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1315Re: [The New Coven of Louise Brooks] Guess who's coming to TCM's Silent Sundays...

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    Jan 23, 2011

      On Sat, Jan 22, 2011 at 7:00 PM, das_imperator <dasimperator@...> wrote:

      > Sunday, January 30,2011 12:00 AM
      > http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article.jsp?cid=354711&mainArticleId=355239
      > Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Louise Brooks came from Kansas.
      > Dorothy rode a tornado. Brooks was one. Intelligent, temperamental, quick on
      > the trigger, at the forefront of liberated behavior for women between the
      > wars, she made 24 films between 1925 and 1928, all but three made in
      > Hollywood. But it was in Germany that she starred in the film that
      > transported her to immortality, Pandora's Box (1929), for Georg Wilhelm
      > Pabst. After combing through scores of candidates in search of the
      > quintessential femme fatale - Lulu -- Pabst's instincts told him he had what
      > he was looking for when Brooks caught his eye in Howard Hawks's A Girl in
      > Every Port (1928). Negotiations dragged on, then happened fast. When Brooks
      > quarreled with Paramount studio head B.P. Schulberg and quit, Pabst got a
      > cablegram informing him of Brooks's availability while Marlene Dietrich was
      > sitting in Pabst's office waiting to sign a contract. Scarcely did he meet
      > Brooks at the Berlin railroad station with an armful of roses and begin
      > rehearsing that he realized how right his instinct was. Brooks was, and
      > remains, a lulu of a Lulu.
      > Pabst, who soon afterward filmed Brooks in the barely less potent Diary of
      > a Lost Girl (1929), later wrote that Dietrich would have been all wrong for
      > Lulu, that Dietrich's seductiveness was stamped with too knowing a look,
      > that her performance would have seemed a burlesque (not that Dietrich stayed
      > down - she went on to make The Blue Angel [1930] and never looked back).
      > Dietrich seemed a type. Brooks was extraordinary and unique. The sexual
      > power she projected seemed utterly unselfconscious. She could stretch out on
      > a settee, languid as a cat, with the best of them. But Brooks came to film
      > from dance -- not just Broadway hoofing, but the expressive modern dance of
      > Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. She moved with quickness and spontaneity,
      > bringing a feline immediacy to Lulu's hedonism. Brooks, later to become a
      > witty, insightful memoirist, wrote that she felt sorry for trained actresses
      > who froze in front of the camera. Pabst, something of a choreographer as a
      > director, was delighted to discover Brooks's aptitude for dance. He attuned
      > himself to her way of working, made sure Lulu expressed a lot of what she
      > was in movement, made sure to keep Brooks on target by never giving her more
      > than one emotion to play per scene, infusing it with movement and sometimes
      > vertiginous editing. Brooks's Lulu seems elemental, never calculated, a
      > force of nature (except in one funny scene of backstage opening night tumult
      > -- never bettered! -- in which Brooks's showgirl stages a tantrum to get her
      > way with a wealthy newspaper publisher and divert him from marriage to a
      > respectable bourgeois fiancŽe to marrying her instead).
      > With her black lacquered bobbed hair, ending in sword's-point spit curls
      > beneath her prominent cheekbones, Brooks's Lulu seemed a sexual warrior, an
      > Amazon, sending women by the thousands to their hairdressers for a Lulu
      > makeover. Her shiny hair seems a helmet, dominating each frame in which she
      > appears. Pabst often crops her close-ups, making her embodiment of modernity
      > seem even more spontaneous. Pandora's Box, based on a pair of plays by Frank
      > Wedekind, also the source of Alban Berg's Expressionistic opera, Lulu, must
      > have hit Germany -- rigidly paternalistic on the outside, shaky on the
      > inside after losing World War I and sensing the crumbling of the old order
      > -- like a depth bomb, with its eruption of female sexuality coming on the
      > heels of a nationwide male identity crisis, as Germany dissolved from the
      > bourgeois rigidities and repressions of Bismarck and the Kaiser that made
      > Wedekind so notorious to the anything-goes sexuality of Weimar Berlin. With
      > her wide face and huge eyes, Brooks's direct gaze into the camera cements
      > her authority. More than Clara Bow, or any of the iconic sex kitten flappers
      > of the 1920s, Brooks is the quintessential embodiment of the liberated
      > libido, routing any lingering notion of Germany as Fatherland.
      > Moving with darting quickness, she destroys most of the men who come near
      > her, starting with the publisher (Fritz Kortner) who caves in and plummets
      > downhill. "You're next," he prophetically tells his sensitive but weak son
      > (Franz Lederer). A mannishly-costumed designer who also happens to be an
      > influential countess (Alice Roberts) has no better luck, despite film's
      > first lesbian dance scene. Brooks's forward-tilting head, with its cropped
      > hair emphasizing her powerful neck and predatory body language, consumes the
      > men in her life in a way that seems to come naturally, unthinkingly. She's
      > an amoral killer because her actions are guided from an unerringly efficient
      > subterranean level. She's quite passive, despite her high spirits. She
      > hasn't a particle of the coyness or premeditation of the usual sex goddess.
      > She's as terrifying as she is because she's as innocent as she is.
      > Pleasure-oriented and living for the moment, she doesn't have passions, she
