Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Glamour Starter --- Louise Brooks

There’s a lot about Louise Brooks to appeal to the college sophomore in all of us. She spoke her mind, never suffered fools, walked out when she got bored, and so forth. Her attitude brought down the curtain and exiled this seeming most self-destructive woman in the whole of American show-business to a menial life unworthy of what many referred to as instinctive acting genius. There’s a mouthful, but how else to sum up the object of such fervid cult enthusiasm? They recognized the Brooks centennial in San Francisco (2006) with crowds hip-deep for any number of commemorative events. Who wouldn't want to Be Louise at times --- those younger imagine they can --- but even Brooks found out that a lifelong contrarian's life can be a lonely one, and I can’t imagine any of her acolytes wanting to end up the way Louise did. One thing’s sure --- she’s the blinding light among silent contemporaries whose images have not weathered the years so well. You wonder what Paramount was thinking in the late twenties. Did they not have eyes to see? There was nobody like Louise. Not even Clara Bow. Maybe it’s only in hindsight that we can appreciate such distinctive talent. There is an abiding dream among fans to somehow go back in time and rescue Louise from the philistines. How could those moguls have overlooked such artistry in their midst --- especially with the looks she had?

It’s as well Louise went over and made her three European films, because without them, there would likely be no Brooks cult. So little is left of her stateside output. One could weep at the list of casualties --- The American Venus, A Social Celebrity, Just Another Blonde, Rolled Stockings. Imagine a DVD box containing all these. Beyond her triumphs for director G.W. Pabst, we must proceed on faith (and they were not regarded so at the time, having few US play dates). Surviving prints of American silents are either in rough condition or protected by copyright. Her initial talkie, also released silent, was The Canary Murder Case, this a Brooks specimen best represented by the stunning posters designed to advertise it. The movie itself ushers her on and off within the first reel, and an odd juxtaposition of mismatched shots to cover patchwork voice dubbing is distracting even when you allow for early sound crudities. This, of course, was the one that got her in Dutch with studio executives and led to cast-off status (she had refused to report back and record dialogue for the talking version). As to Euro ventures, I’d recommend switching off English subtitles next time you watch. Pandora’s Box, Diary Of A Lost Girl, and Prix de Beaute are about one thing, and that doesn’t require explanation beyond the picture on your screen. Every man is obsessed with Brooks, and chances are one of them will get around to killing her before the fade. That’s about all you need to know. Titles are optional. In fact, they are in the way. Who wants to read something at the bottom of a frame otherwise filled with close-ups of Louise? Narrative blanks are easily filled in. It all comes down to a handful of interchangeable lines for whichever discarded lover is addressing her --- You belong to me, My life is in ruin because of you, I’ll kill you before I’ll let another man have you. There are no language barriers between any audience and a presence so bewitching as Brooks. She needed nothing beyond that face she had. It’s as well she never made it in talkies. Dialogue would have been an encumbrance for this actress.

I’d call hers a fragile beauty. It didn’t seem so as long as she maintained the signature jet-black flapper bob. Cutting away bangs was like Samson shorn of his locks, for something of the Brooks magic went with them. A look at thirties’ portraits and final western roles (Empty Saddles and Overland Stage Raiders) reveal a face still striking, but difficult to reconcile with the Brooks we had known. That she would finish up playing support to Buck Jones and The Three Mesquiteers is as much castor oil to her admirers, for a Brooks cultist is seldom partial to "B" westerns. To quote samplings of latter-day Brooks appreciations --- "Nondescript "Z" western, (Overland Stage Raiders), "one of the most static and silly westerns in Hollywood history" (Empty Saddles), and "bottom-of-the-barrel westerns" (both). Had she known how vexing these two would be to her modern-day worshipers, Louise might have enjoyed the experiences  beyond a measly $350 they paid. Part of the reason she ended up in reduced circumstances was her self-destructive streak earlier referred to, and yes, there were those who inflicted worse upon themselves, but few were so willful about it as Brooks. Part of our ongoing romance with Louise lies in the paradox of someone so intelligent and beautiful spending years holed up in a grubby apartment drinking toward oblivion. Rescue via generous offices of the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY seems not to have improved her attitude, but maybe she sensed the need of masochistic fans who got letters returned to sender and doors slammed in their faces. A self-described mean old lady, she worked at being just that. There were articles Brooks wrote about her career and others in biz orbits, all typically unsparing. Most regrettable was memoirs tossed into an incinerator before they could be published. She often went beyond the truth to paint a darker image of herself, claiming drunkenness and insensibility during Eastman House screenings of her films, though curator James Card said that she was totally engaged and responsive during these. There was ongoing correspondence with writers, and some fans, but a slight misstep would find the iron door slammed against further contact.

