomas Gladysz makes an important contribution to film history, literature, and, in as much as Böhme told her tale with much detail and background contemporary to the day, sociology and history. This reissue is long overdue, and a volume of uncommon merit." - Richard Buller, author of A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran

And in 2015, I provided the audio commentary to the KINO Lorber DVD and BluRay of Diary of a Lost Girl. It was project that came about because of my work on bringing the book back into print. The KINO reissue is the best going, and a necessary addition to the collection of any Louise Brooks fan. Get it HERE before it too goes out-of-print (and as with Pandora's Box on DVD, costs and arms and a leg.)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Need help translating table of contents of Japanese film book with a chapter possibly about Louise Brooks and Clara Bow

 

I need help translating the table of contents of a Japanese film book from the late 1920s. If I understand correctly, one of the 30 chapters from this book concerns Clara Bow and Louise Brooks!  Can anyone read these chapters titles and tell me if I at all correct. Normally, while looking through non-English books or magazines, I can usually depend on visual guide posts like images or the occasional English word or name. But, there were no such guideposts in this particular book. If I am right, and the right chapter can be identified, then I can have it translated.

Clara Bow and Louise Brooks were the subject of a near "cult-like" following in Japan in the late 1920s. Hence, my interest in this book. The table of contents comes from Shinema no ABC (ABC's of Cinema), a 1928 book by Tadashi Iijima. I managed to get a hold of a reprint of this significant early work of film criticism. For mnore information, HERE is an interesting link to a history of film criticism in Japan.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

G. W. Pabst gripes about censorship of his two Louise Brooks films

While looking through Parisian newspapers while working on Around the World with Louise Brooks (my forthcoming two volume transnational look at Brooks' career), I came across a couple of noteworthy interviews with director G. W. Pabst. In one of them (the second piece, shown below), he complained about French censorship of his films, including the two films he made with Louise Brooks. 

The occasion for Pabst's complaint was his visit to Paris in January 1931, which prompted a few Parisian newspapers to profile and interview the Austrian-born director.  The article pictured to the right was published in Comœdia on January 30, 1931.

Why were French journalists interested in Pabst? At this point in his career, there were few directors as esteemed by French critics than Pabst. His silent and early sound films were highly regarded, especially Joyless Street (1925), The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927), Loulou / Pandora's Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), and Westfront 1918 (1930). Despite the high regard in which they were held, French censors still excised so much of Pabst's two Brooks' films that it annoyed both the director and French critics, who complained time and again about the sorry state of each film. (I have run across a number of articles about the two Brooks' films in which newspaper and magazine writers said they were aware each film had been cut.)

In France, Pandora's Box went under the titles Le Boite de Pandore, or Loulou, while The Diary of a Lost Girl went under the title Le Journal d'une Fille perdue and Trois pages d’un journal. The latter was a huge success, showing continuously for more than a month after debuting in Paris. (This was at a time when most films showed for only a week.)

I won't translate the entire article pictured left; it appeared in Le Quotidien on February 6, 1931 and takes the form of a profile, within which are interspersed Pabst's answers to various questions asked by "L.D.", the author of the piece.

The article begins by stating that everyone was pleased that the acclaimed director was in Paris, where he was considering taking on the direction of a French film.

The second to last paragraph is of special interest. In translation, it reads: "I have never been lucky in France with my films. None escaped the censor's chisel. Two of my films: The Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora's Box (Loulou) have been altered in their fundamental meaning. Even in Germany I was not immune from such severity; thus The Diary of a Lost Girl was cut by nearly three hundred meters, all in small pieces. But at least the meaning of the film remained the same."

The article concludes, "There is no bitterness in Pabst's voice. He is no longer fixed on the past. He stretches his strength and his heart towards the next work which will be a great humane film. Ten minutes later he jumps on the train which brings him back to Berlin."

To me, Pabst's comments are revealing. It had been well more than a year that both of his Brooks's had shown in Paris, and even longer since their German debut. Yet, they were still on his mind, or on the mind of French journalists.

Does anyone know if French censorship records still exist, or or accessible?

