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"Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu" is an exceptionally well-crafted and
emotionally moving documentary. It is one of the best film
documentaries I have ever seen. Barry Paris (author of the definitive
biography of the actress) has written a masterful, sympathetic script.
And director Hugh Munro Neely has fashioned a well-researched, balanced
and finely documented study of this 20th century icon.
Louise Brooks (1906 1985) was incredibly photogenic some have claimed her to be one of the most beautiful actresses of all time. The many photographic images shown in this film highlight Brooks' life and career as a girl growing up in small-town Kansas, as a Denishawn dancer (she danced alongside Martha Graham!), as a showgirl with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1920's New York, as a bobbed-hair flapper in a handful of American silent films, as Lulu - an innocent femme fatale murdered by Jack the Ripper in her most famous film - the now classic German production Pandora's Box, and later in life, as an essayist and author of the bestselling book, "Lulu in Hollywood."
"Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu" features numerous film clips some of them rare, including Brooks' first appearance in a movie, her first part in a talkie, and her last film, a low budget Western with John Wayne. There are also excerpts from an on-screen interview with the actress conducted later in her life. The film is narrated by Shirley MacLaine (herself a big Brooks fan), and features interviews with actor Francis Lederer, (Brooks' co-star in Pandora's Box), actor Roddy McDowell (a longtime admirer and friend), actress Dana Delany (another fan of the actress), and others who knew Brooks throughout her life. These interviews are well chosen, and help tell the story of her "life, death, and resurrection."
Perhaps the only criticism one could offer is that "Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu" is not long enough! (Pretty much everyone who has seen this film wishes for more.) Another twenty or thirty minutes spent exploring Brooks' time in Europe, her decades of obscurity, her rediscovery, and the cult which has grown up around her would be welcome. Otherwise, this film is highly recommended for anyone interested in Louise Brooks in particular or film history in general.
'Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu' is one instalment in an ongoing
series of documentaries by Hugh Munro Neely, each spotlighting an
actress of the early film era. (Full disclosure: I've had some
professional dealings with Hugh Neely, and I consider him a friend, but
I hope that this hasn't coloured my perceptions of his films.) I enjoy
Louise Brooks's movies, but I tend to be alienated by her fandom cult,
much as I'm alienated by the fandom cult for Marilyn Monroe. Despite
all evidence to the contrary, Marilyn's fans would have us believe that
Monroe was some wounded little fawn, who -- underneath the glamour --
was actually Norma Jean the girl next door. (Which is nonsense: if
Marilyn Monroe really WERE Norma Jean, her fans wouldn't be
interested.) In Brooks's case, her fans tend to skim over her entire
Hollywood career in order to fixate on the two films she made in
Germany for GW Pabst: those two films *do* contain Brooks's two best
performances, but I feel that the constant emphasis on her German films
does a great injustice to her Hollywood films, in several of which
Brooks does give excellent (and sexy) performances.
Regrettably, Brooks's fans continue to assert that she WAS Lulu, the character she played in one (or, unofficially, both) of her two German films. I dislike the fact that many overviews of Brooks (including this documentary) make a point of referring to Brooks herself as 'Lulu', as if she was that fictional character. Admittedly, it was Brooks who encouraged this habit with her fascinating memoirs.
'Looking for Lulu' is narrated by Shirley MacLaine, an interesting choice. In some ways, MacLaine's life and career are very different from Brooks's, yet in other ways they're very similar. Both actresses began as dancers, both had minor success on Broadway before achieving Hollywood stardom, and both were intensely devoted to a younger brother (in MacLaine's case, Warren Beatty).
As usual for Neely's excellent documentaries, he comes up with some amazingly obscure photos and artefacts here. The narration briefly mentions an incident in Brooks's childhood, when a male neighbour molested her, and afterwards her mother blamed her. I wish that the documentary had given this incident more emphasis, as I suspect that it was one of the major events in Brooks's life: much of her later behaviour was self-destructive, and very much fits the profile of someone who was sexually abused in childhood.
I wish that this documentary had featured more identifying captions. We see a photo of Louise in a barber's chair, but are not told that this is a publicity still for her film 'A Social Celebrity'. We see Louise in a brief romantic scene from 'The Show-Off', but we're told absolutely nothing about the ingratiating actor who plays her leading man in this scene; not even his name. In fact, he was Gregory Kelly, who died tragically young. Viewers of this documentary might have been interested in learning that Kelly was the husband of actress Ruth Gordon, as well as the brother of playwright George Kelly (author of 'The Show-Off') and uncle of Princess Grace Kelly.