Perhaps the only thing that matters in the long run is how long they remember you after you’ve gone. By that measure, Louise Brooks is perhaps the greatest of all silent stars. She’s among few to have a coffee table book devoted to her. Ebay and the Internet are a movable feast of Brooks lore and collectibles. Original images go for staggering amounts. Considering her preference for writing in bed and avoiding face time with followers, Louise would seem destined to administer her own website. If tomorrow were alive and fifty instead of gone and over one hundred, she’d be having lively discussion (more likely arguments) with safe-at-a-distance fans. Those who pen-palled with Brooks during the sixties and seventies have since given way to the temptation of prices their replies from her can bring. I came across an album for sale at a collector’s show with dozens of hand-written L.B. missives and fifty or so original stills besides. All this for a then (1985, the year she died) considerable price of three hundred dollars. Imagine the return you’d have on such puny investment in today’s burgeoning Brooks market. I understand a lot of women like Louise. You could say she struck a blow for female independence. Nobody owned her. An image like that never goes out of fashion as long as there are young people seeking the same freedom. Watching The Fountainhead the other day, I was struck by how much Patricia Neal’s character reminded me of the off-screen Louise Brooks. Both seemed to have been bad news for anyone w
ho tried to get too close, resolute distance reason enough for her lasting appeal.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!! This is the best Monday I've had in months!!

I first became aware of Louise Brooks about a decade ago from a photo in a Buster Keaton biography. She was pictured with her husband, Eddie Sutherland. She was looking straight at you and she simply smoldered. I felt almost guilty looking at her--this woman was my grandmother's age, yet that was one of the hottest photos I've ever seen published, anyplace. (Do you know the one I'm referring to? I've been looking for a high quality scan of it for years.)

Thanks again for this great high-quality blog! It's one of my daily must-reads!


12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eastman House is doing a month-long tribute to Brooks. Watched "A girl in Every Port" last week; tomorrow is a lecture, followed by Pandora's Box--trying to decide if i want to pay for the lecture or just catch the movie.

I first became aware of her in High School in the 70s. Then, like now, she seems to transcend her era. Read her book in the 80s, and it's pretty well-written.

She's a fascinating character, but I wonder her her reputation would have held up if she became a star--I get the feeling she would've been a real bitch.


1:39 PM  
Blogger Tim Lucas said...

There is bound to be a lot of centennial blogging on Ms. Brooks tomorrow, but it will be a great challenge for anyone to top yours, John, for thought and substance.

In my few encounters with Barbara Steele, I found that she was a great Brooks fan. And now, having read your blog, I'm wondering if she was emulating her when she left Hollywood to go to Italy (during a SAG strike) to make her own cult films, and when she was found unavailable when it came time to dub most of them!

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article but I miss the photo captions, John!

2:11 PM  
Blogger Low Flying Angel said...

Pandora's Box is well worth seeing if you haven't seen it yet.

2:10 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Sorry about those captions, Chris. I got lazy. That shot of Louise with the telephone, by the way, is from "Just Another Blonde", another of her lost silents. Thanks to all for your comments. I'm looking forward to checking out other sites today for Brooks postings ...

7:17 AM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

I'm curious to know the info about the third to last picture -the last of Ms. Brooks with the shorter hair. That is one of the hottest pictures I've seen and blows some of today's so-called starlets away. Thanks for this excellent article. I knew so little about her until today.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J.C. Loophole said...
I'm curious to know the info about the third to last picture -the last of Ms. Brooks with the shorter hair.

That's from Pandora's Box. Story context makes the picture even better--the guy with her is the father of her fiancee...who just walked in the room.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for Louise Brooks as Mondays Glamour starter!!!!

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article, very well done. And I love the pics. Louise Brooks is a superstar!

thomas gladysz
Director, Louise Brooks Society

8:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024