Sunday, January 30, 2022

Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks, was released on this day in 1929

Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks, was released on this day in 1929. Based on two plays by the  German dramatist Frank Wedekind, Die Büchse der Pandora, or Pandora’s Box, tells the story of Lulu, a lovely, amoral, and somewhat petulant showgirl whose behavior leads to tragic consequences. Louise Brooks plays Lulu, the singular femme fatale. As Brooks' biographer Barry Paris put it, her “sinless sexuality hypnotizes and destroys the weak, lustful men around her.” And not just men. . . Lulu’s sexual magnetism had few bounds, and this once controversial film features what may be the screen’s first lesbian character. More about the film can be found on the Louise Brooks Society filmography page.

The film went into production at the Nero-Film Studio in Berlin, with production lasting between October 17 and November 23, 1928. The film premiered on February 9, 1929 at the Gloria-Palast in Berlin, Germany.

Under its original German title, Die Büchse der Pandora, documented screenings of the film took place in Austria, Danzig, Slovakia (then part of Czechoslovakia), Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine, and the United States.

Outside Germany, Die Büchse der Pandora was exhibited or written about under the title Loulou (Algeria); La caja de Pandora and Lulu (Argentina); Le boîte de Pandore and Loulou (Belgium); A caixa de Pandora (Brazil); Кутията на Пандора (Bulgaria); La caja de Pandora and Lulu (Chile); Lulu La Pecadora (Cuba); Pandořina skříňka or Pandořina skříňka (Lulu) and Umrít Büchse der Pandoru (Czechoslovakia) and Pandorina skrínka (Slovakia); Pandoras æske (Denmark); De doos van Pandora (Dutch East Indies – Indonesia); Pandora’s Box (England); Pandora laegas (Estonia); Pandoran lipas (Finland); Loulou and Le boîte de Pandore (France); Λούλου and Lulu- το κουτί της Πανδώρας (Greece); Pandóra szelencéje (Hungary); Lulu and Il vaso di Pandora and Jack lo Sventratore (Italy); パンドラの箱 or Pandoranohako and The Box of Pandora (Japan); Korea (Box of Pandora);  Pandoras lade and Pandoras Kaste (Latvia); Pandoros skrynia (Lithuania); Lou lou La Boite de Pandore (Luxembourg); La caja de Pandora (Mexico); De doos van Pandora (The Netherlands*); Pandoras eske (Norway); Lulu and Puszka Pandory (Poland); A Bocéta de Pandora and A caixa de Pandora (Portugal); Cutia Pandorei and Lulu and Pandora szelenceje (Romania); Lulu and Pandorina skrinjica (Slovenia); La caja de Pandora (Spain); Pandoras ask (Sweden); Meş’um Fahişe and Meş’um Fahişe (Lulu) (Turkey); Dzieje Kokoty Lulu (Ukraine); Box of Pandora and Pandora’s Box and Pandora szelencéje (Hungarian-language press) and Ящик Пандоры (Russian-language press) (United States); La caja de Pandora and Lulu and El alma de la herrera (Uruguay, sound version); Lulu and Лулу and Ящик Пандорьі (U.S.S.R.); La caja de Pandora (Venezula).

Since the late 1950s, numerous screenings of the film have been taken place around the world, including first ever showings under the title Pandora’s Box in Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere. Within the last few years, a showing of the film also took place in Turkey under the titles Pandora’nın Kutusu and Pandora’nýn Kutusuö. The film has also been shown on television across Europe as well as in Australia, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

*Despite the film being banned in The Netherlands in 1930, it was shown on October 18, 1935 in Amsterdam at De Uitkijk.

 — The jazz combo seen playing in the wedding scene in the film is Sid Kay's Fellows. They were an actual musical group of the time. Founded in 1926 and led by Sigmund Petruschka (“Sid”) and Kurt Kaiser (“Kay”), Sid Kay’s Fellows were a popular ten member dance band based in Berlin. They performed at the Haus Vaterland (a leading Berlin night-spot) between 1930 and 1932. And in 1933, they accompanied the great Sidney Bechet during his recitals in the German capitol. Sid Kay’s Fellows also accompanied various theatrical performances and played in Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt, Vienna, Budapest, Barcelona and elsewhere. The group’s depiction in Pandora’s Box predates their career as recording artists. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Sid Kay’s Fellows were forbidden to perform publicly. They disbanded, and transformed themselves into a studio orchestra and made recordings for the Jewish label Lukraphon.

