Wednesday, April 1, 2015

New Book: Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway's Greatest Producer, by Cynthia and Sara Brideson

Today, I received an advance copy of another exciting new book, Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway's Greatest Producer, by Cynthia and Sara Brideson. The book will be published by the University of Kentucky Press, and is due out in June of this year. In my initial look-through, I noticed a couple of passing references to Louise Brooks, as well as a photograph. I am looking forward to reading the book. The Bridesons co-authored an earlier book, Also Starring . . . : Forty Biographical Essays on the Greatest Character Actors of Hollywood's Golden Era, 1930–1965 (BearManor).

Here is the publisher description: "The name Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. (1867–1932) is synonymous with the decadent revues that the legendary impresario produced at the turn of the twentieth century. These extravagant performances were filled with catchy tunes, high-kicking chorus girls, striking costumes, and talented stars such as Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, W. C. Fields, and Will Rogers. After the success of his Follies, Ziegfeld revolutionized theater performance with the musical Show Boat (1927) and continued making Broadway hits—including Sally (1920), Rio Rita (1927), and The Three Musketeers (1928)—several of which were adapted for the silver screen.

In this definitive biography, authors Cynthia Brideson and Sara Brideson offer a comprehensive look at both the life and legacy of the famous producer. Drawing on a wide range of sources—including Ziegfield's previously unpublished letters to his second wife, Billie Burke (who later played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz), and to his daughter Patricia—the Bridesons shed new light on this enigmatic man. They provide a lively and well-rounded account of Ziegfeld as a father, a husband, a son, a friend, a lover, and an alternately ruthless and benevolent employer. Lavishly illustrated with over seventy-five images, this meticulously researched book presents an intimate and in-depth portrait of a figure who profoundly changed American entertainment."

 "Ziegfeld was one of the most important theatrical producers of the early twentieth century, and the Follies (and its Girls) are still remembered today. He had a long-lasting effect not only on Broadway, but on social mores, and this book does a great job over covering that, in a fascinating way. The Bridesons know their stuff."—Eve Golden, author of Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway

"The authors have created a detailed, sweeping narrative of Broadway showman and entrepreneur Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., both as to his professional rise and fall and the full details of his complex, busy personal life. While there have been books devoted to him before, this new account is quite compelling both in scope and detail, and will certainly be the new definitive biography of the opulent life and times of the great Ziegfeld."—James Robert Parish, author of The Hollywood Book of Extravagance: The Totally Infamous, Mostly Disastrous, and Always Compelling Excesses of America's Film and TV Idols

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New book: "The Parisian Avant-Garde in the Age of Cinema, 1900-1923" by Jennifer Wild

I am excited to read this just released book from the University of California Press, The Parisian Avant-Garde in the Age of Cinema, 1900-1923, by Jennifer Wild. I hope to get a copy soon, as it seems the intersection of two big interests, early cinema and early modernism. Though a few of the Surrealists were devotees of Louise Brooks (namely Phillipe Soupault and Man Ray), and one Bauhaus affiliated artist incorporated her image into a montage, I don't think this book will discuss the actress, as the period it surveys is a little before Brooks' rise to fame. Nevertheless....

Here is the publisher description: "The first decades of the twentieth century were pivotal for the historical and formal relationships between early cinema and Cubism, mechanomorphism, abstraction, and Dada. To examine these relationships, Jennifer Wild’s interdisciplinary study grapples with the cinema’s expanded identity as a modernist form defined by the concept of horizontality. Found in early methods of projection, film exhibition, and in the film industry’s penetration into cultural life by way of film stardom, advertising, and distribution, cinematic horizontality provides a new axis of inquiry for studying early twentieth-century modernism. Shifting attention from the film to the horizon of possibility around, behind, and beyond the screen, Wild shows how canonical works of modern art may be understood as responding to the changing characteristics of daily life after the cinema. Drawing from a vast popular cultural, cinematic, and art-historical archive, Wild challenges how we have told the story of modern artists’ earliest encounter with cinema and urges us to reconsider how early projection, film stardom, and film distribution transformed their understanding of modern life, representation, and the act of beholding. By highlighting the cultural, ideological, and artistic forms of interpellation and resistance that shape the phenomenology of a wartime era, The Parisian Avant-Garde in the Age of Cinema, 1900–1923 provides an interdisciplinary history of radical form. This book also offers a new historiography that redefines how we understand early cinema and avant-garde art before artists turned to making films themselves."