 

 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Interesting reading, and another fascinating non-Louise Brooks find

Here is some more interesting reading, and another fascinating non-Louise Brooks find. It is an article published in an English film magazine by Basil Wright titled "Who Killed the Vamp?" By this time, the mid-1930s, Brooks had pretty much disappeared from the screen, and was mostly forgotten. Thus, it is not surprising that this article doesn't mention some of her contemporaries and compatriots, like Clara Bow.


And for good measure, here is a picture of Brooks at her most vampish....



Sunday, June 13, 2021

A few fascinating non-Louise Brooks finds

While researching Louise Brooks for my forthcoming book, Around the World with Louise Brooks, I too often come across all sorts of intriguing articles and images which have little or nothing to do with the actress. I try to resist them, and to stay focused on the project at hand. However, sometimes I give in and save something of interest with the intention of sharing. Here are a few recent finds.

The first is a page of delicious images of the lovely Marlene Dietrich, Brooks' one-time rival for the role of Lulu in Pandora's Box. The page comes from Paris-plaisirs : revue mensuelle esthétique et humoristique, a French publication. It dates from April 1930.

If you have seen The Blue Angel, and I hope you have, you will recall that an older character, Professor Immanuel Rath (played by Emil Jannings), was attracted to the youthful Lola Lola (played by Dietrich). 

Speaking of Professors, here is another recent find, a snapshot of Douglas Fairbanks leading a class on film at the University of Southern California. This clipping comes from a French film journal, and dates to February, 1929. I wonder if Fairbanks' son, Doug Jr., who appeared in the 1926 Brooks' film The American Venus, sat in on the class? Whatever the answer, I would guess this class more or less marks the beginning of film studies!

One of my favorite filmmakers of the silent era is Erich von Stroheim. I came across this 1937 article about the director which is essentially an interview -- which I think is fascinating. Too bad von Stroheim and Brooks never worked together. Oh what perverse delights would have resulted.

And for good measure here is something else I spotted on Facebook, a screen capture or film still from Billy Wilder's Menschen am Sonntag (1930), another film you really should see if you haven't. Known as People on Sunday, the film follows a group of residents of Berlin on a summer's day. It is beautiful, and evocative. What I find interesting about the image below are the postcards of film stars thumb-tacked to the wall. Brooks is not among them, but I do spot images of Garbo, Harold Lloyd, and second/third from the pretty actress' nose, Esther Ralston, the star of The American Venus.


Friday, June 11, 2021

Can you find the Louise Brooks film in this Czech page of movie ads?

Faust and Ben Hur and Battleship Potemkin -- as well as films starring Pola Negri and Gloria Swanson!  Can you find the Louise Brooks film in this Czech page of movie ads? It comes from Prague, and dates from December 1926.


 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

More on Adolfo Bioy Casares and Louise Brooks

Along with having mentioned Louise Brooks in two interviews (see previous blog), the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914 – 1999) also wrote about her in his memoir and his diaries.

In his Memories (1994), Bioy wrote of his disillusionment over the decline of the screen career of one of his (and our) favorite actresses.  Here is the passage from the memoirs in which he discusses Brooks and his love of early film.

Progresivamente me aficioné a las películas, me convertí en espectador asiduo y ahora pienso que la sala de un cinematógrafo es el lugar que yo elegiría para esperar el fin del mundo.
Me enamoré, simultánea o sucesivamente, de las actrices de cine Louise Brooks, Marie Prévost, Dorothy Mackay, Marion Davis, Evelyn Brent y Anna May Wong.

De estos amores imposibles, el que tuve por Louise Brooks fue el más v ivo, el mas desdichado. ¡Me disgustaba tanto creer que nunca la conoscería! Peor aún, que nunca volvería a verla. Esto, precisamente, fue lo que sucedió. Despuesde tres o cuatros películas, en que la vi embeselado, Louise Brooks desapareció de las pantallas de Buenos Aires. Sentí esa desaparición, primero, como un desgarriamento; después, como una derrota personal. Debía admitir que si Louise Brooks hubiera gustado al público, no hubiera desaparecido. La verdad (o lo que yo sentía) es que no sólo pasó inadvertida por el gran público, sino también por las personas que yo conocía. Si concedían que era linda – más bien ‘bonitilla’ – , lamentaban que fuera mala actriz; si encontraban que era una actriz inteligente, lamentaban que no fuera más bella. Como ante la derrota de Firpo, comprobé que la realidad y yo no estábamos de acuerdo.

