This is what I’m going to do: take some picture of a beautiful bitch or awesome photography, and discuss the shit out of it. Maybe daily, maybe monthly. Let’s face it, I’m sporadic and easily distracted. Anyway, today’s Iconic Image Award or whatever will go to the easiest face I can start with: Louise Brooks. YES, I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE JUMPED ON THIS BANDWAGON. Ugh. I will say: the Louise Brooks Society of People Overly Invested in Dead People has existed for quite some time and definitely assisted in my obsession when I was young.
Let me start by saying this: I used to have insomnia. Well, I still have insomnia, but I don’t care as much anymore. But at 12, I couldn’t drink myself unconscious, so instead, I watched the IFC and TCM. I’m going to make the assumption that you know what those acronyms stand for. Otherwise, you’re not hip enough to read me, son. We don’t speak the same language, ya know? See, I could have used those two sentences to clarify what I’m talking about, but I chose to waste your time mocking you instead. I’m a jerk!
So I’d be up all night, watching a plethora of stuff that no other 12-year-old was into, and establishing my weirdo tastes. While everyone else cooed about the latest Christian Slater movie, I was memorizing City of Lost Children and Party Girl. Yes, I am aware the former makes me pretentious, but the latter makes me a fag-hag in training wheels, so I like to think those two cancel each other out. Also, I never really got the Christian Slater thing and I am maybe the only indignant 11-year-old who walked out of Untamed Heart because it was so stupid. Anyway. They also showed Pandora’s Box a lot. And that was when I was like ‘Who is this Louise Brooks person, and why is she the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen, and her style is awesome.” I didn’t speak very eloquently back then. I was formatting my style as a rambler.
My mom is a huge, huge collector. The kind there will be an A&E reality show about at some point. She frequented Ephemera shows in Pasadena and Santa Monica, so I’d tag along and dig through materials to find Louise Brooks stuff. At the time, the only other people I’d meet with similar interests were much older, incredibly creepy, profoundly nerdy men. They’d gush and gush about Louise Brooks and marvel over me knowing her. That was how I discovered that she was sort of an addiction. Louise Brooks is the kind of look you’re either obsessed with, or you have no idea what I’m talking about and don’t care at all.
Let’s get some background here: Brooks started out as a Ziegfeld Folly in the early ’20s, before being ‘discovered’ and sent to Hollywood. She did the usual handful of fairly unknown pictures until Beggars of Life. Wikipedia is trying to tell me A Girl In Every Port was her first major one, but I’ve never seen it nor heard anything about it, so whatever, weird obsessed Louise Brooks fan who wrote her Wiki. Anyway, she went on to star in The Canary Murders, which is pretty horrible but has some great costumes, and it marked her downward slope as far as Hollywood power was concerned.
Brooks pretty much thought Hollywood was bullshit, besides giving her a lot of attractive men to fuck, so she took German filmmaker G.W Pabst up on an offer to star in two of his films, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. This is pretty much what made her infamous. At this point in time, it wasn’t considered cool to go to Germany and make a film about being a widow accused of murder who seduces other women, or a whore. It was pretty much her version of working with Lars Von Trier. All of these films were censored and she’d effectively pretty much shot her career in the face repeatedly. Now, of course, you HAVE to make an avant garde foreign film to really seal your status as a Serious Actress versus Hollywood Actress.
So she came back to the states, told Paramount to fuck off with their talky shit, and was blacklisted. Paramount spread the word that her voice was not acceptable for film. Anyone who’s watched the documentary Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu, knows there’s no truth to that. In fact, she spoke with every bit the erudite, faux British accent they were looking for at the time. She was just too scandalous.
And if that doesn’t make you love her enough, you can read her book, Lulu in Hollywood, which is surprisingly eloquent and witty in the style of Dorothy Parker. She was pretty unabashed about sleeping with everything that looked good, claiming in her documentary to have bedded at least one man for every day of the year at one point, and describing her sex life as one guy coming in while the other went out the window. And she didn’t even die from Syphilis! Take that, embittered, misogynist male philosophers of the past!
She died old and crippled from arthritis, survived by her cats. See, we have a lot in common. This is 100% how I will go out.
Now, she’s mostly known for her image and her bob, which is largely and falsely attributed to her: many, many starlets and models at the time rocked the black bob. She just did it the best and the most naturally. Loads of girls, including myself, attempt to recreate the Brooks image. And as a person who has had exactly three haircuts my entire life: the Josephine Baker, the Brooks Bob, and, uh, whatever slightly longer bob I let my hair grow into, let’s call it The Doom Generation Bob. the secret to pulling it off is A) making sure it actually looks good on you (NO NO NO if you have Rumer Willis face. no) and B) remembering to incorporate your own natural style. Where vintage fanatics fail is when they just look like they’re playing dress-up all the time, instead of falling out of a silent film and wandering around, ala The Purple Rose of Cairo. And that is my sage advice today.