Friday, July 1, 2016

Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks screens in Sheffield on July 10

As part of its crowdfunding campaign for its inaugural event, the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival has announced that it will be showing the 1929 Louise Brooks film Pandora's Box not once, but twice  during the course of its month long series of screenings. Lillian Henley will accompany the film on piano.

The Festival is set to take place July 1 through July 30, with one of the Pandora's Box screenings set to take place on July 10 at 6 pm at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.

More information HERE (Facebook) and HERE (website).

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Polish Tango 1935: Ach zostań (Oh, Stay!) by Adam Aston

This is pretty atmospheric: A Polish Tango from 1935 - "Ach zostań" ("Oh, Stay!") by Adam Aston, featuring some nice video visuals. Adam Aston can be heard on RadioLulu.

Adam Aston & Orkiestra Syrena Records - Ach zostań! (Oh, Stay!) Tango z teatru "Wielka Rewia" (Tango from theatre "Grand Revue") (J.Petersburski /A.Włast), Syrena-Electro 1935 (Poland)

And another from Aston, the lovely "Madame Loulou", 1934.

Harry Waldau's valse-hesitation received in Polish a charming, witty text of one of the finest cabaret writers of the inter-war Poland, Konrad Tom. He tells us a heartbreaking story of Madame Loulou, who is so pretty, so charming, so friendly, and who lives alone "without any storm around her" - that she must be "a victim of a gossip" made about her by people jealous of her parfumes, her gowns and those men, who "only sometimes" visit her in her elegant apartment in a Alee of the Roses...

The great text and many first-class performers (among the best is Adam Aston, who relly touches the very fin-de-siecle core of this tune's style)made this song an evergreen - one of the classics of the Polish cabaret.

Adam Aston - Madame Loulou (Konrad Tom/Harry Waldau), Syrena Electro 1934.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Homage to George W. Lighton of Kentucky, idealistic silent film buff who perished in the Spanish Civil War

I continue to find fascinating bits about Louise Brooks and her times. . . . Earlier today, for example, I came across a letter to the editor published on January 2, 1931 in a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper. The letter, of all things, mentions the 1929 Louise Brooks' film, Pandora's Box. To me that is fascinating--because the film was then little known in the United States. Its only recording showing prior to 1931 was a two week, December 1929 run at an art house in New York City which was reviewed in the local newspapers and nationally in a handful of trade publications. One wonders how a movie goer outside of NYC might have known of the film?

The letter to the editor was penned by George W. Lighton, a 20 year old Louisville resident and obvious film buff with a subtle preference for the silent cinema. Lighton wrote his letter in response to a December 21, 1930 piece by Louisville film critic Boyd Martin naming what he considered some of the best films of the year. Martin's piece is copied below.

Boyd was a thoughtful and prolific newspaper critic for the Louisville Courier Journal. (His reviews of earlier Brooks' films are in the Louise Brooks Society archive.) And Lighton, one would guess, was a regular reader. Within just a few days, the young film buff mailed his response to Boyd's column. It is copied here.

In his letter, Lighton all but admits to having not seen most of the films he sets out to call to the public's attention. Perhaps he was just showing off his knowledge of foreign cinema, or perhaps he was hoping an exhibitor might take notice and screen these films in Louisville. It's hard to say. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable list--full of German and Soviet classics, and one which holds up to the test of time.

About Pandora's Box, Lighton wrote: "German silent film, directed by G.W. Pabst. Cinema at its most naturalistic. From Frank Wedekind's story. The film reaches its most adult stage." Lighton considers it a mature film on a mature subject, and ranks it ahead of the similarly themed Blue Angel.

Lighton's letter begs the question, how could a bright kid in Louisville, Kentucky have heard of these films, enough to make pithy comments on each. Again, its hard to say. But if I were guess, I would suppose Lighton had gotten a hold of the intellectual English film journal, Close-Up. These were just the sort of films it was writing about and praising at the time.

Who was George W. Lighton? I haven't been able to find out much about him except that he was born in 1911 and was a bright kid who seemed to be reader and film buff and someone very curious about the world. In 1933, a couple years after his letter was published, he was lecturing in Louisville on the subject of "The Movies--Our Newest Art." His talk, which followed one by Boyd on the subject of "Current Plays on Broadway," was sponsored by the Division of Adult Education at the University of Louisville.