Muchos años despés, en París, vi una película (creo que de Jessua) en que el héroe, como yo (cuando estaba por escribir Corazón de payaso, uno de mis primeros intentos literarios), inconteniblemente echaba todo a la broma y, de ese modo, se hacía odiar por la mujer querida. El personaje tenía otro parecido conmigo: admiraba a Louise Brooks. Desde entonces, en mi país y en otros, encuentro continuas pruebas de esa admiración, y también pruebas que la actriz la merecía. En el New Yorker y en los Cahiers du cinéma leí articulos sobre ella, admirativos e inteligentes. Leí, asimismo, Lulú en Hollywood, un divertido libro de recuerdos, escrito por Louise Brooks.

En el 73 o en el 75, mi amigo Edgardo Cozarinsky me cito una tarde en un cafe de la Place de L’Alma, en Paris, para que conociera a una muchacha que haria el papel de Louise Brooks en un filme en preparacion. Yo era el experto que debia decirle si la muchacha era aceptable o no para el papel. Le dije que si, no solamente para ayudar a la posible actriz. Es claro que si me huberian hecho la pregunta en tiempos de mi angustiosa pasion, quiza la respuesta hubiera sido distinta. Para me, entonces, nadie se parecia a Louise Brooks.
 

With the help of the web and an Argentine friend, I have made a translation of the above passage and have come up with something inelegant, but still interesting.

Over time, I fell in love with movies, I became a regular viewer and now I think I want to wait for the end of the world on the seat of a movie theater..

I fell in love, simultaneously or successively, with the film actresses Louise Brooks, Marie Prevost, Dorothy Mackaill, Marion Davies, Evelyn Brent and Anna May Wong.
 
Of these impossible loves, I was most passionate about Louise Brooks, and it made me miserable. I hated that I could never know her! Worse, one never saw her again. This is exactly what happened. After three or four movies, I was spellbound, and Louise Brooks disappeared from the screens of Buenos Aires. I felt that disappearance, first, as a tearful break; then as a personal loss. Had she been better liked by the public, I feel Louise Brooks would not have disappeared. The truth (or what I felt) is that she was little known to the public, and also to people I knew. Granted she was cute – rather ‘pretty’ – though others complained she was a bad actress; if they found her a clever actress, they regretted that she was not more beautiful. Just like before the defeat of Firpo [the Argentine boxer who lost to Jack Dempsey], I proved that reality and me disagreed.

Many years later in Paris, I saw a movie (I think by [Alain] Jessua) in which the hero, like me (when I was wrote Heart of a Clown, one of my first literary attempts), took everything as a joke and consequently was hated by the woman he loved. That character, like me, admired Louise Brooks. Lately, here in Argentina and elsewhere, there is a renewed assessment and growing admiration for the actress, which is deserved. I read admiring and intelligent articles about her in the New Yorker and the Cahiers du Cinéma. I also read Lulu in Hollywood, a diverting memoir, written by Louise Brooks.

In 73 or 75, my friend Edgardo Cozarinsky asked me one afternoon in a cafe in the Place de l’Alma in Paris if I know a girl who would play Louise Brooks in a film which was in preparation. I was the expert who was to say if the girl was acceptable or not for the role. I said yes, not only to help the possible actress. Clearly, if I had been asked the question during my anguished passion, perhaps the answer would have been different. To me, no one seemed to be Louise Brooks.

Boiy's diaries were later edited (by Daniel Martino) and published in Spanish under the title Descanso De Caminantes : Diarios intimos (2001). Bioy's original diaries run some 20,000 pages, and there are a few passages touching on Brooks and the writer's love of early film. In 1977, Bioy wrote: 

"Por mi ideal de belleza femenina ha variado a lo largo del tiempo: preferí primero a las morenas atezadas, a las «chinitas» de mi país. Después me gustaron las de piel muy blanca y pelo negro: fue la época en que agonizaba de amor por la actriz Louise Brooks. Después me gustaron las pelirrojas y después, las rubias. Siempre me gustaron las jóvenes."