— When Pandora’s Box debuted in Berlin in 1929, an orchestra playing a musical score accompanied the film. The score was reviewed in at least one of the Berlin newspapers. The score, however, does not apparently survive. What is also not known is if the music of Sid Kay’s Fellows, or any sort of jazz, played a part in the music of Pandora’s Box. [Interestingly, director G.W. Pabst included another jazz combo in his next film with Brooks, The Diary of a Lost Girl.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The American Venus, featuring Louise Brooks, was released on this day in 1926

The American Venus, featuring Louise Brooks, was released on this day in 1926. The film is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a beauty pageant, namely the actual 1925 Miss America contest in Atlantic City. The film is the second in which Louise Brooks appeared, but the first for which she received screen credit. More about the film can be found on the Louise Brooks Society filmography page.

Production took place in the fall of 1925, beginning around August 24 and ending around November 10. (The exact dates are not known.) The film was shot in part in early September at the Miss America beauty pageant in Atlantic City, and later at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island (located at 3412 36th Street in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens), as well as on the Coney Island boardwalk, in Greenwich, Connecticut (in the vicinity of Round Hill and Banksville), and “near a swimming hole” in Ocala, Florida (the future shooting location of It's the Old Army Game).

In the United States, the film was also presented under the title La Venus Americana (Spanish-language press) and A Venus Americana (Portuguese-language press). 

Under its American title, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia (including Tasmania), Bermuda, British Malaysia (Singapore), Canada*, China, Dutch Guiana (Surinam), India **, Ireland, Jamaica, Korea, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, and the United Kingdom (England, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales).

Elsewhere, The American Venus was shown under the title Vénus moderne (Algeria); Die Amerikanische Venus (Austria); A Venus Americana and La Venus Americana (Brazil); La Venus Americana (Chile); La Venus Americana (Cuba); Americká Venuše (Czechoslovakia) and Die amerikanische Venus (Czechoslovakia, German language); Den amerikanske venus (Denmark); La Venus Americana (Dominican Republic); De Moderne Venus (Dutch East Indies – Indonesia); Vénus moderne (Egypt); The Modern Venus (England); Miehen ihanne (Finland); Vénus moderne and Vénus américaine (France); Die Schönste Frau der Staaten (Germany); Az amerikai Vénusz (Hungary); Il trionfo di Venere and Trionfo di Venere (Italy); 美女競艶 or Bijo dai Kei tsuya  (Japan); Venus Moderne–Die Modern Venus (Luxembourg); La Venus americana (Mexico); De Moderne Venus (Netherlands);  Amerykan’ska Wenus and Venus Pokutujaca (Poland); A Vénus American (Portugal); Miss Amerika (Slovenia); Американская Венера (Soviet Union); La Venus americana and La Venus Moderna (Spain); Mannens ideal–Venus på amerikanska (Sweden); and La Venus moderne (Switzerland).

* The film was banned in the province of Quebec due to “nudities.”

** Bengali censorship records from 1927 called for the elimination of close-ups of women in the film’s tableaux, noting “The figures are too naked for public exhibition.”

Miss Bayport, the role played by Louise Brooks, was originally assigned to Olive Ann Alcorn, a stage and film actress who had bit parts in Sunnyside (1919) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Townsend Martin, whose story served as the basis for the film, was a college friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald. According to the New Yorker and other publications, famed humorist Robert Benchley wrote the film’s titles.

The film was privately screened at the Atlantic City Ambassador Hotel as a benefit under the auspices of the Atlantic City Shrine Club on December 26, 1925. A benefit screening of the film also took place at midnight on December 31, 1925 in Oakland, California -- the hometown of star Fay Lanphier.

The American Venus officially premiered at the Stanley Theater in Atlantic City on January 11, 1926. It then opened at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on January 24, 1926.

The film was a hit. Such was it's "buzz" that according to the 1999 book, Russian Writings on Hollywood, author Ayn Rand reported seeing The American Venus in Chicago, Illinois not long after she left the Soviet Union. 


Monday, January 24, 2022

Kansas Silent Film Festival set for February

One month from today, the Kansas Silent Film Festival will be celebrating its 25th annual event when it kicks off the 2022 event in Topeka. More information about the event, including the program of films, notes, directions and more, can be found HERE. Please note, this is a LIVE event with social distancing recommended. And what's more, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, as well as pianists Ben Model, Jeff Rapsis and others will be providing live musical accompaniment.

