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Louise Brooks

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[name of the Professor]


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Louise Brooks


Also known by the name of Brooksie, Mary Louise Brooks was born on November

14, 1906 in Cherryvale, a southeastern Kansas town of 7000. Her father, Leonard Brooks,

was a successful and prosperous attorney and her mother, Myra (Rude) Brooks, was

considered as the most cultured and literary woman of the town. Brooks had one elder and

two younger siblings. Her mother played an active role in establishing the Library Club and

later obtained Andrew Carnegie's grants successfully for town’s Library. At her time she was

amongst the firsts to speak out openly on women's rights. Brooksie got her love for arts from

her mother. She herself once commented, "It was by watching her face that I first recognized

the joy of creative effort". Myra continued "She painted and drew quite well … And was

constantly making lovely sets of scenery as a background against which her knights and

ladies enacted their joys and sorrows.” (Hallowell, W. (2005). Louise Brooks 1906-1985)


Brooksie, from the start, was a pretty average child who loved to play in dirt with

other children of her own age. Her mother had arranged for her a dance teacher, Mrs.

Buckpitt, who comes after traveling 8-miles by train from another town. It didn’t take her

long to start teaching her little sister and some neighboring girls as well. In many of these

dances she designed the costumes as well.

By the age of 10, she was constantly appearing at theaters, fairs, men's and women's

clubs and several gatherings around her neighboring towns as well. Next year she started

performing in recitals and a few programs at the local Cherryvale Opera House. By the time

she reached high school her dance lessons were finally showing off her transformation into a

confident, beautiful and talented young lady.
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Motion Pictures

From her early childhood, Brooks was a great admirer of moving pictures. She along

with her brother, Theodore, had seen a number of silent serials and features of Theda Bars,

Pearl White, Tom Mix and Dustin Farnum in the local movie theater. Usually the films were

very worn by the time they reached their town but still she loved them. She grew up as a big

fan of Gloria Swanson. It was her mother who initially cut her long braids to give her a new

look which later became her signature hairstyle.

When she was 15 she got accepted at Ruth St. Denis, then she joined George White's

Scandals and later the Ziegfeld Follies. It was her performance at a Ziegfeld production,

Louie the 14th, as a Cosmopolitan female dancer that attracted Paramount and got her a five

year contract and her first role in The Street of Forgotten Men (1925). She continued making

a series of comedies in which she acted as an erratic yet beautiful girl and managed to attract

much deserving attention. Her next few years were really busy and she did a lot of movies

like “The American Venus (26, Frank Turtle); A Social Celebrity (26, Malcolm St. Clair); It's

the Old Army Game (26), a W. C. Fields film directed by Edward Sutherland, to whom she

was briefly married; The Show-Off (26, St. Clair); Just Another Blonde (26, Alfred Santell);

Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (26, Tuttle); Evening Clothes (27, Luther Reed); Rolled Stockings

(27, Richard Rossen); The City Gone Wild (27, James Cruze); Now We're in the Air (27,

Frank Strayer); A Girl in Every Port (28, Howard Hawks); and Beggars of Life (28, William

Wellman).” (Louise Brooks Biography (1906-1985))


When talkies came and Paramount pointed to her "unproven" voice causing a dispute

on raise. She shocked everybody when she walked out of her contract after 21 silent movies
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with Paramount. Then a chance encounter with the German director G. W. Pabst brought her

the role of Wedekind's Lulu in Pandora's Box in 1929. She herself has described how Pabst

protected her from racial intolerance and helped her in delivering an animated performance.

Pabst wild guess about Brooks (only 23 at the time) ability to comprehend the psychological

truths of sexual awareness was spot on. But unfortunately, it took the world another 25 years

to understand and fully appreciate the performance. Soon after she acted in one more Pabst's

movie Diary of a Lost Girl, released the same year, and immediately went back to America.

Returning Back

Her return back to Hollywood, in 1930, which she had rejected previously so

haughtily probably marked the beginning of an end. She briefly went to France for Prix de

Beaute in 1930. In 1931 she appeared in supporting roles in It Pays to Advertise and God's

Gift to Women. Her innate sense of independence and outspoken personality repeatedly

clashed with the egos of studio executives. After doing some embarrassingly menial roles in a

few B-Grade flicks, she decided to abandon the industry permanently in 1938. Her fights with

the studio executives have acquired a legendary status.

