Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mentions of Beggars of Life

A while back, I came across this cartoon history of James Cagney. I noticed it because it  mentions Beggars of Life. Cagney starred in the stage production of Jim Tully's book which played in New York City in 1925. Louise Brooks, together with Charlie Chaplin, attended a performance.

I noticed this piece as well because it also mentions Beggars of Life. Tully's book was well known in the 1920's

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beggars of Life - A round-up of reviews

Beggars of Life, Louise Brooks' thirteenth film, was officially released on this day in 1928. The film is the story of a girl who - after killing her step-father - tries to escape the law with a young vagabond. She dresses as a boy, they hop freight trains, and encounter a group of hobos in their attempt to reach safety.

The film stars Wallace Beery as Oklahoma Red, Louise Brooks as Nancy (The Girl), Richard Arlen as Jim (The Boy), Edgar "Blue" Washington as Black Mose, and  Roscoe Karns as Lame Hoppy. The writing credits for this William A. Wellman directed Paramount film go to Benjamin Glazer and Jim Tully (screenplay), adapted from the book by Jim Tully, with titles by Julian Johnson.

Beggars of Life was both popular and well reviewed, though some critics including Louella Parsons were put-off by Brooks' gender switching attire. Even families were divided. The Beatons, father and son critics associated with the Film Spectator, thought differently about the film. Here is a round up of magazine and newspaper reviews and articles drawn from the Louise Brooks Society archive.

Allen, Kelcey. "The Screen." Women's Wear Daily, September 22, 1928.
--- "Wallace Beery plays the lead, with Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks. All of these stars outdo themselves in this picture. Wallace Beery talks in this picture, sings a hobo song and ends with an observation about jungle rats in general."

M., J. C. "The Current Cinema." New Yorker, September 22, 1928.
--- "Of these three pictures it is the only one weakened by a conventional plot, a plot for which I see no reason except that it gives Louise Brooks a chance to wear boy's clothes and to jump a freight, both of which she always does, however, with an imperturbable maidenliness, generally to the synchronized accompaniment of sentimental music."

G., P. "Beery Scores in Character Role in Beggars of Life." Morning Telegraph, September 23, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks, in a complete departure from the pert flapper that it has been her wont to portray, here definitely places herself on the map as a fine actress."

anonymous. "Week's Offerings at Buffalo's Playhouses." Buffalo Courier-Express, September 24, 1928.
--- "And then there are those two capable and good-looking youngsters, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who make the most of splendid parts and excellent casting and achieve enviable performances."

Cohen Jr., John S. "The New Photoplays." New York Sun, September 24, 1928.
--- "The acting, especially that of the principals, Richard Arlen, Louise Brooks, Robert Perry (who plays Snake) and I suppose Wallace Beery, as Red, is especially fine."

Hall, Mordaunt. "The Freight Hoppers." New York Times, September 24, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks figures as Nancy. She is seen for the greater part of this subject in male attire, having decided to wear these clothes to avoid being apprehended. Miss Brooks really acts well, better than she has in most of her other pictures."

Johaneson, Bland. "Wallace Beery Comes Into His Own." Daily Mirror, September 24, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks does the best work of her career as the stolid little murderess, fugitive among the hobos."

Watts Jr., Richard. "On the Screen." New York Herald Tribune, September 24, 1928.
--- "Incidentally, Richard Arlen's juvenile vagrant, so delightfully played on the stage by James Cagney, is an excellent piece of work, while Louise Brooks's delineation of the girl fugutive is so good as to indicate that Miss Brooks is a real actress, as well as an alluring personality."

Zimmerman, Katherine "Beery Scores in Character Role in Beggars of Life." New York Telegram, September 24, 1928.
--- "The handsome Louise Brooks is cast as the maiden in the case and performs this part with her usual composure and talent for expressing starry eyed wonder."

Sid. "Beggars of Life." Variety, September 26, 1928.
--- "Miss Brooks looks attractive, even in men's clothes, and scores in the two or three scenes where she is placed on defensive against male attackers."

anonymous. "Music and the Movies." Musical Courier, September 27, 1928.
--- " . . . one of the most entertaining films of the littered season."

anonymous. "Wallace Beery in Startling Tully Drama at the Imperial." Ottawa Citizen, September 29, 1928.
--- "Intriguing, interesting, with a cold, half-insolent beauty of face and figure masking a hidden fire, Louise Brooks is here allowed to flame on the screen for the first time. In Beggars of Life, a new Louise Brooks bursts forth to grasp the first big chance of her career."

Mueller, Anita. "Screen in Review." St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 8, 1928.
--- "Tully has woven his story around a girl murderess (Louise Brooks) seeking to evade the law who joins a band of tramps."

Nie. "The Week's New Films" St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 1928.
--- brief review; ". . . and Louise Brooks, the latter showing considerable talent in the role of the girl who wasn't done right by until the eighth reel."

Marsh, W. Ward. "Beggars of Life. State." Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 15, 1928.
--- "The picture is a raw, sometimes bleeding slice of life . . . . Both Arlen and Miss Brooks appear as effectively as I have ever seen either of them. . . . Miss Brooks, considering her record, does surprisingly well."