"Jennifer Wild’s book is a major achievement, a monument in fact. The book ranges across the entirety of the early twentieth-century French avant-garde, from Picasso and Cubism to Dada and early Surrealism. Developments in cinema, painting, poetry, and music are all tracked. Wild's knowledge of the French avant-garde goes deeper and is more all-encompassing than that of anyone I have read in her generation. But in her 'horizontal' approach to the myriad ways in which the French avant-garde responded to the parameters of what is here called the 'age of cinema,' Wild achieves more than deep erudition: she has invented a new way of crossing the fields of cinema studies and art history."—George Baker, author of The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris

The Parisian Avant-Garde in the Age of Cinema, 1900–1923, disrupts a stabilized sense of ‘cinema’ that has shaped the history of modern art and asks how that history would need to be rethought in order for a more accurate and complicated version of cinema to come into view. Jennifer Wild draws on a strong grasp of both modern art and film historical scholarship, as well as an impressive amount of archival research, to make important contributions to cinema and media studies, art history, theater and performance studies, and literary studies.”—Karen Beckman, author of Crash: Cinema and the Politics of Speed and Stasis

“An extremely rich and wide-ranging study of the intersection between avant-garde painting and literature and the emergent popular art form of cinema in the early decades of the twentieth century. Magisterial in both the breadth and depth of its analysis and meticulous in its research, this book will have a considerable impact on the fields of art history, film history, and French cultural history.”—Elizabeth Ezra, author of Georges Méliès: The Birth of the Auteur

"From the effects of projection on early Picasso to the ubiquitous “Chaplin effect,” cinema was woven into the fabric and design of French avant-gardism. Jennifer Wild trains the light of cinema on myriad poets and artists whose work glows anew, while they in turn used films as visual “diagrams” or as a lethal “ballistics.” Bolstered by an astounding bibliography and a wealth of anecdotes, Wild moves effortlessly through Paris, like the movies themselves. You come away astonished at the boldness of this culture, at the boldness of this artform, and especially at the boldness of this scholar who has ingested this period like few before her."—Dudley Andrew, Yale University

Monday, March 30, 2015

Matchbox from Cuba features Louise Brooks

This vintage matchbox from Cuba features Louise Brooks (on the front), as well as Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno in a scene from what I believe is The Temptress (1926). The matchbox recently sold on eBay, and measures 2 11/16 by 1 3/4 by 1/2 inch. It promotes cigarettes.

front view

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Louise Brooks Returns to Detroit in Pandora's Box

On March 28th, the Redford Theatre in Detroit is set to screen Pandora's Box, the sensational 1929 silent film starring screen legend Louise Brooks. For Metro Detroiters, it's a special opportunity to see one of the great films of the silent era on the big screen of a restored 1928 theater.

Saturday's chance to see Pandora's Box is all the more special because Brooks and Detroit have something of a history.

Before she entered films, Brooks was a dancer. For two years, Brooks toured with Denishawn, the leading American dance company of the teens and twenties. Led by greats Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, the company's members were a who's who of those who helped shape modern dance. During her two seasons with Denishawn, the teenage Brooks danced alongside such legendary figures as Martha Graham, Charles Weideman and Doris Humphrey.

Dance played an important role throughout Brooks' career. In the opening scene in Pandora's Box, the actress performs a short dance -- a riff off something Brooks had recalled from an earlier Denishawn routine. Later in life, Brooks would remark, "I learned to act by watching Martha Graham dance, and I learned to dance by watching Charlie Chaplin act."

Denishawn visited Detroit on two occasions -- first in March 1923, and then again in March 1924, where they performed at Orchestra Hall. According to newspaper accounts, the company enjoyed large crowds and received favorable reviews. Ultimately, it was as an actress that Brooks made an impression on the Motor City -- especially its film critics.

In the 1920's, Detroit was a three-paper town. There was the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, as well as the now defunct Detroit Times. Also covering local arts and entertainment was a weekly called Detroit Saturday Night. Each of these publications reviewed films, and each went out of its way on more than one occasion to single-out Brooks. Their praise was more than just the era's usual ballyhoo.

Charles J. Richardson of the Detroit Times, for example, reviewed The American Venus -- a 1926 romantic comedy which first brought Brooks her first reviews. Richardson wrote, "Louise Brooks, the former Follies chorine, makes her film debut in the production and does well in a small role. This Miss Brooks just now is the patron saint of all chorus girls seeking admittance into the sacred ranks of screen players." Harold Hefferman, writing in the Detroit News, also noticed the young actress. He wrote, "Louise Brooks, a black-haired boyish-bobbed entry ... cuts quite a figure."

Hefferman would go on to lavish praise on the actress throughout the 1920s. The Detroit News critic nearly gushed while reviewing Brooks' next film, A Social Celebrity. "Louise Brooks, possessing one of the most striking and expressive faces ever to come to the screen, plays the heroine in a saucily successful manner." Meanwhile, Richardson at the Detroit Times continued to express similar sentiments in his many reviews. Writing about the 1927 film, Rolled Stockings, Richardson proclaimed "Louise Brooks, as usual, is delightful to gaze upon." Back then, some critics wore their hearts on their sleeves.