Among the many highlight are screenings of Herbert Brenon's Peter Pan (1925), Stage Struck (1925, starring Gloria Swanson, The Goose Woman (1925), with Louise Dresser and Jack Pickford, and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky. No Louise Brooks this year.... but maybe in the future.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Dorothy Day, the Catholic "Saint" who once reviewed a Louise Brooks' film

Yesterday's New York Times ran a story headlined "Was Dorothy Day Too Left-Wing to Be a Catholic Saint?" The article, subtitled "The Archdiocese of New York has asked the Vatican to consider the social activist for sainthood. But church leaders are not entirely comfortable with her politics," examines the real possibility that the well-known Catholic activist might be canonized. 

For those not familiar with Dorothy Day (1897-1980), she was according to Wikipedia a "journalist, social activist and anarchist who, after a bohemian youth, became a Catholic without abandoning her social and anarchist activism. She was perhaps the best-known political radical among American Catholics." Day's conversion to Catholicism took place in 1927; in 1933, she founded the Catholic Worker. But before then, she was a journalist and writer. 

Should Dorothy Day be canonized, she would become the first and likely only Saint to have ever reviewed a Louise Brooks' film. On July 20, 1925, the New York Morning Telegraph published Day's review of The Street of Forgotten Men, which was headlined “Herbert Brenon Contributes Absorbing Film at Rivoli.” (The review was run again on July 26th.) Day gave the film a good review, describing it as "An absorbing story, done by a cast of people who really know how to act and directed in a skillful manner by Herbert Brenon." She also singled out various actors, particularly Juliet Brenon (the director's niece) and John Harrington, who plays Bridgeport White-Eye, the shudder inducing character to whom moll Louise Brooks was attached. Day did not mention Brooks - no reviewer did, as Brooks' part was just an uncredited bit. Nevertheless....

Interestingly, Louise Brooks developed a serious interest in Catholicism later in life. However, her interest was more mystical than practical or social, like Day's. Back in 2016, the Catholic Saints Guy blog ran a piece on Brooks and Catholicism titled "The Divine Miss Brooks."

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A silent film collage in an Italian futurist magazine

I have always been drawn to collage, whether in the visual arts or in film or literature. Despite the jumble, it makes sense. Early modernism, especially dada and surrealism made use the technique, as did futurism. Recently, while looking online through some vintage Italian magazines, I came across this collage featuring some early film stars. It really appeals to me. I believe this Italian futurist magazine dates from 1932. How many film stars can you name? (Unfortunately, no Louise Brooks.)

An interior page

The magazine cover

Sunday, January 16, 2022

German silent film Pandora's Box, starring American Louise Brooks, screened in London by French agency with Austrian partnership

On Sunday the 16th, the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in London, England screened the classic 1929 silent German silent film, Pandora's Box (aka Loulou). The Institut français is the French Agency of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs in charge of promoting French culture overseas and international cultural exchanges. More info on this pan-European screening HERE.

Die Büchse der Pandora

134 mins

DEU | 1928/29 | dir. G.W. Pabst, with Louis Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Goetz, Krafft-Raschig, Alice Roberts 

Based on Frank Wedekind’s two plays Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora, Pabst’s cinematic interpretation is the ultimate amoral, mesmerising, and irresistible tale which deservedly found its place in the pantheon of cinema. Astonishingly modern, the film follows the downward spiral of flapper girl Lulu. Louise Brooks’s intensely erotic portrayal of the film’s heroine is seductive and innocent at the same time. 

In Weimar Germany, Lulu (Louise Brooks) is an entrancing and free-spirited girl who lives on the beneficences of the men who fall under her spell. Her current paramour is the highly-respectable Dr. Schön, who comes to believe he must marry her, even though he has been engaged to a more respectable woman. At their wedding, he becomes mad with jealousy, and tragedy ensues.

In its turbulent history, Pandora’s Box was butchered by censors to a mere 66 minutes, rediscover the film’s beauty in its full running time of 134 minutes.

The screening will be accompanied live on piano by Cyrus Gabrysch

Sun 16 Jan 4.30pm

In partnership with the Austrian Cultural Forum

Friday, January 14, 2022

Diary of a Lost Girl screens in Provincetown on Jan 19

The Provincetown Film Art Series in Provincetown, Massachusetts will screen Diary of a Lost Girl, G.W. Pabst’s silent classic starring Louise Brooks, on Wednesday, January 19 at 7 p.m. Series curator Howard Karren will give an introduction and moderate a post-screening discussion. More information and ticket availability HERE.