OR

"My ideal of feminine beauty has varied over time: I first preferred the dark-haired brunettes, the "chinitas" from my country. Then I liked very white skin and black hair: it was the time when I was dying of love for the actress Louise Brooks. Then I liked redheads and then blondes. I always liked younger women."

And in 1982, Bioy wrote:

"Cuando yo estaba enamorado (desde mi butaca del cine) de la actriz Louise Brooks, hacia el 23 o el 30, nadie compartía mi admiración. Hoy en día hasta los ridículos pedantes de los Cahiers du Cinéma la elogian."

OR

"When I was in love (from my seat at the cinema) with the actress Louise Brooks, between 1923 and 1930, no one shared my admiration. Today even the ridiculous critics of the Cahiers du Cinéma praise her."

Monday, June 7, 2021

Adolpho Bioy Casares on Louise Brooks, Marion Davies, silent comedians, Fellini, and working with Borges

Today, Adolpho Bioy Casares (1914 – 1999) is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century; Bioy, as he is called, was an Argentine fiction writer, diarist, and translator. He was also a great friend and regular collaborator with his fellow countryman Jorge Luis Borges

Bioy authored more than 30 books, both short stories as well as novels, including A Plan for Escape (1945), The Dream of Heroes (1954), Diary of the War of the Pig (1969), and Asleep in the Sun (1973). He also collaborated with Borges on the seminal Anthology of Fantastic Literature (1940), as well as a series of satirical detective stories written under the pseudonym Bustos Domecq. 

Today, Bioy is likely best known for his 1940 novella, La invención de Morel (The Invention of Morel), which is widely considered the first work of “magical realism.” Borges wrote in the book’s introduction: "To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole." Mexican Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz echoed Borges when he said: "The Invention of Morel may be described, without exaggeration, as a perfect novel." Later Latin American writers such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez have also expressed their admiration for this novella whose influence extends beyond literature into film, music, television and the realm of popular culture. [I have written about Bioy’s book and its connection to Louise Brooks in the past, as seen HERE and HERE.]

Along with his many literary achievements, Bioy was also a great devotee of the cinema, especially the silent and early sound era, as is made clear in the following interview. This interview is something I have been trying to track down for years, decades really, because of what Bioy says about Brooks being the "inspiration" behind The Invention of Morel

And just recently, within the last couple of weeks, I was sent a copy. The interview was published in FILM, an Argentine film magazine, in the summer of 1995. I studied Spanish for two years in high school, but regretfully recall little. This interview, by Daniel Martino (Bioy's editor), Fernando M. Pena, and Sergio Wolf, is presented here in my unauthorized, software assisted, translation. I think anyone interested in early film and Latin American literature will find it of interest.

###

The idea of a meeting with Bioy to talk about cinema was suggested by the bibliophile Manuel Pena and took place through the kind mediation of specialist Daniel Martino. The shared interests sustain the informal tone proposed from the beginning. By Daniel Martino, Fernando M. Pena, and Sergio Wolf.

- When did you start watching movies?

- My mother told me that the cinema was not suitable. However, she went every day, every afternoon, to the movies. She said that I had to play sports, fortify myself and not sit there in the dark.

 - How old were you?

- Eight, ten years. This was in Mar del Plata. On the Rambla there were two cinemas, Palace and Splendid. I was desperate to always be with my mother, so when the cinemas let out I would wait for her, and if she didn't leave the Palace I would run to the Splendid to find her.

- We're still talking about silent movies?

- Of course, when talkies came it seemed to me that I had no hope, it was awful. In the first sound movie that I saw the actors were singing. So then they had talents as singers and not as actors. Every time there was a love scene, they sang, sang the ... that seemed to me to be the destruction of what had been achieved.

- You told others you were afraid that movies would stop being silent.

 - No, that they stopped being silent and were sung.

- Once you said that if you had a brother, you would have liked him to be a director. Did you ever wish to direct?

- No, being a writer was enough for me. Being a director was a bigger concern and I left it to my brother.

- When you were a boy, Drago Mitre and the Menditeguy brothers had a 9 1/2 mm Pathe, and they made some movies.

- We tried to make movies but we failed.

- There was no worthwhile result.

