Louise Brooks and Silent Film Star in Montreal

Twice in the coming two weeks, the Cinéma du Parc in Montreal is screening a movie starring Louise Brooks as part of its 17-film salute to "The Artists" (through June 3).

The two films, both made in Germany and directed by G.W. Pabst at the end of the silent era, are Pandora's Box (or Loulou, as it is titled in France) and The Diary of a Lost Girl. Both date from 1929, and each will be shown variously with German, French or English subtitles. Pandora's Box screens May 22-24, and The Diary of a Lost Girl screens May 28-29. It is a great opportunity to see Brooks, a screen legend, at the height of her career and in her best work.

As the Cinéma du Parc states on its bilingual website, the idea for the series originated with the success of The Artist, when just about everybody was caught by surprise over the media frenzy around the film. An unlikely contender, The Artist was a French production shot in Los Angeles which became the first silent film since 1929 to win the Best Picture Oscar, and that after gaining numerous awards at Cannes, the BAFTA and the Césars.


Jean Dujardin, who won nearly every Best Actor award around the world for his portrayal of fading star George Valentin, prepared for his role by watching classic silent films and by studying silent era actors, notably Douglas Fairbanks. In fact, the film Valentin views (as his own) in his apartment is Fairbanks' first swashbuckler, The Mark of Zorro (1920). He also, reportedly, read Jeffrey Vance's superb book on the actor, from 2008.

Described as virtuosic, unique, poetic, touching and unforgettable, The Artist generated considerable public interest in silent film in 2011. That interest has carried through to today.

Some of the other films set to be screened as part of "The Artists" include Fairbanks' The Black Pirate (1926) and The Thief of Baghdad (1924), as well as Wings (1927), the first silent film, and until The Artist, the last silent film to win an Academy Award. It is terrific.

F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), with the great Emil Jannings as the pathetic doorman, is also on the schedule and shouldn't be missed, as is a newly restored print of Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925), and two swell Buster Keaton Films, Seven Chances (1925) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). Another early masterpiece, Sunrise (1927), will also be shown.

Of the silent-era actors and actresses included in the Cinéma du Parc series, Brooks' star is shining brightest these days. Besides the five days given over to her films in Montreal, US Weekly just reported that popular New Girl actress Zooey Deschanel, known for sporting bangs, declared in a recent interview, "If I could cut my hair today I totally would. I love a Louise Brooks bob!" Deschanel's shout-out to the silent film star made something of a splash.

The coming weeks will also see the release of The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty. Inspired by a true incident, this highly anticipated novel tells the story of the time when 15-year-old Brooks left home in the company of a chaperone to join the Denishawn Dance Company, then the leading dance troupe in America. (Its members included another future great, Martha Graham.) The Chaperone has already racked up glowing early reviews in both Oprah Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor.


No man can resist Lulu, played by Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box.

Image courtesy of the Louise Brooks Society.

And in July, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen a recently restored version of Pandora's Box. This 143-minute version has only been shown twice before, once in Los Angeles and once in London. Pandora's Box is the "centerpiece film" of the Festival, the largest silent film festival in North America. When the SFSFF screened an un-restored version of the Pabst masterpiece in 2006, it became the first film in the Festival's history to sell out the 1400 seat Castro Theater in advance. Early buzz is pointing to it happening again.

Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and silent film enthusiast. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, an online archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress's films around the world.