Louise Brooks's Swan Song to Stardom

The moviehead re-rediscovery of flapper chic continues with this rarely seen French cornerstone (released in 1930), starring a free-from-expressionism-at-last Louise Brooks, she of the iconic jet-black bob, androgynous figure, and laser sight line. She plays a typist at a Parisian newspaper who, despite the snitty protestations of her fiancé (Georges Charlia), enters and wins a Miss Europe beauty pageant, which is when her biggest conflicts begin. Italian journeyman Augusto Genina's film is far from conventional in tone—the pre-fem awakening of Brooks's unpretentious everygirl starts with a chilly carnival moment when she realizes all of the men around her, including her boyfriend, are grotesque fools. The breathtakingly lurid finale, set in a screening room, has an almost necrophilic obsessiveness. (The film did turn out to be Brooks's swan song to stardom; she picked up supporting work in Hollywood and England for a few years, but then quit movies in disgust, at the age of 31.) But the movie's ramshackle form is what makes it truly fascinating: It's a vintage example of a fleeting breed, the unsynchronized early talkie (a lost silent version was also made), often avoiding the actor's moving mouths altogether and then suturing the narrative with a frenetic soundtrack of dubbing, ambient noise, and music. (René Clair, whose original story was adapted by Brooks pal G.W. Pabst, pulled off a similar but more visual coup with the nearly silent Under the Roofs of Paris the same year.) A newspaper quote included on the DVD attests that Genina's patchwork approach, which represented "an ideal model for the talkie," was easily dubbed into seven languages—a paramount concern on the tongue-twisted European mainland circa 1930. Extras include promotional art, including ad art by famed costume designer Boris Bilinsky.

 
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