Thursday, January 13, 2011

THE GIRL IN THE BLACK HELMET


The cause for this post is that I just finished reading THE definitive Louise Brooks biography, simply titled LOUISE BROOKS: A BIOGRAPHY, written by Barry Paris. I resisted the Louise Brooks cult for a long long time. She's somehow TOO iconic, too modern, too cool, you know? Well, there's no point in avoiding it, because the woman is amazing.  Please read Barry Paris' biography. I cannot stress this enough: it is so intriguing, so tender, so well researched, so LYRICAL (thanks in large part to long passages of Brooks' own writings). I didn't realize how long it was (550 pages, about) when I bought it, but I COULD NOT put it down. A truly fascinating life.

this photo was published in motion picture magazine dec. 1926 with the caption "is that so?"

Louise often said that she failed at everything she did, but in reality she was a great success in a number of different fields during her lifetime.  She was famous first as a dancer. At age 15 she went to New York after being offered a spot with the highly revered Denishawn dance company, the TOP modern dance troupe in the country at that time. When personality conflicts got her kicked out of the troupe (as they would so often in her life), she was a chorus girl for the famed George White SCANDALS and then went on to Ziegfeld's famed FOLLIES, where she gained top billing. In 1925 (at only 19!!) she signed with Paramount and made a string of Hollywood films. She hated Hollywood and left in 1928 to make her three famed European films: PANDORA'S BOX (1928), DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929), and PRIX DE BEAUTE (1929). These are all available today, and they are all LOVELY MASTERPIECES. If you haven't seen them, watch them!!!

After her self-described "exile" from Hollywood in the 30s she was nearly desitute (even declaring bankruptcy) and even worked as a call girl in New York for a time. She eventually became a film scholar and accomplished writer and wrote her own book, which she called her "autobiography disguised in a series of essays about other people," titled LULU IN HOLLYWOOD. I have to say I didn't love this as much as I loved reading Paris' biography, but her writing style is infectious and strong.

left is her first magazine cover: motion picture classic oct.1926. photo on right from 1928

Louise Brooks was not seen as a great actress until the 50s. Even her films with Pabst got poor reviews, if they were seen at all. In fact it was said that Louise Brooks was only remembered to be confused with Colleen Moore. Well, no one remembers Colleen Moore these days (there isn't even an intact surviving copy of Flaming Youth - I believe there is only ONE badly damaged copy in the Library of Congress). Needless to say, Brooks is highly respected today. As Henri Langlois declared in 1953 in the very beginning of her return to popularity, "There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!"

1928 at her home in laurel canyon

with husband eddie sutherland


A good documentary is LULU IN BERLIN, containing rare interviews with Louise late in her life - this is the only interview I know of that's been recorded in which she discusses herself and her life - there was one other in which she discusses Clara Bow, whom she greatly admired and who had a similarly natural acting style (quite unusual for that time). She is interviewed by Richard Leacock.  He was quoted in Paris' book with a great little summary of Louise: "She was so artistocratic - how the fuck did she come out of the cornfields? That wonderful elegance.... Jesus, what a wonderful lady."

left: a dancer at age 1;   right: with brother theo

6 comments:

  1. Added it to my goodreads list! She seems really cool, and what hair!

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  2. i know what you mean about resisting the cult of a celebrity-- i felt the same way about marilyn monroe but then read a biography about her and now i see what the fuss is all about!

    anyway, I just recently saw Pandora's Box with Ms. Brooks in it and loved it-- thanks for the other recommendations!

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  3. hi there again, -- the book was called "Flapper" by Joshua Zeitz-- you'll love it!

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  4. oh ! ive read that! i actually didnt love it, but it totally motivated me read more about zelda fitzgerald!

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  5. I confess to not having heard of this lady. Having said that, there's something really compelling about these images of her. It's almost as if she's from our generation, but time travelled back to the 20's and 30's. Her look and the spirit that comes across in those images is soooo today, it's almost as if it's a modern fashion shoot made to look vintage. I'm not explaining it very well am I? It's almost eerie...but totally beautiful. I'm a bit gobsmacked actually.....wow!

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  6. that is so great you are just finding out about her! you are very right about her - she was very modern in spirit, attitude, acting style, and look. i think youll find her european films very modern and watchable as well (the american ones, not so much...), particularly prix de beaute, i think - which is actually a sound movie masquerading as a silent. completely brilliant, entertaining, enjoyable, and amazing.

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