The actress' admirers were not limited to the city's male critics. Ella H. McCormick of the Detroit Free Press also singled out the actress. "Louise Brooks is the nifty stepper," she wrote in May 1926. A month later, reviewing It's the Old Army Game, McCormick observed, "W.C. Fields scored a splendid triumph in this picture. A great part of the success of the offering, however, is due to Louise Brooks, who takes the lead feminine part." In her review of Just Another Blonde later that year, McCormick pronounced, "Miss Brooks is one of the best brunette contradictions to the lighter hypothesis that can be found on the silver screen."

In the mid-1930s, as her film career started to fade, Brooks returned to dance -- and once again returned to Detroit. With a partner, Brooks found work as a ballroom dancer in nightclubs, theaters, and other Midwest hotspots.

In August 1934, Brooks performed at the Blossom Heath Inn in what is now St. Clair Shores. Today, that venue -- located on Jefferson Avenue between 9- and 10-mile road -- hosts weddings and other events, but back then the Blossom Heath Inn was a popular road-house just outside Detroit city limits.

At the time of her month-long engagement, both the Free Press and News ran the following notice in their respective nightclub column. "Edward Fritz, proprietor of the Blossom Heath Inn, announces the engagement of the season's greatest floor show, headed by Louise Brooks, motion picture star, and Dario, creator of the Bolero from the motion picture Bolero. Several other new acts are included." It was a dénouement to a remarkable career.

Within a few years, Brooks would appear in her last film (a B-Western with John Wayne), leave Hollywood, and sink into decades of obscurity. In the 1950's and 1960's, Brooks and her three great European films -- Pandora's Box, Diary of a Lost Girl, and Prix de Beauté -- were rediscovered. Today, this once forgotten actress is legendary as Lulu in G.W. Pabst's 1929 masterpiece.

In a thoughtful article in the Metro Times in 2006, Michael Hastings wrote, "Has there ever been a more perfect, more tragic, more mythic fusion of actor and character than Louise Brooks' Lulu in Pandora's Box? The girl with the "black helmet" hairdo may not have been German, and she certainly didn't go on a date with Jack the Ripper, but just about everything else in Brooks' life leading up to and following her signature 1929 role became, in some weird, extrasensory way, the blueprint for director G.W. Pabst's masterpiece of sexual suggestion."

Detroiter's will have a chance to see for themselves on Saturday, March 28th when the Redford Theatre (17360 Lasher Road) screens a 35mm print of Pandora's Box. John Lauter will accompany the film on the theatre's original 3 manual, 10 rank Barton Theatre Pipe Organ. Pandora's Box will be introduced by film historian and Detroit Free Press writer John Monaghan. A post-film discussion "about Brooks' lasting impact on film and fashion" will follow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Redford Theater proclaims Pandora's Box this Saturday

The Redford Theatre in Detroit will screen Pandora's Box (1929) on Saturday, March 28th at 8 p.m. (see previous post for further information). The Redford Theatre, with its original 3 manual, 10 rank Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, has served as a Metro Detroit entertainment center since it opened on January 27, 1928. It is a fine example of a "neighborhood theatre."

The historic Redford Theatre is located at 17360 Lahser Road in Detroit, Michigan. The theatre is owned and operated by the non-profit Motor City Theatre Organ Society. The theatre is operated by an all-volunteer staff, with proceeds from programs presented at the Redford used to restore and maintain the theatre building.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks plays in Detroit, MI on March 28

The Redford Theatre in Detroit will screen Pandora's Box (1929) on Saturday, March 28th at 8 p.m. The Redford Theatre, with its original 3 manual, 10 rank Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, has served as a Metro Detroit entertainment center since it opened on January 27, 1928 -- just a year before the legendary Louise Brooks' film opened in Berlin.

The historic Redford Theatre is located at 17360 Lahser Road in Detroit, Michigan. The theatre is owned and operated by the non-profit Motor City Theatre Organ Society. The Redford Theatre is operated by an all-volunteer staff. Proceeds from programs presented at the Redford are used to restore and maintain the theatre building (depicted below).

On it's Facebook page, The Redford Theater, posted this: "VINTAGE FILM FANS PLEASE SHARE THIS: Rare screening of PANDORA'S BOX, 1929 silent starring LOUISE BROOKS, the movie's first and most beautiful femme fatale - the movie the American actress went to Germany to make with G.W. Pabst. The 8 pm Saturday, March 28 event includes a rare, uninterrupted 35mm print of the film, organ accompaniment by the amazing John Lauter, intro by writer and film historian John Monaghan, and a post-film discussion where you get to talk about Brooks's lasting impact on film and fashion. Downton Abbey's Lady Mary even adopted her iconic hair style!!!! SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR OLDER MOVIES AT THE REDFORD BY ATTENDING THIS FILM!!!!! Share, share, share."

Thanks to Mark G. Sun for word about this event.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

About Rochester NY where Louise Brooks had lived

Here is a New York Times story about Rochester, New York - the city where Louise Brooks lived for the last part of her live. Check it out.