Heffernan, Harold. "The New Movies in Review." Detroit News, October 22, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks, who always looks gorgeous in beautiful clothes, suffers a bit from the man's garments called for by the role, but she does well."

Patton, Peggy. "Wisconsin Film is Different." Wisconsin News, October 22, 1928.
--- "Wallace Beery, Richard Arlen (also playing in Wings) and Louise Brooks play the featured roles. All do praiseworthy work. By the way it is a sound picture and Wallace Beery speaks a few lines and sings a song. His speaking voice is splendid."

Beaton, Donald. "As They Appeal to a Youth." Film Spectator, October 27, 1928.
--- "Another good bit was a scene where Louise Brooks describes a murder. It is much the same way in which Victor Seastrom showed thoughts in Masks of the Devil. Miss Brooks' face was superimposed upon the action which took place during the murder, and thus the audience got her reaction to everything. It was very interesting."

Beaton, Welford. "It All Depends Upon How Interested We Are in Hoboes." Film Spectator, October 27, 1928.
--- "Wellman handled the romance between Louise Brooks and Dick Arlen with sympathy and good taste, but I could take no great sentimental interest in it, but whether the fault is mine or the picture's I don't know. Perhaps it was because Miss Brooks was not equal to the demands of the romantic scenes, which made Arlen's splendid work greatly overshadow hers."

Parsons, Louella O. "Story of Hoboes Offered at 'Met'." Los Angeles Examiner, October 27, 1928.
--- "I was a little disappointed in Louise Brooks. She is so much more the modern flapper type, the Ziegfeld Follies girl, who wears clothes and is always gay and flippant. This girl is somber, worried to distraction and in no comedy mood. Miss Brook is infinitely better when she has her lighter moments."

McNulty, John. "Mr Beery Burst Into Song." Columbus Citizen, October 29, 1928.
--- "Miss Brooks only needs remain as warm to look upon, and she can have any role she wants as far as we're concerned."

anonymous. "Beggars of Life Scores at New Tudor." New Orleans Item, November 12, 1928.
--- "Vitaphone helps the story along with music that is fitting and well arranged. The Hallelujah I'm a Bum rhythm helps the story's speed."

Hanifin, Ada. "Charlie Murray Hit at Warfield." San Francisco Examiner, November 12, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks, as the girl who murdered her guardian to save herself, and turns hobo to escape the vengeance of the law, is an actress who will bear watching. She has a vivid personality. Her attempts to walk like her 'adopted' pal, Jim, so her masculine disguise will not be discovered: her emotional reactions finely restrained as she lies beneath the stars with a haystack as a roof, and knows 'that all she wants is peace and a home,' give her opportunity to disclose some very effective acting in a subtle manner."

C., J. O. "Palace." Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 27, 1928.
--- "Louise Brooks essays the difficult role of a girl tramp escaping from police who seek her for murder. She is a star of no little amount of personality - the sort she would have to have to enable her to carry the type of role she has in this picture through successfully and that she does. If her career in pictures is further enhanced through her work in Beggars of Life, it will not be underserved."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Max Ferguson's Louise Brooks' painting "Lulu in New York"

On Thursday, I had the chance to meet artist New York Max Ferguson (see earlier entry) at a San Francisco gallery opening which featured his newest work. I was especially interested in seeing his new painting, "Lulu in New York." Though small, it measures only 12" by 12", the painting delivers a significant punch. It resonates, like a held musical chord. Here are a few snapshots from Thursday's opening. (I'm on the left, Max Ferguson is on the right)

Earlier, via email, the artist had sent me a statement as to what led him to painting Louise Brooks. "I was a film major at NYU Film School. I was doing primarily animation when it was all done in pre-computer days. At that time I would often go to the Museum of Modern Art to see films,  especially silent films. I always loved that they were accompanied by a live pianist.... Music has always been my other great passion and I am currently working on a series of paintings
incorporating music as subject matter. I recently had the idea to paint a silent film with a pianist at MoMA. I wanted a film on the screen that would not be too cliché, or too obscure. A friend of mine suggested Pandora's Box. I am most definitely a fan of Louise Brooks, as any sane person would be. It was fun painting her and studying her as a still image versus a passing moment on the screen."

Also on display was a second image featuring Louise Brooks, this one a slightly larger watercolor. It is a little less taught that the first image, but still appeals.

Both works are for sale, and can be seen on the West Coast this month and next. Be sure and check them out at the following venues.

September 18 - October 6
478 Jackson Street

October 13 - November 3
Opening Reception October 14
9478 West Olympic

Friday, September 19, 2014

Celebrate Silent Film in San Francisco

Tomorrow's San Francisco Silent Film Festival is a mixed bag. And that's perfectly okay, because the event's eclectic programming makes for a good point.

