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Looking for Lulu: Louise Brooks

TV review by
Gary Johnson

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"I have a gift for enraging people, but if I ever bore you, it will be with a knife." --Louise Brooks

With her trademark Dutch bob haircut and large expressive eyes, Louise Brooks starred in only a small group of movies, most notably G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, but today she is revered as one of the great icons of silent cinema. Her story doesn't resemble a typical Hollywood success story. In fact, it's hardly a success story at all. The story of Louise Brooks is the story of a life lived with few compromises, of a life lived with little regard for the powers that held the purse strings in Hollywood, of a life lived for the moment--as the quintessential jazz baby that she was.

Louise Brooks failed to play by the rules. And she lived with the results of her stubbornness. After Hollywood blacklisted her and the only work she could find was in B movie productions, she finally left Hollywood altogether. Years later, unknown in New York, she virtually barricaded herself in her apartment and found consolation in bottles of gin. But her story didn't end there, and that's the real reason we still remember Louise Brooks today. Louise Brooks turned to writing and once her articles were published in Sight and Sound and Film Culture (and later the articles were collected in her book Lulu in Hollywood), the world discovered that Louise Brooks possessed astonishing wit and insight. Through her writing, she gave us an insider's view of Hollywood and the vagaries of stardom.

A new one-hour special on Turner Classic Movies--Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu--takes us on a journey through the life of Louise Brooks. Combining rare movie footage with photographs and interviews, Looking for Lulu gives us a fascinating glimpse into Brooks' enigmatic life. The special was produced and directed for Timeline Films by Hugh M. Kneely and written by Brooks' biographer, Barry Paris. Together they have utilized the vast film libraries of The George Eastman House, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Museum of Modern Art, and the American Film Institute to give audiences a brief and tantalizing overview of Louise Brooks' career.

Looking for Lulu contains short excerpts from many of her movies, from her first, The Street of Forgotten Men (1925), to her last, Overland Stage Raiders (1938). And along the way you'll also see choice moments from It's the Old Army Game (1926), The Show Off (1926), Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (1927), Beggars of Life (1928), Pandora's Box (1929), Prix de Beaute (1930), and The Canary Murder Case (1929). In addition, Kneely and Paris have arranged interviews with several people who knew Ms. Brooks, including sister-in-law Margaret Brooks and niece Roseanne Brooks. You'll even see footage of Louise herself from a 1976 interview, when she was 70 years old.

TCM's salute to Louise Brooks also includes a trio of her movies, including a newly restored version of an early Brooks' comedy, The Show Off, as well as Brooks' immortal performance in Pandora's Box--one of the truly great performances in the history of cinema.

All of her performances were imbued with a naturalism devoid of the histrionics and over emoting so typical of silent film acting. To watch one of her performances, such as her Lulu in Pandora's Box, is to see an actress who commanded attention through the honesty of her characterizations. When the camera closes in on her, something happens, something virtually indescribable, something utterly magical. Her performances were imbued with a candor that was rare for their time. Her Lulu, for example, loves sex but there is nothing lascivious or scheming about her sexuality. Instead, her sexuality is innocent.

There is an effortlessness to Brooks' performance in Pandora's Box that makes the distance between Brooks and Lulu virtually negligible. Like Lulu, Brooks loved life and wanted everything from it. There could be no compromises. Louise Brooks is Lulu, the hedonistic flapper who took the world by storm and then lost virtually everything. And the story of her life--from the plains of Kansas where she was born, to the streets of Broadway where she hobnobbed with the New York intelligentsia, to the decadent cabarets of Berlin--is a fascinating story of an actress' life, death, and resurrection.

Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu, a TCM original production, will debut on May 5th at 8pm (ET), with an encore presentation on May 16th at 7pm (ET). For more information, we suggest you check out the Turner Classic Movies Web site:

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