Louise Brooks and Lulu at 100


If she was still around . . . a thing devoutly to be wished in this epoch . . . Louise Brooks would have celebrated her 100th birthday today. As the first true fetish among cinephiles, she was plucked from a not unworthy series of comedies at Paramount by some German director and, in two films which will not be mentioned here, somehow invested every moment of her profoundly unforgettable performances with an erotic charge few of us will ever find in real life, and then only for fleeting seconds. That 'somehow' is one of those long enduring mysteries of Cinema . . . the kind we know we can solve if we just stare at that screen for as long as it takes.

4 comments:

swac said...

I will confess...my pad is a Brooks shrine for sure. There's a picture of her in every room.

Except the kitchen, though. I have a feeling she wouldn't be caught dead in there.

Vanwall said...

My fascination with Louise Brooks began in a rather round-about way, back in the late 1960s in my freshman year in high school. I'm a film fan since I can remember, and as I began delving into silents, I naturally ran across Louise, in a few striking photographs, in film journals and various articles – in many of them, they referenced her "fall", and I was intrigued. Her uncanny beauty drew me in, and her black bob was so different from my other many faves, like Rita, or Hedy, I couldn't explain it to myself. As Louise was not the typical Hollywood success, or failure for that matter, much of what was written was speculation and implied much, delivering little. The "cult" had been around for some time, altho not as accessible in the States, and the more I looked the more I found that perplexed me. It was like a very complicated mystery story, so I began reading everything I could find, and watching every little thing about Louise. I liked what she had written herself - boy was she a wordsmith, and as this was well before the WWW, it was very hard to track down which articles were where. At that time, it was almost impossible to see most of her surviving films, (this was before home videos) and I couldn’t even find a complete listing anyway.

I used to think if I'd had some gumption back then, while Louise was still alive, I'd have hauled my ass to Rochester to meet her - altho I know now this would have been a huge imposition. I wasn’t bold enough – I should’ve at least written to her, but I was a bit overwhelmed with that idea. I felt at the time that somehow she'd made it thru for a second chance in life, and I wanted to meet someone who had defied the System, and lived to tell about it. I was aware of the story of her "death" and re-birth, and someone once posited that it was a quasi-religious thing, altho a funny and profane redemption, if there ever was one. I was hooked on Brooksie by now, and the enigmatic gaze of many of her formal stills was a challenge - I had to know what made her special. "Lulu in Hollywood" and "Portrait Of An Anti-Star" only whetted my appetite. By now, I had managed to see a few of her films complete, and tiny parts of a few others, and I was amazed, that’s the only way to put it. She's possibly the most natural sex goddess, ever.

When I finally got on the Internet Bulletin Boards, even before the Web was around, the first search I made, when they still had gophers and such, was for references to Louise, altho I had only intermittent access - and success was scant. Suddenly, the awesome Barry Paris bio and a host of other articles were being published, and Louise was the silent film face for a lot of people. The Louise Brooks Society soon started on the Web, and is proof that Louise still fascinates us, so I owe a real debt to Thomas Gladysz for keeping it up and running. (Shameless Plug For A Pal) There are those out there that see Louise as some diabolically clever opportunist with regard to her legacy – sleeping with film critics, pulling strings behind the scenes somehow, but the timelines and empirical evidence don’t parse with that theory. Langloise didn’t know if she was alive or dead when he began rehabilitating her reputation in film, and if she slept with anyone later in life, it was prolly in a gin-soaked haze with a rotten SOB, her usual modus.

There are still some out there who find it hard to wrap their tiny minds around the possibility that Louise was an actress, not just a "star", but I've seen a lot of movies, including a lot of silents, and most acting from that period seemed to me one step away from "mugging" for a lot of the time. Brooksie seemed more natural than almost everyone else. I know silents were a universal film medium, and Louise was first appreciated in Yurp, while here in 'Murica we seemed only to care about sound and color, but she managed to transcend her own medium, something few actors ever do. Watch her face when you see one of her films - it was one of the great expressive instruments of the 20th century. She's still one of the only silent actors recognized nowadays. There was an Internet poll in the UK not too long ago for the top Movie Stars of all time, and Louise was one of three silent names on the long list of candidates.
If somebody asked me why Louise fascinates, I couldn't give a simple answer, and that's as it should be. Louise was a complicated, difficult person - My answers would be likewise. I often think of her as the first time I saw her on film - a clip of Brooksie in one-shot laughing on the stairs in "The Show Off" - who was this girl with such a sexy, ecstatic, electric, presence? Depending on who asks me, Louise could be a primer for licentious abandon, an inspiration for second chances, or just someone to dream on.

Tom Sutpen said...

Beautifully wrought and written, Rob.

I swear, some of your comments are better than my posts. I salute ye!

Vanwall said...

Tom -
Thanks, boss, I only aim to add to the excellence around here, so what little I can, I do.