05 April 2007

Interview: THOMAS GLADYSZ, founder of the LOUISE BROOKS Society

The following is one of my favourite interviews from the Ramble Rocket era(2005). Thomas Gladysz created Pandorasbox.com in 1995 and founded the Louise Brooks Society in 1994. He is a treasure trove of information and has been very generous with his time.

Can you briefly explain to the uninitiated who Louise Brooks was?

Louise Brooks was an actress whose greatest fame came during the silent film era. All together, she appeared in 24 films between 1925 and 1938. Today, she is best know for her 1929 role as Lulu - a sort of femme fatale - in "Pandora's Box." Some have called her one of the most beautiful women to have ever appeared in films. I agree. She is also a fascinating personality.

How long have you been interested in Louise and what started this off?
I have been interested - some would same obsessed - in Brooks for more than 12 years. My interest started after having seen her in "Pandora's Box." It is a remarkable film, and Brooks herself is really quite stunning. Seeing that film led me to want to know more about the actress, which led me to the remarkable biography by Barry Paris. Wanting to share my enthusiasm for the actress with others, I started the Louise Brooks Society. This year, the LBS celebrates 10 years on-line.

"European directors, European film critics, and European film lovers have long appreciated this Kansas-born actress."

Louise did a lot of work in Europe?
Of her 24 films, Brooks only made three films in Europe. However, those three films are considered among her very best. She went to Europe to play Lulu under the direction of G.W. Pabst, a great German director. Soon after, she made another film with Pabst, the equally acclaimed "Diary of a Lost Girl." Her third European film, "Prix de Beaute," was made in France. It was based on a story idea by Pabst and Rene Clair, a great French director. European directors, European film critics, and European film lovers have long appreciated this Kansas-born actress. I suppose some would say that the "cult" of Louise Brooks was born in Europe. Today, Brooks is considered an important actress on the continent.

Intro to "Looking for Lulu

She appeared with John Wayne in a "talkie" but then vanished. Why? What happened?
Brooks' last film was "Overland Stage Raiders," a B-western. After trying to re-establish her faltering career, Brooks came to the end of her days as an actress. John Wayne was at the beginning of his. (He would soon go on to star in "Stagecoach.") Regarding "Overland Stage Raiders," Brooks biographer Barry Paris wrote, "It is a dreadful film from start to finish, with every cliché known to Western man and western genre. Louise adored
Wayne but could not stand the humiliation of the film. "Raiders" was the last straw. She never made another movie."

About the members of "Pandora's Box", is there a certain age group or geographical group that dominates? Any surprise fans from faroff places?
At last count, the 1000 members of the Louise Brooks Society hail from 46 countries on six continents! Members range in age from teenagers to computer savvy folks in their 50's and 60's. Members of the LBS include silent film fans, movie industry professionals, actors, poets,
professors, artists, and other interested individuals from all walks of life. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the well known Beat poet and publisher, is a member.

The majority of members come from the
United States, and California is the state with the most members. Louise Brooks is also popular in Europe. There are numerous members from the British Isles - as well as France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Fans of the actress also hail from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain (including a couple of members in the Canary Islands). Members of the LBS can also be found in Africa, Asia and across the Pacific Rim.

What do you think the interest is in Louise Brooks? Do you think it will endure with a younger generation?
I think different people are drawn to Brooks for different reasons. I know she is popular in the Goth community - where her perennially popular bob-haircut has become something of a fetish look. I know she is popular among film buffs, and those interested in the Jazz Age and flappers. I often receive email from students asking me about Louise Brooks and the 1920's. Seemingly, they have come across my web site while doing their homework.

If I want to see her work, what can I do? Is there a way that my independent cinema can get hold of her films? Is her work available on DVD?
Like so many movies dating from the silent film era, a number of Brooks' films are lost. Nevertheless, a handful are currently available on DVD, including her three European films as
well as a few of her American flapper comedies. Other films can be found on video. A three-disc set of Brooks films, with much bonus material, was recently released in France by Carlotta films. Brooks films are also occasionally shown in theaters.