The event description reads: "Louise Brooks is an American treasure, partly for her revelatory proto-feminist memoir, Lulu in Hollywood, and partly for the dazzling performances she gave in two silent G.W. Pabst movies shot in Germany after she fled La-La-Land and its tyrannical studios: Pandora’s Box and this, a cautionary tale about forgotten women." Personally, I don't understand the meaning or use of the  word "forgotten" - but still, this is a rare pandemic screening.

If you would like to learn more about this film, let me recommend the Louise Brooks Society filmography page. It is chock full of information.

And if you would like to learn more about the sensational book behind the film, let me recommend Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl. In 2010, I edited, wrote the introduction, and published to the "Louise Brooks edition" of Bohme's book

The Brooks film is based on a controversial and bestselling book first published in Germany in 1905. Though little known today, it was a literary sensation at the beginning of the 20th century. By the end of the 1920s, it had been translated into 14 languages and sold more than 1,200,000 copies - ranking it among the bestselling books of its time.

Was it - as many believed - the real-life diary of a young woman forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution? Or a sensational and clever fake, one of the first novels of its kind? This contested work - a work of unusual historical significance as well as literary sophistication - inspired a sequel, a play, a parody, a score of imitators, and two silent films. The best remembered of these is the oft revived G.W. Pabst film starring Louise Brooks.

My corrected and annotated edition of the original English language translation brought this important book back into print after more than 100 years. It includes an introduction detailing the book's remarkable history and relationship to the 1929 silent film. This special "Louise Brooks Edition" also includes more than three dozen vintage illustrations.

The book received good reviews, including this one from Richard Buller, author of A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran - "Long relegated to the shadows, Margarete Böhme's 1905 novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl has at last made a triumphant return. In reissuing the rare 1907 English translation of Böhme's German text, 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. He gives us the original novel, his informative introduction, and many beautiful and rare illustrations. This reissue is long overdue, and in all ways it is a volume of uncommon merit."

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

On this day in 1922 in the life history of Louise Brooks

Nineteen twenty-two was a pivotal year in the life of Louise Brooks. It was a whirlwind year. Brooks was a teenager, just 15 at the beginning of the year, and she was following her passion for dance while performing in local theaters and before clubs and civic organizations in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas. By the end of the year, she was a member of the prestigious Denishawn Dance Company, touring the United States and performing alongside such dance greats as Martha Graham, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. This blog commences a new series of posts documenting significant happenings in Brooks' life on this day one-hundred years ago.

* * * * * *

On this day in 1922 in the life history of Louise Brooks . . . . Brooks, along with other students from the Mills-Fischer School of Dance and Dramatic Arts, attends a performance in nearby Hutchinson, Kansas by dance legend Anna Pavlova and her Ballet Russe. The Mills referenced in the name of the dance school was none other than Alice Mills, who was immortalized as "The Chaperone" in Laura Moriarty's splendid novel of the same name which centers on Brooks and events in her life in 1922.

What a remarkable happenstance -- the coming together of two iconic figures of the 20th century. Its only equivalent was when Ruth St. Denis took Brooks and the other Denishawn dancers to see Isadora Duncan perform.

In case you are not familiar with Pavlova (or Pavlowa), she was one of the great dancers of the 20th century. Her Wikipedia entry begins, "Anna Pavlovna was born Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (12 February 1881 – 23 January 1931), was a Russian prima ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. She was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. Pavlova is most recognized for her creation of the role of The Dying Swan and, with her own company, became the first ballerina to tour around the world, including performances in South America, India and Australia." Her likeness and legend are commemorated in artwork all around the world. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Celebrating Asta Nielsen, an earlier Lulu

Asta Nielsen was an early European film star in whom Louise Brooks had a special interest. (For more about Asta Nielsen and her remarkable career, check out her Wikipedia page HERE, or better yet, check out this excellent article "Asta Nielsen - #Bosslady" by Nanna Frank Rasmussen. The short introductory film about Nielsen at the top of the page is surprising, even a bit shocking.) 

Brooks' interest likely stemmed from the fact that the two actresses had a few things in common. I don't know that they ever met, but they both worked under the same director, G.W. Pabst. Late in her career, Nielsen was featured in Pabst's Joyless Street (1925), which starred Greta Garbo. Brooks, of course, starred in two Pabst films, Pandora's Box (1929) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). Another bit of overlap came in the form of a woman named Josephine Müller, who was Brooks' maid in Berlin; according to Brooks, Müller had  once worked for Asta Nielsen, and in her essay "Pabst and Lulu," Brooks notes that her German maid thought Nielsen the best actress in the world. 

And of course, both actresses also wore their hair short throughout their life, with Nielsen at times sporting bangs and a helmet-like bob similar to Brooks. 