The narration of this film features one statement that made me hit Rewind to make sure I'd heard it correctly. We're told that George Gershwin was 'the best and most beloved' Broadway composer. 'Best' is a matter of opinion, but 'most beloved'? Erm, no, not Gershwin.
In addition to a generous array of juicy clips from many of Brooks's films, we also get some interview footage of Brooks in her later years, when she was a semi-recluse in Rochester, NY. Brooks is honest enough to admit that the rapid decline of her career was entirely her own fault, due to her own poor decisions. When her silent film 'The Canary Murder Case' was reworked as a talkie, she refused to record talking sequences; we see a clip here, in which Brooks's character is obviously post-dubbed with the voice of a different actress (Margaret Livingston). We also see a clip from Brook's French film, 'Prix de Beaute', in which a French actress badly dubs Brooks's dialogue. Fascinating! Yet I regret that this documentary did not include even a brief clip from 'When You're in Love', nor even any mention of that film. In an attempt to get back into Hollywood's good graces, Brooks appeared in the movie musical 'When You're in Love' as a mere chorus girl; the studio milked this for publicity with a "Former star, she starts over at the bottom" angle, promising Brooks a starring vehicle afterward ... and then reneging on their promise.
Brooks's last film was 'Overland Stage Raiders', an above-average low-budget western starring John Wayne. A few years ago, when I attended a Brooks retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, a curator made the mean-spirited and gratuitous comment that Brooks's career ended with 'the humiliation of appearing in a John Wayne movie'. I was pleased that no such editorialising was included in this documentary.
'Looking for Lulu' is a fascinating look at an actress whose allure, talent and raw sex appeal continue to shine from films made nearly a century ago. Showbiz documentaries in general have a regrettable tendency to psychoanalyse subjects who really don't need to be analysed. In Brooks's case, though, I wish that this documentary (and some other Brooks bios) had dug a little deeper into Brooks's psychological motivations for some of her self-destructive actions. And I wish this documentary had concluded by reminding Brooks's fans of something which many of them refuse to acknowledge: in real life, Louise was NOT Lulu. I'll rate this fascinating, well-paced documentary 9 out of 10.
The movie tell the life of one of the most beautiful actress of all the times. With an exotic appearance, that mixed sensuality and innocence, she marked the decade of 1920 with herb short hairdo and the small mouth. The movie show that her path was difficult: of a humble origin, inside the USA, going by the acme in the European films, until the decadence, caused by the contempt of her own fellow citizens to her very liberal lifestyle. An important film for any lover of the movies and especially for that wonderful woman's fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"We are all shipwrecked; but the best of us learn." Brooks quotes a
favorite author of hers during a 1976 interview. "The people who think
they have things most under control in their lives, end up suffering
the most." This hour long documentary covers the entire life of Louise
Brooks, arguably, the silent era's most beautiful and most enigmatic
Many friends and contemporaries of Brooks are interviewed. Also included is a 1976 interview with Brooks herself. These clips are bridged by related photos, movie clips, and a narration by Shirley McLaine.
Since this documentary covers 78 years of a person's life in one hour, we are left with a whirlwind of anecdotes, told in chronological order. The overall effect is a heartbreaking story that glosses over its main character, and leaves us with mere fragments: impressions of a person whose essence is never really captured in this film - except in the all-too-brief interview segments with Brooks herself.
"Looking For Lulu" is a fantastic introduction to cinema's quintessential 'flapper' girl. But, if you wish to know what is was like to be in her presence, I'd recommend "Lulu In Berlin," which consists of 50 minutes with the woman herself.
Also recommended is Brooks' book "Lulu In Hollywood."
This one-hour documentary was produced by Hugh Hefner and was narrated
by Shirley MacLaine. It is an overview of the silent and early talkie
star Louise Brooks and is accompanied by some film clips, stills,
interviews of her family (who weren't actually that complementary of
her) and interviews of her friends and people in the film industry.
I realize that Louise Brooks' film career was pretty brief, but I still felt that this documentary, though good, is a bit too short. That's because the period of her life between her last film and her death is WAY too quickly covered--even though it was more than half her life. In addition, I would have also enjoyed more of a psychological exploration of her life, as Brooks was clearly self-destructive and quirky (to say the least). In fact, she was known for being such an odd-ball--yet the film doesn't give you a lot of insight into why. So, if you want a nice general overview of her life but don't demand any more, then by all means watch and enjoy this film. However, if you are looking for a bit more, then you might be a bit disappointed.
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