Sunday, January 25, 2015

Toronto Silent Film Festival to screen Louise Brooks' film Diary of a Lost Girl

The Toronto Silent Film Festival is set to screen the 1929 G.W. Pabst directed Louise Brooks' film Diary of a Lost Girl on Thursday, April 9th at 7:00 pm. This special screening, with musical accompaniment by Bill O'Meara, will take place at the Innis Town Hall in Toronto.

More information at www.torontosilentfilmfestival.com/the-film-schedule.html

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dutch National Opera premieres William Kentridge's LULU

The Dutch National Opera will premiere William Kentridge's long anticipated staging of the complete version of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, in a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera New York and English National Opera. Performances takes place June 1, 6, 8, 14, 20, 23, 25 and 28.

Lulu? from the Dutch National Opera website


From the Dutch National Opera website: "Alban Berg wrestled with Lulu his entire life, leaving it unfinished at his death in 1935. Friedrich Cerha completed the orchestration of the third act only in 1979. Until then, only the first two acts were ever performed, with segments of the Lulu Suite as a conclusion. Although the musical motives are based on a single twelve-tone series, the instrumentation is colourful and there is a great variety of musical forms. As the rhythm of the vocal lines closely follows that of speech, the text comes across as very natural. One of the highlights is Lulu’s provocative song ‘Wenn sich die Menschen um meinetwillen umgebracht haben’."

"The story is drawn from two plays by Frank Wedekind about the attractive young dancer Lulu, who uses her charms to conquer and destroy. All men – and the occasional woman – desire her, but whoever marries her is faced with a death sentence. Guilt or innocence? That is the question. With each man, Lulu climbs the social ladder. She is cold and calculating, but also an easy prey for others. In the middle of the opera Berg includes music for a silent film that depicts Lulu’s demise after she has murdered her husband Dr. Schön. The dénouement at the end of the third act – Lulu has descended into prostitution – is sensational."

"Conductor Fabio Luisi and director William Kentridge both make their Dutch National Opera debut. Mojca Erdmann appeared previously at Dutch National Opera as Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In both voice and appearance, Erdmann is a perfect Lulu. The South African artist and filmmaker William Kentridge was inspired for his staging by the silent films from the 1920s and ‘30s, the time in which Lulu was composed."

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra takes its place in the pit, and the opera will be performed in German, with surtitles in Dutch and English.

William Kentridge's staging of Alban Berg’s Lulu will take place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in early November. Exact dates will be announced in February.

William Kentridge working on Lulu for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. (photo by Robert Caplin)

Monday, January 19, 2015

A new version of Lulu by Nicolas Mahler

There is a new graphic novel version of the Lulu story, Lulu und das schwarze Quadrat: Frei nach Frank Wedekind, by Nicolas Mahler. The book was published in Germany in October, 2014. The legs on the front belong to Louise Brooks, while the drawn character of Lulu found in the book bears the Brooks' bob.

The author is a prolific and critically acclaimed graphic artist whose work is oftenbased on literary sources. He contributes to Austrian, German and Swiss newspapers and magazines. His earlier work includes a pieces related to Franz Kafka, as well as Alice in Sussex (based on Alice in Wonderland) and The Man Without Qualities (based on the novel by Robert Musil). More about the artist can be found at his website at www.mahlermuseum.at/

According to his Wikipedia page: "Mahler's style is characterized by an extremely reduced stroke with which he captures quirky characters." In the award statement for the 2006 Max and Moritz Prize, it was noted that "The figures of Nicolas Mahler have no eyes, no ears, no mouths - but they certainly have character. Always succeeds Mahler, bringing with minimalist drawings and marginal humor his few strokes to the point. He commutes between virtuoso banal, absurd and Kafkaesque."

From the publisher "In seiner brillanten neuen Graphic Novel »Lulu und das schwarze Quadrat« entschlackt Nicolas Mahler Frank Wedekinds Tragödien »Erdgeist« und »Die Büchse der Pandora« zu einer schwarzen Komödie über weibliche Körperlichkeit, männliches Besitzdenken und Kasimir Malewitschs Schwarzem Quadrat."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pages from Lulu: pantomime en un acte


Pages from Lulu: pantomime en un acte, preface by Arsène Houssaye, published 1888 by E. Dentu in Paris. I wonder if Frank Wedekind knew of this slim book? The book can be read online at Open Library.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kansas Silent Film Festival

Here is the line-up of films for the Kansas Silent Film Festival. More information may be found on their website.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Best film books of 2014

Looking back, 2014 was a banner year for books about the movies. Whether you are into biographies, film history, pictorials, "making of" books, or critical studies, there was something for everyone. In fact, this past year may prove to have been one of the best years for film books in a long time. Not only was there quantity (nearly three dozen books are mentioned below), there was also an impressive quality to many of the year's new releases.