Lighton, I think, was also an idealist and a wanderer. According to a 1938 article depicted below, when money ran out after his first year in college, Lighton took "hobo trips" around the country, venturing as far as Canada and Mexico. In the midst of the Depression, he spent five years bumming around and recording his observations in a notebook. "He kept an extensive journal of his experiences, his impressions of cities and people and his reactions to works of art in museums all over the country. He wrote about being robbed by a one-legged man in Chicago anfd about the plight of the Harlan County miners and about being stranded when a 'too cheap' bus abandoned its passengers enroute to California." "He looked up people who interested him and recounted conversations he had with Theodore Dreiser, John dos Passos, and Eisenstein and others. He had an article published in Cinema and hoped to take up a literary career."

Lighton rambled around until he was convinced by the head of the University of Louisville English department to return to school and get his degree. He did so, and graduated in June 1937 from the University of Louisville, where he was the only student to ever be awarded honors in both sociology and humanities. Discouraged by not being able to find a job, he took off for Chicago in August of that year.

In September 1937, his Mother received a letter from her son, who was then in Paris, mentioning that he would be going to Spain to fight against Fascism. Another letter followed. "I am now in Spain as a member of the International Brigade of the Loyalist Army. I had not been in Paris more than two days when I enlisted as a volunteer." Many more letters followed, detailing daily life and his movements around Spain. Lighton's last letter was sent on Christmas day, 1937.

Despite no additional letters, and despite reports of the deaths of American volunteers in Spain, Lighton's mother continued to believe he was still alive. She held onto her belief until one of her son's friends in Spain wrote to say he had been killed, but where and when was uncertain. Also lost was the journal Lighton kept in Spain. Lighton's friend wrote"telling of the pact he had had with George to recover his note book in the event of his death." "On my return to the company I tried, but failed to obtain possession of George's journal," the friend wrote.

There is little found online except for the few clippings mentioned above, and this page on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. There are also passing mentions in a couple of contemporary books, Letters from Barcelona: An American Woman in Revolution and Civil War (2009), and A History of Education in Kentucky (2011). In the former, Lighton is described as a "idle dreamer and griper" by the subject of the book, who appears to have been acquainted with many participants in the Spanish Civil War, including George Orwell. In the latter, Lighton is made out to be an internationalist (read leftist) apart from his fellow students, most all of whom were then staunch isolationists.

I would be interested in reading Lighton's contribution to Cinema. There was one journal by that name published in New York, and one in London, during the early 1930's. Anyone have access to any sort of index for either periodical?

Friday, June 24, 2016

My recent trip to London in search of Louise Brooks (pre-Brexit)

[This post was originally run on May 17th.] A small part of my recent trip to London was devoted to silent film and Louise Brooks. I am glad I went when I did, back in April before the Brexit vote, though friends and others I encountered (cabbies, people on the street), were all talking about it . . . .

Most memorably, I had the chance to visit with film historian Kevin Brownlow, and we talked about LB for two hours! He shared his memories of the actress, whom he interviewed twice. And, he also showed me some of the images and clippings he had gathered over the years. I told Kevin of my intention to track down Brooks' London residence, he and shared this item with me. The writing is Brooks, and the image of her London apartment building dates from much later, perhaps the 1960s or 1970s.

As most fans will know, Louise Brooks lived in London for a few months in late 1924 and early 1925. I went past Brooks' one time apartment building, which is located at 49A Pall Mall; the address no longer exists. (It has, seemingly, been absorbed into 50 Pall Mall.) Here is an image of the building today, along with one of me at that spot.

About a 15 minute walk  from 49A Pall Mall is the Cafe de Paris at 3 Coventry Street. LB danced there in 1924, and that's where where Picadilly with Anna May Wong was filmed (in part) in 1929. I was fortune enough to enjoy a private tour of the famed Cafe, which I guess looks a good deal like the place Brooks danced in long ago. Here is a picture of me outside the club, along with some interior shots.

Another highlight was visiting the Cinema Museum, which is housed in an old Lambeth workhouse where Charlie Chaplin one lived; the night we visited, Kevin Brownlow was introducing his print of Man, Woman and Sin (1929), starring John Gilbert & Jeanne Eagles. It is an especially good film. If you are ever in London, be sure and visit this fascinating place. Here are a few snapshots from the night we visited.