The popular perception of movies of the Teens and Twenties being either stagey costume drama, silly slapstick, or something to do with flappers betrays the rich tapestry of film-making during the pre-sound era. Sure, there were plenty of historical romances, damsels in distress, and pie fights -- but there were also the glories of German Expressionism, moving dramas of everyday life (think King Vidor's The Crowd), exciting crime stories, riveting documentaries, and epic war films (including Wings, the first movie to win the Academy Award for best picture).

Still remembered unique personalities like Mary Pickford and Clara Bow and Louise Brooks lit up screens everywhere. And, remarkably, the era was leavened by the simultaneous work of arguably the three greatest comedians, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. No wonder audiences were spellbound in darkness.

Now in its 19th year, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has shifted its annual Winter event to the Fall. "Silent Autumn," as it has been rechristened, takes place Saturday, September 20th at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco. It's an all day affair featuring five varied programs.

(Produced by Hal Roach, total running time approximately 70 minutes)
11:00 AM

Depending on your age, Laurel and Hardy may be something you remember from having seen on television (their Babes in Toyland from 1934 is a holiday classic), or perhaps they were one of your Father's or Grandfather's favorites. Whatever the case, they are one of finest comedy teams in film history. Stan Laurel (the thin Briton with the elastic face) and Oliver Hardy (the rotund American with the baby-face) were each successful comedians early on, but once this odd couple joined together, they were legend.

The opening program includes two of their early shorts, Two Tars (1928) and Big Business (1929), and a promised surprise or two. Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

(Directed by George Fitzmaurice, 81 minutes)
1:00 PM

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1921), which the Silent Film Festival screened in May, made Rudolph Valentino a star. The Sheik, released the same year, made him a superstar. Handsome, sexy, swarthy--Valentino was the original Latin lover. He was both sex symbol and pop icon, and until then, few had enjoyed such acclaim. Five years later, this Leonardo DiCaprio + Johnny Depp + George Clooney rolled into one was dead at age 31. Women around the world mourned; there were reported suicides, and an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York City to pay their respects. Among those who attended his funeral in NYC was Louise Brooks.

The Son of the Sheik (1926), released shortly before his death, continues the story of what was the actor's biggest hit, if not his finest film. This desert romance, being presented in a new restoration by Ken Winokur and Jane Gillooly from excellent 35mm negative material, will be introduced by San Francisco resident and leading Valentino authority Donna Hill. Live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, who will premiere their new score (heard in the video clip below).

(1914, 85 minutes)
3:30 PM

To mark the beginning of World War I, the British Film Institute has put together an eclectic program of comedies, adventure films, travelogues, and newsreels which recreate a typical night at the cinema in 1914. With full length feature films still rare, an evening's entertainment 100 years ago was largely an ever-changing line-up of short films with live musical accompaniment.

Among the highlights of this special program is an episode of the sensational American serial The Perils of Pauline, scenes of suffragettes protesting at Buckingham Palace, footage of early aviation, a quirky piece about a face-pulling competition, and Allied troops celebrating Christmas at the Front. There is also an animated anti-German short, and an early appearance by one of the above-mentioned three greatest comedians. Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

(Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, 75 minutes)
7:00 PM

What motion picture did Orson Welles call "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made"? The answer is Buster Keaton's The General (1926), a film largely unsung in its day but heaped with critical acclaim since. In the film, Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, whose two loves are his fiancée Annabelle Lee and his locomotive, named "The General." The General is a tour-de-force and one of the most expensive films of its time, and as Roger Ebert described it, "an epic of silent comedy."

The film will be introduced by Bay Area resident and leading Keaton authority John Bengtson. Live musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.

Buster Keaton, about who Louise Brooks said:
"Since childhood I have thought Buster Keaton's the most beautiful face of any man I have ever seen."

(Directed by Robert Wiene, 75 minutes)
9:00 PM

When the German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) first played in the United States, it overturned the applecart of American cinema. No one had seen anything like it. In fact, both the film world and the general public didn't know what to make of its bizarre story of Dr. Caligari, a hypnotist, and his somnambulist Césare. The movie, which some have deemed a horror film, employed stylized sets, with jagged shadows painted on unrealistic buildings which make up an unreal city. To add to the strange visual style, the actors used expressive movements and gestures. In fact, some even thought the film so weird as to be necessarily immoral.

In 1922, writer Upton Sinclair penned They Call Me Carpenter, a novel in which a crowd of people try to keep Americans from seeing Caligari because it's story of a madman didn't serve the purpose of art. Saturday's Silent Film Festival presentation marks the United States premiere of the restoration of this Expressionist masterpiece--restored using the original camera negative resulting in a print quality worthy of its classic status. Not to be missed, with live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

Conrad Veidt, who starred in the first version of The Diary of a Lost Girl,
as Cesare (the sonambulist) in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Youth perspective: Flapper Flare of Today

Here is another amusing item, a 1926 cartoon titled "Fay King Explains Flapper Flare of Today."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Collegiate perspective from the Jazz Age

Collegiate perspective on the Jazz Age from the newspaper from Penn State University.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Louise Brooks: An embroidered portrait

Some time ago, Erika, a friend of the Louise Brooks Society, sent this image of an embroidered portrait of Louise Brooks. It is from The American Venus. It's kinda cool.