The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Louise Brooks Bio-Pic Fantasy

The concept of a "Louise Brooks" film intrigues me; especially after having seen
La Vie En Rose (and knowing that Edith Piaf didn't supply Louise's singing voice in Prix de Beaute.)

Louise provides a challenge for a film because unlike Piaf, or several others you can name, she didn't die young. Though Louise, similar to Piaf, was stubborn, feisty and hard-charging. Neither woman had much truck with getting told what to do. And like Edith, Louise had some serious issues with alcohol. Both of them packed several lives into one.

When adapting the life of Louise Brooks into art, how does one begin?

I very much enjoyed the non-linear quality of the Piaf film and how at times a scene shifted in time and space by having actors walk through a door or a curtain--as though in a reverie, theatrical.

I tend to think in terms of live theater. Despite my passion for cinema, my heart is with living actors on creaking stages, and I'm kind of married to one.

Janet Munsil's Smoking With Lulu got around the old/young Louise dichotomy by having the younger Louise present on stage as Kenneth Tynan interviewed the older version, with a cinematic back drop. This was quite effective and helped pull in the wide ranging story. You can see how my theater worked on it in these rehearsal images:

And here, through the Louise Brooks Society.

Hannah Schygulla has toured a concert for orchestra and voice titled, "Elle! Louise Brooks."

And there's the Swiss Brooksie: The Jazz Age Musical.

Beyond a recounting of her life, the Silent Theatre company of Chicago not long ago mounted a traveling production of a staged version of Pandora's Box. They titled it Lulu. Their title conflated playwright Frank Wedekind's original character with the Berg opera, also based on Wedekind's
plays, and inextricably connected to Louise and her most famous character. [Still from the play via Louise Brooks Society]

The most compelling part of this is the Silent Company's reinvention of the silent film, by transforming the concept into living theater. A company out of Seattle has filmed retro silents and performed the sound track live with voices, instruments and effects.

If I had the budget to make the film I'd like to watch this is how I'd go about creating the thing. I'd hire a cast of relative unknowns though multi-disciplined in stage acting and writing, voice, choreography, dance performance, and videography. Except for the Louise character and perhaps the Pabst, all would play multiple roles. This is about six to eight people. Most regional theaters can't afford casts of more than five anymore, but since we have musical elements, we'll stretch the budget a bit.

For two months after hiring them, we'd make Louise, her life and times, our personal obsession. The actors would receive a DVD of Louise's greatest hits: film sequences and interviews, and copies of the Barry Paris biography; Lulu In Hollywood, and Portrait of An Anti-Star. And they'd be responsible for studying (which some actors manage better than others.) Some of the cast members might put it off and not participate; which is fine, their choice, and interesting in and of itself. But we'd schedule regular informal discussion meetings to kick around concepts; something like a book group to talk about the life we're learning about.

If there were any 1920s related events going on during this time, whether art exhibitions, classes, lectures, I'd direct the actors to them. There would be a few field trips for the ensemble. This is how the sinews of a project are sewn. How the fun begins.

While the performers experience
Total Brooksie Immersion, that is,
-they would be thinking about the shaping of a play portraying Louise's life and context. They'd be encouraged not to think of this in standard birth to death fashion, nor as making Louise into some kind of victim. Flawed, conflicted and contradictory, even tragic, all those things, yes.

Then we'd begin putting the thing together in an old theater or warehouse that would have assorted cast off props, furnishings, musical instruments. We'd
discuss what part of her story was most intriguing, or exasperating.

We'd work for two months to put together a two hour performance piece to be shot over several runs of the show, with and without an audience, using multiple cameras. I would add to this mix a quartet of jazz-centric musicians using a variety of instruments, acoustic and electric. We would not have a "score" as such, but interpreted, improvised pieces per performance. The process would reveal either a god awful mess, or something marvelous, or a combination.

As a film, it would need to edited into a standard 97-minute format, and for other television broadcast, 55 minutes. Hah! Thankfully, I'm not an editor.

That's the fantasy movie I'd make. May I have a sinecure? Investors, anybody?

[ I've amassed these images through the years, but two places to check out are here and here. She lives, and lives always.]

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