And, I did some Louise Brooks research at both the British Library and BFI (British Film Institute) library. At the British Library, I searched through microfilm of some issues of London Life from around the time Brooks was dancing at the Cafe de Paris. It was full of articles and images of London's nightlife, including showgirls, gossip and bits on movie stars. Though promising, I didn't turn-up anything on the then newly opened Cafe de Paris nor Brooks' tenure there. I one thing I did find was the issue of Boy's Cinema which features a fictionalization of Now We're in the Air, Brooks' 1927 film with Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton.

I visited the BFI and the BFI library, where I did more research. I was looking for a handful of hard-to-find articles about Brooks published in various British, French and German publications. I managed to unearth a number of pieces which I found in rare issues of publications like The Astorian, The Stoll, Sequences, Film Dope, and Flickers. I wish I had had more time to explore their holdings, as I know I could have found more material.

I also noticed Brooks had something of a presence at the BFI itself. I spotted copies of both the Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl DVDs in the BFI giftshop, and, I noticed Brooks' image was included on some promotional pieces. I also purchased a copy of Mark Kermode's book The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, which contains a few pages on Beggars of Life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Louise Brooks: data mining, visualization and the Media History Digital Library

Arclight is a data mining and visualization tool for film and media history that allow users to analyze millions of pages of digitally scanned magazines (notably film and trade publications) and newspapers for trends related to a chosen subject. I searched "Louise Brooks."

This graph represents my results.  It shows what we already know, that more articles mentioning Louise Brooks appeared in 1926 and then 1927, peaking in 1928. The decline in mostly American press attention began in 1929 and continued into the 1930s until the period between 1936 and 1938, when Brooks experienced a brief revival. The 1940s and 1950s marked a period of obscurity. The 1960s marked a period of rediscovery.

There were 2 hits in 1924, and 15 in 1925. There were 173 hits in 1926, 221 in 1927, and 259 in 1928. In 1929 there were 146 hits, followed by 50 in 1930. In 1931, there were 54 hits, followed by 19 in 1932, and 7 in 1933.

Arclight  is a collaboration among interdisciplinary researchers at Concordia University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Project Arclight enables the study of 20th century American media through comparisons across time and space. I encourage every Louise Brooks scholar to check it out. You won't be bored, unlike Louise.

Check out this video about the Media History Digital Library.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding Louise Brooks in the non-English language press in the USA

Over the years, I have had the chance to look at a handful of non-English language newspapers published in the United States. I've looked at German, Yiddish, Spanish, and Russian-language papers and found all manner of clippings, from articles and captioned photos to movie advertisements. There was nothing too revelatory, except for the Norwegian-language newspaper from NYC which contained some key information relating to A Social Celebrity (more on that at a later time).

I have also looked at Portuguese newspapers published on both coasts. Sometimes, the theater advertisements would be in Portuguese, and sometimes in English. Here is some of what I found.

Rolled Stockings (above) played as Meias Enroladas at the Empire Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1927. While God's Gift to Women (below) played as O Presente de Deus Para as Mulheres at the State theater in 1931. (I am not sure, but God's Gift to Women could be showing on a double bill with The Public Enemy -- a film Brooks was originally cast in.) Despite the fact that the films were advertised in Portuguese, I don't think they were subtitled in that language.

And here are a couple of clipping from Oakland, California for The Canary Murder Case (1929).

One of the more unusual articles I came across was this 1945 piece on actress Myrna Loy, who had a bit part in the 1928 Brooks' film, A Girl in Every Port (here Uma noiva em cada porto). By this time, Brooks was little remembered, and it is interesting to note that the film's lead star, Victor McLaglen, was not mentioned.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A double bill featuring Louise Brooks on this day in 1937

On this date in 1937, the Lincoln Theater in San Francisco presented a special double bill, When You're in Love together with Empty Saddles, starring Buck Jones and L. Brooks. I wish I could have been there!

This listing is one of a handful of Louise Brooks' "double bills" that I have come across over the years. I have also come across as many instances where one Brooks' films followed another at a local theater, or when different Brooks' films played in different theaters at the same time and in the same town (as in the Omaha, Nebraska advertisement pictured below). It's coincidental, but notable as Brooks made relatively few films. Her films were well circulated.