However, the most notable thing that the two actress had in common is that they both played the same character, Lulu. Brooks played Lulu in Pandora's Box, while Nielsen played Lulu in Erdgeist, or Earth Spirit (1923), a German film directed by Leopold Jessner. We know from Brooks' notebooks that Brooks viewed Erdgeist on June 15, 1959 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Interestingly, when Brooks recorded the fact she had seen the film, she referred to it as Loulou. If you want to see the Nielsen film, hurry on over to the Danish Film Institute where you can stream Erdgeist online for free. These days, this 69 minute film is seldom shown in theaters or at festivals, so, this is a great opportunity to see a significant silent film. BTW, this version has Dutch intertitles with Danish subtitles. But no worries, just watch it for the visuals and you will be able to follow it along. Otherwise, hard-core Lulu devotees might also want to catch this 64 minute version of Erdgeist on YouTube which features Russian intertitles.

Speaking of screenings and festivals, the British Film Institute is mounting a multi-film, two part retrospective in February and March curated by film critic / film historian / author and friend to the LBS Pamela Hutchinson. "‘Die Asta’ was silent cinema’s Danish diva," notes the retrospective webpage, "whose mesmerising performances helped invent modern screen acting." More information HERE.

As Hutchinson notes, "A single tear from Nielsen, a single flicker of her mouth, says more than any superimposed effects of suffering,’ said German director Leopold Jessner. ‘She was and is the great actress, the canvas that makes dignity visible.’ Almost an overnight success when she appeared in 1910’s melodrama The Abyss as a young woman torn between passion and duty, Nielsen soon became Europe’s greatest film star – though her transgressive films would be censored in the US. She was widely celebrated for the emotional depth and sensuality she could convey with her modern, naturalist style and her deft use of gesture, whether in comedy or tragedy. This month we’ll explore her first films, made in Denmark and Germany, which reveal her to be a screen actress of boundless range, with unique sensitivity and unforgettably hypnotic eyes." 

For those interested, here is an LBS blog from 2017 about Nielsen which contains the scans of a vintage German language booklet on the actress noted for her large dark eyes, mask-like face and boyish figure who often portrayed strong-willed passionate women trapped by tragic circumstances. Sound familiar?

Monday, January 3, 2022

Happy Birthday Pola Negri

Happy Birthday Pola Negri, the Polish-born actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and early sound eras. By most accounts, Pola (born Apolonia Chalupec) came into the world on this day in 1897. She began her career in Europe, making early films in Germany before moving to the United States and signing with Paramount. She was a near contemporary of Louise Brooks, and worked with some of the same actors and directors. Pola was also considered a great beauty, and reportedly had affairs with both Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Her last screen credit was in Walt Disney's The Moon-Spinners (1964). Read her Wikipedia page HERE.

At times, Pola Negri resembled Louise Brooks just a bit. At other times, she look like a dark haired Garbo. Most of the time, however, she looked like Pola!

Want to learn more? Here are some worthwhile books. I recommend each.


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Which is your favorite portrait of Louise Brooks?

Over the years, I have been asked the same question different ways. "Which is your favorite portrait of Louise Brooks?" I suppose I have answered that question differently depending on when I was asked. Let me try again. Here are five of my favorite portraits of Louise Brooks.

Answer #1: For me, this early image may well be the "perfect" portrait of the actress. This photograph captures, or rather details, the glory of Brooks' youth and beauty.

Answer #2: I came across this portrait of Brooks early on, and developed something of a crush on the actress because of it. For years, a framed copy of this print hung on the wall. I was mystified by Brooks' slight smile, demure glance, and the way her bangs broke just a bit.

Answer #3: I also came across this portrait of Brooks early on, and it helped fuel my crush on the actress. Like the previous portrait, I love Brooks' slight smile, direct gaze, and the way her hair falls forward on one side.

Answer #4: There is something almost sculptural, almost monolithic, about this otherwise formal image... the direct gaze, the perfect lighting - the balanced shine on Brooks' glossy hair. Like the famous Eugene Richee portrait of Brooks' holding pearls, this is image as icon.

Answer #5: I think of this atypical image of Brooks as the "perfect" informal portrait... the slight smile, the tousled hair, the demure look.

Not included in this short list of favorites is Eugene Richee's famous portrait of Brooks holding a strand of pearls. Certainly, it is the best known and most artistic of the many images of the actress. But, it is also the most formal, least human. It is a gorgeous image, which explains its ubiquitous appeal. 

If someone were to ask you "Which is your favorite portrait of Louise Brooks?" How would you reply?

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