Considering the current state of race relations in the United States, there may be no more relevant new release than Dick Lehr's The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War. More social history than film history, Lehr's book revisits the year 1915 and the confrontation between two men, D. W. Griffith, the pioneering and successful movie director, and Monroe Trotter, a black American newspaperman. Their clash over Griffith's hugely popular 1915 film The Birth of a Nation pitted white against black, Hollywood against Boston and free speech against civil rights. The Birth of a Nation marks its centenary this year, and is scheduled to be shown at the Kansas Silent Film Festival in February.


Another sometimes controversial early director was Charlie Chaplin. Like Seth Rogen's recently released The Interview, Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) satirized a head-of-state to the point of ridicule. Both made politicians and the public nervous.

Sometimes controversial though always brilliant, Chaplin is, arguably, the most written about individual in film history -- and the subject of a handful of new books. Wes D. Gehring's Chaplin's War Trilogy: An Evolving Lens in Three Dark Comedies, 1918-1947 (McFarland) discusses The Great Dictator and other films, while John Fawell's The Essence of Chaplin: The Style, the Rhythm and the Grace of a Master (McFarland) looks at the actor's work behind the camera.

Award-winning novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd has turned out Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life (Nan A. Talese). Chaplin's own A Comedian Sees the World (University of Missouri), edited by Lisa Stein Haven, presents the first American book publication of the Little Tramp's travels in the early 1930's. Due out later this year is a massive new book, The Charlie Chaplin Archives (Taschen), edited by Paul Duncan, with an astonishing list price of $200.00. First edition copies feature a filmstrip from the classic City Lights (1931), cut from a print in the actor's archives.


Chaplin is the greatest comedian in film history, and is rated as such in James Roots' idiosyncratic and IMHO over-opinionated The 100 Greatest Silent Film Comedians (Rowman & Littlefield). His contemporary and chief rival, Buster Keaton, is the subject Lisle Foote's notable Buster Keaton's Crew: The Team Behind His Silent Films (McFarland). Their contemporary and Louise Brooks' fellow performer, W. C. Fields, also started on the stage before moving into film. He is studied in Arthur Frank Wertheim's W. C. Fields from Burlesque and Vaudeville to Broadway: Becoming a Comedian (Palgrave Macmillan), the promising first half of a two-volume work. Also out is Bill Cassara's Nobody's Stooge: Ted Healy (BearManor Media), a biography of the early stage and screen star who gave birth to the act that became The Three Stooges.

Two first ever biographies of early actresses are James Zeruk Jr.'s Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: A Biography (McFarland), released in late 2013 but copyright in 2014, which tells the story of the starlet who jumped to her death from the HOLLYWOOD sign in 1932, and Mariusz Kotowski's problematic Pola Negri: Hollywood's First Femme Fatale (University Press of Kentucky). Problematic because this significant star, popular and critically acclaimed on two continents, deserves a more thorough biography.

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Male actors are also the subject of notable new releases. Leading the pack is Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend (Simon & Schuster), one of the best film books of the year. Eyman's book contains some discussion of the Overland Stage Raiders (1938), the one film in which Brooks appeared with Wayne. A lesser recently released alternative is Marc Eliot's American Titan: Searching for John Wayne (Dey Street Books).  

Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century (University Press of Mississippi), by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, which profiles the "Ultimate American" and original swashbuckler, is rich in its coverage of the early years of the legendary star's career; it also covers in detail several films previously considered lost. Academy Award winning film historian and filmmaker Kevin Brownlow has added a foreword to the Fairbanks' book, and Vera Fairbanks (his daughter-in-law) has added an introductory note. Also new is Scott O'Brien's fine George Brent - Ireland's Gift to Hollywood and its Leading Ladies (BearManor Media), with a foreword by Jeanine Basinger, and James L. Neibaur's recommended James Cagney Films of the 1930s (Rowman & Littlefield).

Other recommended works from 2014 include Hal Erickson's From Radio to the Big Screen: Hollywood Films Featuring Broadcast Personalities and Programs (McFarland), Gerd Gemünden's Continental Strangers: German Exile Cinema, 1933-1951 (Columbia University Press), and Jan-Christopher Horak's remarkable study of the great graphic designer, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (University Press of Kentucky). Kindred works are Gemma Solana's Uncredited: Graphic Design & Opening Titles in Movies (Gingko Press), which includes a DVD with opening titles, and the impressive Criterion Designs (The Criterion Collection). Especially new and noteworthy is William Mann's sensational Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood (Harper).

