‘Louise Brooks’ is one of the top search terms for people visiting the Bioscope, but so far there hasn’t been much here to satisfy them. Brooks is the silent film star for people who don’t otherwise like silent films. There is such a cult built around her that she seems to lie outside the film world that created her. Her appeal is so modern, so seemingly out of step, that she has ended up a class apart. It takes an effort of will to remember that she was a relatively minor American actress, considered difficult to work with and consequently with a rather patchy American film career, whose fame mostly lies with two German films made by G.W. Pabst, whose genius it was to exploit to the fullest that extraordinary uncompromising sexual quality she undoubtedly possessed.
The cult of Louise Brooks persists, and its latest manifestation is this intriguing French student film, to which Thomas Gladysz has drawn attention in a piece for the Huffington Post. It is made by the 18-year-old Sébastian Pesle, who stars in the 11-minute film as a filmmaker drawn more to the image of Louise Brooks on the screen (in Diary of a Lost Girl) than he is to his girlfriend (Malvina Desmarest), even when she dresses up as Brooks to try and capture his attention. It is shot as a silent film – that is, no one speaks (there are no intertitles), but there is natural sound (including a well-timed slap) and music. It’s a novel, thoughtful piece of work, well worth catching.
For more information on Brooks, there is the very useful Louise Brooks Society site and its accompanying blog, both maintained by Thomas Gladysz; an Italian site with information on all aspects of her career, Louise Brooks, Silent Film Star; her frank and exceptionally well written memoir Lulu in Hollywood (1982); a memorable essay, ‘The Girl With The Black Helmet’, on meeting Brooks towards the end of her life in Kenneth Tynan’s Show People; biographies by Peter Cowie and Barry Paris; and a thoughtful thread on the Nitrateville silent film disussion form commenting on her legacy.
And of course there are films – in particular look out for the Criterion edition of Pandora’s Box (which includes the Kenneth Tynan essay among its copious extras) and the Kino International edition of Diary of a Lost Girl. But catch Brooks in any of her few silent films, even in bit parts, and she lights up the screen in an extraordinary way, somehow aware of people watching her as much in 2010 as 1929. It would be hard to love Louise Brooks – all of the biographical evidence points to someone who was determinedly unlovable – but you cannot take your eyes off her. Which is what Loving Louise Brooks artfully captures.