Femmes Fatales

A short celebration of screen goddesses to brighten up the winter gloom, prompted by the fact that it was Louise Brooks‘ birthday yesterday – born in 1906, she was one of the first and most wayward “It” girls of the silver screen.

“There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks!” exclaimed curator Henri Langlois as explanation for making her the figurehead of a huge retrospective of the art of the cinema.

Although she didn’t make that many films, her acting, her sensual screen presence and her seminal bob haircut made her a lasting icon. (Just check out Uma Thurman’s Mia in Pulp Fiction for proof of her legacy)

Her portrayal of Lulu in “Pandora’s Box” (Pabst, 1929) is an extraordinary performance, bringing men to their knees until finally she meets her own come-uppeance in the form of Jack the Ripper. Where so many actresses of that period were mannered mannequins verging on camp, Brooks has a very “method” quality and you really believe her performance. I saw the film nearly twenty years ago and can still feel the goose pimples at the thought of her final meeting with Jack.

As well as her intuitive physical performances, she had a wry way with words: “I learned how to act by watching Martha Graham dance,” she said, “and I learned how to dance by watching Charlie Chaplin act” (Charlie Chaplin being one of her lovers – as well as a one-night stand with Greta Garbo) and, “I have a gift for enraging people but if I ever bore you it’ll be with a knife”

 

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