Thursday, February 15, 2018

CMBA Profile: Louise Brooks Society

The CMBA profiles one of our classic movie blogs each month. This month we're featuring Thomas Gladysz, of the Louise Brooks Society:
The Louise Brooks Society is one of the most prolific and professional of the blogs in CMBA. Almost every day, there are updates on the site, and the writing and information is top-notch. It's a blog with a very specific focus - a silent film goddess with a short career but an iconic image. Author Thomas Gladysz has been running the society for over twenty years now, and he never seems to run out of things to say or images to share Louise and her world. 

Thomas couldn't choose just one blog entry for you to look at, instead he advises  you to, "start with the most recent entry and simply scroll back words in time. If I have done a decent job, you will keep going." His blog can be found at
Here are his questions to our interview questions:
What sparked your interest in classic film?
-- I remember my father liking gangster movies of the 1930s, as well as Laurel & Hardy, so I suppose his tastes affected mine to some degree. However, as a young teen, I was a contrarian. And my tastes were formed by what I could see on television. My favorite films then were John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). I grew up near Detroit, and I guess I was a bit idiosyncratic, as far as suburban kids were concerned. The first silent film I remember seeing was Faust (1926), which I picked up late one night on a UHF TV station out of nearby Canada. I was wowed. The scene where Mephisto spread his cape over the city blew my teenage mind. Visually speaking, I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and wouldn’t again until college when I saw the dream cinema of Jean Cocteau.
I launched the Louise Brooks Society website in 1995. I did so after having seen Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box (1929). I was gob-smacked. I wanted to learn more about Brooks, to see every one of her films, and to meet others who shared by enthusiasm. I read everything I could get my hands on, and tracked down each of her available films. One thing lead to another…. Interest in G.W. Pabst – the director of Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) – led to an interest in his contemporaries, Lang and Murnau, as well as German Expressionism. Interest in the silent era and the Jazz Age led to an interest in flappers and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Clara Bow and Colleen Moore. My wife loves Buster Keaton and Ronald Colman and Erich von Stroheim, and I developed an interest in them as well. Louise Brooks, you might say, has been my education.
What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
-- A movie has to have a strong personality, or at least an alluring personality. Does that mean I follow the auteur theory? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. I was an English major in college, and I’ve always been drawn to films based on books. Another couple of longstanding favorites are Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind (1960) and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched each of the various films (and the TV series) based on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I love that story. As a matter of fact, I love films about outsiders, loners, losers and those who are misunderstood or have been wronged. I guess that says more about me than about the classic status of a film. Obviously, some “classic films” are more successful than others as works of art. Individual films become classics for all manner of reasons. Some films considered great I find dull. Some films considered banal or silly I find enjoyable, like My Man Godfrey (1936) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). I know what I like.
What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
-- That’s a tough one. I would ask what contemporary films they like and try to think of a similar film from the past – provided the viewer can get past the technological hurdles, like black-and-white film, crude special effects, or the lack of spoken dialogue. Many of the Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films and some of the pre-code films are classics because they transcend time. They are  “universal.” They still speak to a generation of viewers who’ve grown up on special effects.
If someone were to ask what Louise Brooks film they should watch, I would suggest Diary of a Lost Girl over Pandora’s Box.  Both are great films, but both are also problematic. Each is dark and a little depressing, which may turn-off some viewers. Also, both films were heavily censored, and what we have today is not quite complete, despite all the restoration work done on them. All-in-all, I would say Diary holds together a little better. Another recommended downer is Beggars of Life (1928). It’s a terrific film. Love Em and Leave Em (1926) is a very different Brooks’ film from those I just mentioned. It is fun, and a typical film of its time. I wish somebody would restore it.
Why should people care about classic film?
-- Kevin Brownlow once said: “Silent pictures show us how we lived and what our attitudes were. And as an art form, they can be wonderfully entertaining and often inspirational.” I think that pretty much explains it.
What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
-- Feedback. It is gratifying when readers post comments or show interest in what I’ve written. But I am not in it for the applause, because there is very little of that. Maybe I’m just talking to myself, but I started my blog as a form of dialogue with the world, with those who love watching, reading about, thinking about, and researching old movies. Classic film will never achieve a mass audience – just like my blog or the Louise Brooks Society website will never achieve a mass readership. But a few hundred or a few thousand are all right with me. I keep on. It’s what I do.
I started the Louise Brooks Society blog in 2002, first on LiveJournal, and later I moved it to Blogger, where it now resides. A couple hundred have subscribed. I am a bit proud of the fact that I’ve kept it going all this time. Sometime this year, I will have posted for the 3000th time.
What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
-- Despite the narrow focus of my blog – one film star with a short career – I seldom run out of things to write about. I’ve joked “all roads lead to Louise Brooks.” And no matter how seemingly unrelated a topic might be, I always try to somehow relate it to Brooks or the silent era. (Trust me, I never stray that far.) The novelist Salman Rushdie once said, "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." That’s my motto.
 What advice would you give to a new blogger?
-- Be yourself. Your blog can be anything you want it to be. Don’t imitate others, but also, importantly, don’t be ignorant of what others have done. Check out other bloggers! A good novelist is someone who reads lots of fiction. And a good blogger is someone who reads other blogs. Who knows? Other bloggers might well have done something that inspires or informs what you are trying to do.
Bring the real world into this digital medium. Read print books! Research something you are curious about. Visit a library or archive or historical museum to find out more about your subject. Explore your local connection. If you like Jean Harlow or William Powell or Esther Ralston, find out where their films where shown in your town… and what the local critics thought of them. Did your favorite star ever visit your town or city? There are a million angles.
Also, take advantage of all that the internet has to offer to enrich your blog – like newspaper and magazine archives, audio sources like SoundCloud, social media (it pays to get the word out), and the “community” of other film lovers. Your blog is a journey. Be open to possibilities. Explore. Have fun.
Thanks for sharing so much, Thomas! Louise Brooks couldn't ask for a better advocate!

1 comment:

  1. Great advice for new bloggers. There truly are a million angles to take when blogging.