"...the silent film era is full of interesting personalities who made interesting films."

What things have you learned while running the site? Did you acquire any interesting artefacts, stories, information?
I have learned a lot about Louise Brooks by developing the website. I also learned a lot about web design and HTML! I am a self-taught web-designer and a self-taught film historian . . . .
One of the most gratifying things about the LBS is the contributions and email I have gotten from fans around the world. Individuals have sent scans of rare pictures and articles about Brooks. Others have translated French or Russian or Swedish articles into English. Others have written to express there own enthusiasm for Brooks and their thanks for my efforts in keeping her legend alive.

What other actors of the silent era do you admire? Directors? Writers?
Where to begin? I adore Clara Bow. Garbo is remarkable. I am fascinated by Buster Keaton and Erich von Stronheim. Charlie Chaplin is great. I have a big interest in directors like G.W. Pabst and Fritz Lang. I am always reading something about early film, and right now I am reading a terrific biography of Marlene Dietrich. I recently read books about Valentino, Norma Shearer, Baby Peggy, and Ramon Novarro - all of which I enjoyed. And then there's Anna May Wong, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, John Gilbert, Theda Bara, etc..... the silent film era is full of interesting personalities who made interesting films.

What other artists(current/past) do you admire?
I have had a long standing interest in modernism and many of its "isms" - symbolism, expressionism, and especially surrealism - both as a literary and visual art. Collage and montage, pulp culture, high / low culture, and the arts and culture of
Eastern Europe all interest me. As do the Beats writers - poets like Allen Ginsberg. My short list of favorite writers would certainly include F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, as well as Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Czeslaw Milosz. I also really love science fiction (both literature and movies), and my favorite sci-fi writers are Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Emil Petaja

"Watch a Charlie Chaplin film. Fall in love with Clara Bow or Buster Keaton."

If someone is interested and keen to learn more about films from the silent era, where would you suggest they start?
Go to a movie theater showing a silent movie (especially if it has live musical accompaniment).
Rent a DVD or video. Watch a Charlie Chaplin film. Fall in love with Clara Bow or Buster Keaton. Check out a biography of a silent film star or read a book about silent film history, like Kevin Brownlow's superb "The Parade's Gone By." There are also a number of web sites, news groups and blogs devoted to early cinema. Just dive in. One thing will probably lead to another.

Do you think that silent films have any advantage over "talkies" in any regard?
In some ways, they are two different art forms. The best silent films are a kind of visual narrative, whereas sound films are more dependent on verbal narrative structure. I don't think silents are necessarily better than talkies, just different. I love silent film, and I love sound films. I have a growing interest in pre-code films (American films of the early 1930's). I also enjoy contemporary films a great deal. "Somewhere in Time" is a film I have never been able to get out of my head. "Amelie" is divine. And I also enjoyed "Ghost World." Those are a few that come to mind.

"It's an electric moment."

What is your favourite Louise Brooks moment in her surviving films?
The scene backstage in "Pandora's Box" where Brooks is fighting with Dr. Schon, her somewhat older patron and lover. He is struggling to kiss her. And suddenly the door opens, and they are caught by her lover's fiance and his son. It is an electric moment. Brooks conveys so much through her body and face. She plays the scene perfectly. It is a scene that must be seen to be appreciated.

Where would you like to see "Pandora's Box" in another ten years?
I would like to continue to develop the web site and expand the resources of the LBS. The site has been on-line for ten years, and has attracted more than one-million visitors. It has grown to become the the largest & most comprehensive web site in the world devoted to any silent movie star. I would be proud if it could continue for another ten years. I guess that would be an accomplishment.

Thank you for your thorough answers and good work at LBS.

NOTE: Facets Multimedia have a good selection of films featuring Louise Brooks to buy.

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