- The results were not very good. I think we shot without a roll of film in the machine. [Laughs] My brother was missing.

- Didn’t you go to see dirty films at the Miriam cinema, perhaps with Drago and Menditeguy. Could it be?

- Correct, almost every afternoon. There was a time when Drago, Julio Menditeguy, Carlos Menditeguy and I went to the movies after playing tennis. And at the Miriam, which was in the plaza Dorrego, they showed pornographic films. They also presented movies about diseases, which really didn't help you. In the Miriam cinema you always saw come-ons, girls who went from one row to another until they picked up a client. From there they went directly to a nearby street, to look for a room.

- That must have been surprising to see...

- And venereal diseases. The movies that were showing there completely put us off.

 - Then you wrote some movie reviews...

- I wrote some reviews for a neighborhood journal, which was called The Spectator. It was around 1932, I was about eighteen years old.

 - And then your cinematographic activity stopped.

- Pretty much, yes. Only later did I go to the movies again every day.

- Did you follow some director, some genre?

- I followed directors. If they showed a Lubitsch movie I went to see it, if it was Ashby I went to see it...

- Hitchcock?

-Yes, as well... It seemed to me that he always set a trap, but that it was enjoyable, he knew how to entertain. He was an entertainer.

- It's a trap? Just knowing that Cary Grant could never die, for example!

- Yes ... There were fallacies in his movies. I made a list of movies and directors that interested me and, well, he isn't here.

- The cinema also comes into play a good deal in your stories and novels. There is a story, The Hero of Women, where you make some references to Western movies, to what the hero of the Western represents, let's say. Do you like the Western a lot?

- I like them a lot, yes. I always watch them with a good deal of enjoyment. I have noticed that the French, who are so fond of fashion, have a great passion for Westerns and they show them often in the old Paris cinemas.

- In your work you refer to the Western more than other genre.

- Yes, that's correct. There is the field, there are the horses. There is something very broad; life opens up in the Western.

 - You wrote stories with Borges as well as scripts.

- Scripts that were poor. Although it is true that they were written before we knew how to write scripts. It is a bit more Borges's fault, rather than mine. He wanted to craft great dialogue with each phrase in the text and that is intolerable.

- You wrote differently when you wrote as Bustos Domecq, for example, than when you wrote scripts?

- Yes, but also because of time. When we wrote such timid scripts it was much earlier. With Bustos Domecq we let loose, we made jokes on jokes, we lost ourselves. Bustos Domecq was also a kind of intellectual defeat: we said that one wrote as he wanted and what we wanted was to write classic police stories, with a clear and sharp solution. Well, we couldn't do that, we got lost in the jokes. Borges suddenly asked me: "Now what do we do with this character? How do we solve this...? "

- The scripts you wrote were tighter.

- Much tighter, and as well there was no pleasure in writing in that overwrought way.

- It's true, but notably Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi is from '42, and there are adaptations from '43, '46, and '49. Things get mixed up a bit.

- Well, in Six Problems anyway ... we were never satisfied. In later stories, really ... I was referring to other earlier, made to order scripts. Pago Chico, for example.

- From what you told us about your work, Borges had a much greater desire to write for the cinema than you.

- I think so. Perhaps because Borges was much more intense than me, with respect to everything. I don't know why he was so oblivious to our failures, but the truth is that he was much more determined than me.

- Did he pressure you to write with him?

- Well, we liked working together. If I wished to work with him, why wouldn't I? It was instructive, it was fun, it was terrific working with him.

- When you wrote scripts with Borges did you go to the movies? Did you have a model?

- No, no we didn't go to the movies because my friendship with Borges was nocturnal, not daytime. He came home to eat at night and then we would write or read.

- Did you ever go to the cinema together?

- No, the circumstances weren’t right.

- You told me that he liked The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935) but you did not, so there was a range of horror movies that you did not share.

- No, no. Except when there was a funny horror film, like Young Frankenstein, which I liked a lot.

- In your list of memorable films there is an abundance of comedies. You prefer humor in the cinema, in your literature...

- In my literature despite myself, because when I write ... I like to be a little more serious.

-Why more serious?

- Because women tell me that humor is cool. [Laughs].

- Speaking of comedies, I can't help asking about Keaton, who is a personal obsession.