She went back to her home Wichita (where her family had moved form Cherryvale

but found no solace over there as well. She gradually retreated but bounced back once again

after two decades, this time not on her own but it was a tributary movie for her by Godard

and Anna Karina called Vivre Sa Vie in 1962. Her foundations as a literature-loving girl

presented her with a new persona and a much older Brooks reemerged on the literary fronts

as a respected and articulate historian and a sharp writer and film critic in the 1950s-1970s

when a brief revival of the silent-films era was underway in the cinema industry. Three years

before her demise, in 1982, a compilation of writings on the ups and downs of her career,

Lulu In Hollywood, got published. She died on August 8, 1985.
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Brooks was a free spirit famous for her inner independence, absolute honesty and

open criticism on the American film industry. She has developed the habit of going to city

libraries and making corrections on the apparent untrue records in the biographies and the

autobiographies kept there. Her habit of leaving marginal notes and sometimes editing

became a legend in the Rochester area.

She was really an amazing woman. Her greatness was revealed after her death when

many cinematic, musical, literary, cartoon and dramatic homage were paid to Louise Brooks.

Some of the most famous one are “the Jazz Age girl with the bewitching look of false

innocence, incredible beauty, and the Cherryvale signature high-brow bob haircut".

(Hallowell, W. (2005). Louise Brooks 1906-1985)

Pandora’s Box

The effect Pandora’s Box had on viewers can well and truly be epitomized by the

statement which Henri Langlois, the then head of French Cinematheque, made when he

watched the movie first time. He said 'There is no Garbo. There is no Dietrich. There is only

Louise Brooks!' (Malcolm, D. (1999). GW Pabst: Pandora's Box. Darren Malcolm’s century

of film)

The original Brooks as depicted in Franz Wedekind's Lulu, renamed later as Pandora's

Box by Pabst, is the near to perfect expression of a woman’s charm, beauty and eroticism.

The role has much more to teach and learn than the roles Brooks was playing back in

Hollywood. Some critics are of the view that the part chased her for better part of her life and

she never came out of its shadow. But it was her revival as a writer and critic of some repect

before her demise that has astonished three generations.

Pabst tried his best to ensure that Brooks appear exactly the Wedekind's notion of

Lulu i.e. a beautiful nubile innocent who has accepted her sexuality passively and is now
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causing the weaks among the men a self-destruction. She is more of a scapegoat then a

prostitute with little/no sense of sin who in eventuality got killed by Jack the Ripper. Pabst

knew that, along with being a beautiful woman, Brooks is also an ex-dancer and an actress of

a caliber who has the ability to move across the screen in ways that express sentiments as

much as others can do with their faces. It was this use of body language that defined a whole

new world of performance avenues to the Actresses of her time. Pabst gave her dresses that

symbolised the character and suits well with the conditions like spotless white satin at the

time when she was killing her husband and well worn and dirty when she gets Jack the

Ripper on the misty London street.

The admirers of Brooks usually take away the due share applause from Pabst and take

little/no account of his ingenuity, and his creation of an atmosphere of sexual delirium and

euphoria that dominates beautifully over the whole theme of arguably those times most

shocking film. The movie was also also an expressionism with immaculate skill and facaded

as a commentary on the hypocrisy of society at the time.

Pabst was greatly cursed and condemned in Germany for directing such a scandalous

movie. People took Lulu’s role as that of a man eater. An extra dose of shock was provided

by first openly lesbian scene of the history of cinema, where the Belgian-born actress Alice

Roberts (acting as Countess Geschwitz) tries to molest Lulu.

Brooks got her share of the public loathing and was declared as a non-actress

(apparently because she was not of German origin). During the shooting of the movie there

was a coldness between Brooks and Kortner, the infamous German actor who played the

important character of Dr Schon. Reportedly Kortner had some doubts over the capabilities of

Brooks and he personally preferred the young and the seductive-looking Marlene Dietrich in

that role.
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Due to the controversial status and the general public’s extreme response to the movie

in Germany, in Britain they excised the lesbian episodes whereas in France the murder of

Lulu by Jack the Ripper gets substituted and was replaced by her conversion by the Salvation


Both of the works of Pabst Brooks association i.e. Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost

Girl’s original uncut versions were misplaced. But when in the 1950s the two extraordinary

works were rediscovered they were quickly “put beside Joyless Street, The Threepenny

Opera, Westfront and Kameradschaft as Pabst's masterworks.” (Malcolm, D. (1999). GW

Pabst: Pandora's Box. Darren Malcolm’s century of film)


Brooks was truly a silver-screen goddess, a cult figure behind the unfolding and

personification of the image of the “flapper girl” All across the globe, inspiring women for

many years to come. She was the Marilyn Monroe of her time. (Malcolm, D. (1999). GW

Pabst: Pandora's Box. Darren Malcolm’s century of film)

Her admirers say that she was one of the earliest performers to make a place in the

hearts of millions of fans of silver screen. She had acknowledged that the true power of a

screen actress does not lie only in impersonation or performance, but in a carefully knitted

personal account of stage acting. An actress had to immerse in the character to get the

feelings of a character fully. And most likely, it was in experiencing the self-consuming

ecstasy of Lulu that Brooks found her own resultant isolation.

Today, Louise Brooks, in close-ups, gives a euphoric feeling of vivaciousness and

fatal intimacy that was the true soul of Lulu's tragedy. Pandora's Box is still regarded among

some of the most erotic works in the film industry ever and probably the best Pabst could

ever dream of.
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It is interesting to note that in Hesiod’s poem, after Pandora unleashes the miseries on

humankind by opening her unbreakable jar, something remains: Hope. The suggestion here is

that in introducing humankind to the Outside, Pandora also bears openness as futurity, as the

desire for a future beyond the miseries of the present. Pandora is not therefore the bearer of

evil in the fall of man as she is often seen, but a figure pointing beyond good and evil, to an

absolute value on the Outside, which is nevertheless withheld at the same time. In Laura

Mulvey’s reading of the Pandora myth, Pandora is seen as an artifice created by the gods,

whose surface beauty conceals an inner evil. Mulvey further suggests that Pandora is the

embodiment of cinematic woman, as ‘the surface that conceals’ and indeed the very principle

of cinema itself as a desiring machine. This may be so. Indeed it helps understand, to a

degree, the myriad images of woman as femme fatale in popular film. This is borne out in

Mary Ann Doane’s reading of Pandora’s Box when she states that ‘within the film as a

whole, femininity constitutes a danger which must be systematically eradicated’.

However, to read the film like this is to read with the power of the male gaze, and to

foreclose the possibility that Lulu in her givenness makes desire possible, and hence cannot

be reduced to the position of femme fatale without simultaneously losing sight of her status

as a figure of openness and feminine affirmation. I would like to suggest that we re-read Lulu

not as a dangerous femme fatale whose surface beauty conceals an evil intent, but as a

cinematic automation with a special relation to the apparatus of cinema itself. This relation is

governed by an affirmation of the feminine in its specific cinematic mode. What a viewer has

to do is to follow the trajectory of this affirmation opened up by Pabst’s groundbreaking film,

and to make visible the pattern of femininity spread throughout a filmic field. Rather than the

annihilation of the feminine in the dialectic of sexuality in film, what I hope to uncover is the

perpetual becoming of cinema-woman, as an affirmation of the feminine in film.
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Doane, Mary Anne (1990). The Erotic Barter: Pandora’s Box (1929). The Films of

G.W.Pabst: An Extraterritorial Cinema, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Elsaesser, Thomas (1986). Lulu and the Meter Man: Pabst’s Pandora’s Box(1929). German

Film and Literature, Adaptations andTransformations, New York: Methuen.

Hallowell, W. (2005). Louise Brooks 1906-1985. Retrieved December 16, 2008 from

Louise Brooks Biography (1906-1985). Retrieved December 16, 2008 from

Louise Brooks: Life and Times of the Silent Movie Star. The Louise Brooks Society.

Retrieved December 16, 2008 from

Malcolm, D. (1999). GW Pabst: Pandora's Box. Darren Malcolm’s century of film. Guardian.

Retrieved December 16, 2008 from

Miller, H. (January 2003). The Overcoming of Desire: Prostitution and the Contract in

Pandora’s Box (1929). Gendered Beginnings. Gender Research Group.

Mulvey, Laura (1996) Fetishism and Curiosity, Bloomington: Indiana Press, BFI Publishing.