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Keep in mind Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive (Insight Editions), by Angela Cartwright and Tom McLaren, with a foreword by Maureen O'Hara, and Warner Bros.: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot (Taylor Trade Publishing) by Steven Bingen with Marc Wanamaker, and a foreword by Doris Day. There's also E. J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker's Early Poverty Row Studios (Arcadia Publishing), Paul G. Bahn's The Archaeology of Hollywood: Traces of the Golden Age (Rowman & Littlefield), Eric Hoyt's Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video (University of California Press), and Karina Longworth's Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997 (Princeton Architectural Press). Competing for book of the year is Robert Sitton's Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film (Columbia University Press), the fascinating biography of the founder of the Museum of Modern Art's Film Library and the individual who helped institutionalize film studies.

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Two other titles in the running for book of the year are Cecilia de Mille Presley and Mark A. Vieira's sumptuous Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic (Running Press) and Ruth Barton's Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen (University Press of Kentucky). In different ways, each looks at the life and careers of an innovative director. Also worth noting is "It's the Pictures That Got Small": Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age (Columbia University Press), edited by the estimable Anthony Slide. Remarkable for its revealing of the hidden career of a minor genius is Noah Isenberg's Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins (University of California Press). Before they came to the Unioted States, both Billy Wilder and Edgar Ulmer contributed to the terrific German film, People on Sunday (1930).

It would be a crime not to not mention two exceptional small press publications. Be sure and search out Randy Skretvedt, Peter Mikkelsen and John Tefteller's wonderful Laurel & Hardy on Stage: Rare and Unreleased Live Performances 1942-1957 (Tefteller Publishing), which features two CD's, one of rare live recordings of legendary duo, the other a 70-minute interview with Stan Laurel recorded just one week after Oliver Hardy's death. It is a beautiful labor of love. Also well worth searching out is Jordan R. Young's King Vidor's THE CROWD: The Making of a Silent Classic (Past Times), which features an introduction by Kevin Brownlow. The Crowd (1928) is one of the great films of all-time, and this book helps bring its greatness into focus.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lee Israel, writer who forged Louise Brooks letters, has died

Lee Israel, a writer and biographer who forged a series of letters from Louise Brooks and others, has died. She was 75 years old. The New York Times has an extensive obituary on her.

Earlier in her career, Israel had published a popular biography of the actress Tallulah Bankhead, but as a writer, fell on hard times. She turned to forging letters from famous personalities, including actors, entertainers and writers such as Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neil, and Louise Brooks.

The New York Times noted, "In the early 1990s, with her career at a standstill, she became a literary forger, composing and selling hundreds of letters that she said had been written by Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward, Lillian Hellman and others. That work, which ended with Ms. Israel’s guilty plea in federal court in 1993, was the subject of her fourth and last book, the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, published by Simon & Schuster in 2008." Brooks' name, x'ed out, appears on the cover. (Read the New York Times review of the book, which mentions Brooks, here. Also, check out the Los Angeles Times review here. And the NPR story can be read or listened to here.)

After her memoir was published in 2008, Israel turned to selling her forged letters (as such) on eBay. As I noted on this blog at the time: "The eBay description reads, 'Lee Israel, author of the recently published Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, which The New York Times called 'pretty damned fabulous,' is offering several letters for sale – the hilarious forgeries that experts from coast to coast could not distinguish from the extraordinary letters written by the silent film star. These are the letters Lee Israel had not yet sold when the FBI came knocking at her door. $75 each, suitable for framing to bamboozle your literary friends. Letters of inauthenticity provided."

I didn't buy any of Israel's forgeries, but did email her. We exchanged a couple of notes, but all-in-all, she was reticent to talk about what she did. In an interview with Vice magazine, she said this:

VICE: Well, it could’ve been that they didn’t fuss because you went to such great lengths to make the content of the letters believable and entertaining.
LEE ISRAEL: Yes. For instance, my Louise Brooks letters were based on her actual letters. In the beginning, I spent weeks reading these fabulous letters by her in the library. I got into her soul and her sensibilities and gained lots of knowledge about her life. So when I sat down to do the forgeries, I was just taking baby steps. In the beginning those letters were mostly Louise’s words with a bunch of stuff just changed around. But when they started to sell like hotcakes, I got surer of myself and moved farther and farther away from the model. The Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber stuff was not even based on real letters. I was using things written in other forms and incorporating them into my work.

One of Lee Israel’s forged Louise Brooks letters, reproduced in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
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