Monday, November 16, 2009

Brooksie Would Have Been 106

I have my favorites of the silver screen, and in college discovered silent-era star and bon-vivant, Louise Brooks (aka: Lulu, aka: Brooksie).

You may not know her name, but you know the look she institutionalized.

ArtMan 2112 posted an original drawing
of Louise Brooks at his site for her birthday, which was Saturday. And this got me thinking: I should probably mention Louise Brooks as a Dame in the Media The League Once Dug.

The Louise Brooks Society maintains a website and a blog as complete as I think you're going to find on any starlet of the silent film era.

I've only seen a few Brooks movies, but there's no doubt that she manages to steal the show in the films in which she appears (a bit like whenever Veronica Lake would bother to just show up in a frame of film).

There's also a fascinating documentary about Brooks called "Looking for Lulu", that's equal parts an amazing life story and fodder for a great movie that's never been made, following the tragic trajectory and surprising turn in Brooks' final years. Someone out there should be turning the story into the next great BioPic. But, holy cow, did it sound like Brooks was a handful, both as a starlet and still her declining years.

Brooks seems to have been the definitive Jazz Age Baby, and was the shadow opposite of Mary Pickford's curls and vestigial Victorian-era faux-virginal innocence (which ultimately ended her career in a completely different manner). Brooks was eclipsed by her contemporaries such as Clara Bow, who, you know, is her own thing and we do not complain.

Most famous for her roles in "Pandora's Box" (recommended), which gave her the nickname of her character, Lulu, and Prix de Beaute, Brooks had gone to Europe to act for Pabst, etc... Her attempted return to Hollywood didn't go particularly well.

I'm not exactly sure about the reasons, but if I had to guess:

breakfast is the most important meal of the day

Brooks would disappear after appearing in a few b-movies. I am not sure if a post-code Hollywood couldn't handle her, or if she had simply burned too many bridges. As near as I feel like relating what happened (rather than suggesting you check out the documentary), she more or less became a kept-woman, and I think the doc was politely suggesting she took up the world's oldest profession. It sounds like Brooksie may have been suffering from some emotional/ mental issues if diagnosed today.

Later, she would find some grace as she was accidentally discovered by a film enthusiast who referred her to the Kodak company in the 70's.

Brooks has been imitated to such a degree (its unclear if she invented bangs on women rather than girls, but she seems to have been the one to popularize the look), that she now exists more as archetype than person. Which is odd.

But I do find that small bit of redemption for Brooks at the end of her life (when it sounds like she was still a cutting pain-in-the-ass) to be an oddly romantic story. And, honestly, she was very good in what she did. Its unfortunate she never made the leap to talkies, but many, many did not.

So a belated birthday salute to Louise Brooks.

Coincidentally, if you find "Beggars of Life" on DVD (a legal copy), let me know. While the studios are doing a surprisingly good job of bringing stuff from the 40's and 50's to DVD, the silent era has been more or less ignored, as near as I can tell. Right now, the only way I can find to see a lot of these movies is on VHS, which... there's not even a deck in my house, so I'm out of luck, anyway.

I suspect as the catalogs of the studios become available on-demand, this sort of thing will be easier to obtain.

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