-Yes, Keaton seemed to me much superior to Chaplin. Always. I found Chaplin’s movies good, yes? But, in general, I would say that I don't like Chaplin's lyricism but I do Keaton's.

- Did you like silent comedians?

- Yes, I loved them. It seemed to me that they were refreshing to the soul. One was happy to see those comedians. And since it often happened that reality did not agree with me, it was good to see them. There was another comic that I really liked, Charley Chase. At the time I liked Larry Semon too, but when I saw him again I didn't like him that much. Instead, I still really like Laurel and Hardy.

- Why do you think so much is lost in revision?

- It's something strange. That happens more with cinema than with literature. With the cinema it is quite common.

- In many of your stories you mention specific theaters. In The Adventure of a Photographer in La Plata you cite several cinemas, the Roca, Gran Rocha cinema ... did you know those cinemas?

- Yes, sure, I've been a few times. Quoting them was as a memory to myself.

- In an interview you said that the Invention of Morel had come about, partially, from the sudden disappearance of Louise Brooks. Of a certain feeling of abandonment in the face of the loss of someone very dear to you. What happened to Louise Brooks?

- I was madly in love with her. I was unfortunate, because she suddenly left, traveled to Europe, to make a  movie with Pabst which I didn't like as much as when she was in Hollywood. As well, she disappeared very early from the cinema.

- Her absence is like the one suffered by the shipwrecked Morel.

-Yes, she would be Faustine.

- That’s curious, because people fall in love with Brooks through her German movies.

- I did not.

- Can you talk about other actresses?

-Yes of course. I liked Marion Davies, for example. She thought she had married William Hearst. I really liked Anna May Wong, too.

-Garbo?

- I liked her, yes, I liked her in Ninotchka, but not as much as some others.

- In your list you do not cite any police mysteries, that is a genre that you like greatly in literature.

- Well, I liked the Maltese Falcon a good deal, but I think the genre interests me more in literature than in cinema. It is that one can think that just as bad books make good films, good books make less good films. I mean, maybe cinema just needs stimulus from literature.

- It seems you feel that it is a good thing for the film to be absolutely faithful to the book?

-No, no. I am convinced that faithfulness can be very harmful. The Red and black [Le rouge et le noir, Autant-Lara-1954), for example, is very faithful.

- Are you interested in Fellini?

- I liked The White Sheik, Amarcord, 8 1/2 ... The one I don't like is Casanova. It seemed to me ... melodramatic and a failure, wanting to give Casanova a fantastic touch that he doesn't have. I should be clear and say that I saw it before having read Casanova. I don't see any relationship between Casanova's memoirs and that film.

- A character from one of his stories says: "Love is like the biographer: when you leave the room you are changed. " Do you believe it too?

- Oh yes, very much. It is like awaking from a dream. One leaves the cinema playing the movie, finding unfamiliar surroundings outside.

- Has watching a movie inspired you to be write a story?

- No, no.

- You used to say so in the sense after watching a movie, thinking: "I would like to write about a character like this, or with a similar tone ..."

- Oh yes. In that sense – let's go back – the cinema has prompted me to write things. I said no, but because I didn't remember The Great Game [Le grand jeu, 1934), a film by [Jacques] Feyder that has the idea of the eternal return. I was very impressed with that. The theme of the cyclical...

- As in The Perjury of the Snow.

- Yes. But in none of my stories have I been lucky enough to tell it in such a soulful way as I saw it in that movie.

- Going back a ways, to the surrealist era. Did you see Bunuel’s The Golden Age or The Andalusian Dog?

- Yes, but I didn't like them. Because I don't really like surrealism. I liked him in general. I did not like any of his surrealist work. I liked what the critics of surrealism said. I was a victim of the critics.

- At one time you wrote "I am willing to wait for the end of the world sitting in a movie theater."

- Of course, it is really a declaration of love to the cinema and cinemas.

- Do you still think about it?

- I keep thinking about it, and when I go to a cinema I feel safe and very happy. There one surrenders to sound, right?

 

Note  1.

Refers to a film adaptation by Payro, whose elusive story was reconstructed by Daniel Martino Film, No. 1, Buenos Aires, April / May 1993.

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