      > has impulses, and ultimately they destroy her.
      > After Lulu reduces a string of men to rubble, Pabst, the social critic who
      > also filmed the Brecht-Weill version of their play The Threepenny Opera
      > (1931), closes the film with mordant irony. It could not have been
      > accidental that the film's only tenderness and real eroticism come in the
      > last scene with Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl) in a fogbound London garret
      > after Lulu flees a floating gambling den and prostitution parlor where she
      > is sold by one pimp to another, who promptly resells her, as the publisher's
      > son loses their money at the gambling tables. When on Christmas Eve the
      > now-impoverished and hungry Lulu propositions Jack, and he says he has no
      > money, she throws greed and self-preservation to the winds and says, "Come
      > just the same - I like you." Jack, fighting his impulses, throws his knife
      > away. But when he sees a sharp bread knife on Lulu's table, he reverts to
      > form.
      > The twin plot pillars on which the film rests are a pair of killings that
      > follow an embrace. Today, it would be Lulu who'd kill Jack the Ripper. But
      > in 1928, whenPandora's Box was filmed, the world was not ready to accept the
      > atomic bomb of women's sexuality, and so Lulu is dispatched in the manner of
      > a morality play, descending from the Bauhaus chic of the deluxe apartment
      > where her rich lover has installed her, as she and her little entourage flee
      > the consequences of the publisher handing Lulu a loaded gun and telling her
      > to shoot herself to save his reputation - one of the great wrong moves in
      > cinema history! In neither death scene, by the way, do we see the killing.
      > In the first, shot over the publisher's shoulder, we see a puff of gun smoke
      > seem to gently blow him and Lulu apart as he staggers backward and dies. The
      > fatal embrace with Jack the Ripper is similarly filmed over his shoulder. We
      > don't see the stabbing. We see Lulu's fingers, which had closed around his
      > neck in embrace, slowly loosen and fall away as she expires. In between is a
      > sort of Hogarthian descent, as she moves from a Paris-bound train to a
      > starkly lit, claustrophobic pleasure boat, and finally to the Dickensian
      > garret where she's snuffed out, paying the price for being a woman
      > unapologetically sexually self-determining, one iconic archetype of
      > destruction brought down by another.
      > About that entourage: one can only admire Pabst's diplomatic (and
      > linguistic!) skills as he cajoled and instructed the skittish Belgian
      > actress Roberts in lesbian demeanor, repeatedly defused Kortner, who openly
      > disliked the free-spirited Brooks, and hired musicians to play tango music
      > to keep Brooks in the mood between takes. The Czech actor playing the
      > publisher's weak son, Lederer - born Frantisek, changed to Franz in Germany,
      > and again to Francis in the U.S. -- went from embodying exhausted, bankrupt
      > German manhood in Pandora's Box to enjoy a long, prosperous Hollywood
      > career, which is more than Brooks did, leaving Hollywood in 1938 after a
      > string of mostly mediocre films there. Pabst treated Brooks as an artist -
      > which was more than Hollywood could bring itself to do. There is no record
      > of what Pabst said, if anything, to Carl Goetz, who plays the debauched
      > pimp, Schigolch, who introduced Brooks to love for sale and never let her
      > stray far from it, invoking the borrowed authority of a father figure. Goetz
      > plays Schigolch as an evil dwarf, tumescent with corruption. The only time
      > Pandora's Box gets squirmy is when she jumps into his lap for a cuddle.
      > Although she went broke, at one time working as a salesgirl in a Manhattan
      > department store, and never worked in film during the last 47 years of her
      > life (1906-1985), Brooks had the last laugh twice over, wittily skewering
      > Hollywood's ruling philistines in her autobiographical essay collection,
      > Lulu in Hollywood, after having enjoyed belated worldwide acclaim, launched
      > by the critic Lotte Eisner, Andre Langlois' Louise Brooks revival series at
      > the Paris Cinematheque, and above all James Card's ongoing supportiveness at
      > Eastman House in Rochester. There, Brooks, decades after making them,
      > belatedly saw for the first time Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl in
      > their entirety. Few are elevated to film's pantheon on the strength of a
      > single film. But Brooks, in Pandora's Box, is one of them.
      > Producer: Heinz Landsmann; Seymour Nebenzal (uncredited)
      > Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
      > Screenplay: Joseph Fleisler (titles, uncredited); Ladislaus Vajda
      > (scenario); Frank Wedekind (plays "Erdgeist" and "Die BŸchse der Pandora");
      > Georg Wilhelm Pabst (uncredited)
      > Cinematography: GŸnther Krampf
      > Art Direction: Andrejew, Hesch; Ernš Metzner (uncredited)
      > Music: Stuart Oderman, William P. Perry (both uncredited)
      > Film Editing: Joseph Fleisler (uncredited)
      > Cast: Louise Brooks (Lulu), Fritz Kortner (Dr. Ludwig Schšn), Franz Lederer
      > (Alwa Schšn), Carl Goetz (Schigolch), Krafft-Raschig (Rodrigo Quast), Alice
      > Roberts (GrŠfin Geschwitz - Countess Anna Geschwitz), Daisy d'Ora (Charlotte
      > Marie Adelaide v. Zarnikow - braut Dr. Schšns - Dr. Schšn's Bride), Gustav
      > Diessl (Jack the Ripper), Michael v. Newlinsky (Marquis Casti-Piani),
      > Siegfried Arno (Der inspizient - the instructor).
      > BW-110m.
      > by Jay Carr

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