It’s not difficult to see why Louise Brooks remains one of the most captivating personas of the silent cinema. Even in her day her look and her talent for acting on film were widely discussed, praised, and adored. Her celebrity may even be so potent today that it alone is responsible for the deluxe editions of her two films with G.W. Pabst (released by Kino Video and the Criterion Collection respectively). These two releases posses an abundance of supplements ranging from interviews with Brooks, latter day short films (Windy Riley Goes Hollywood of 1930 was directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle), and, on the Criterion release of Pandora’s Box (1929), Richard Leacock’s Lulu In Berlin (1984).
Lulu In Berlin is, at essence, a filmic analysis of Brooks’ life in and around the cinema with a detailed foray into what was the climax of that relationship; her collaboration with Pabst on Pandora’s Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl (1929). In conversation with Brooks, Leacock prompts his subject to recall all of the anecdotes and personal reflections that make her own memoir Lulu In Hollywood such a delightful read. But what Leacock is able to do in Lulu In Berlin that Brooks was not in her book is to deconstruct the visual aesthetic of Pabst. To do this Leacock, like any sensible video-essayist, slows down sequences, freeze frames on notable compositions, and replays sequences of particular importance. What Lulu In Berlin manages, that is entirely unique in my experience, is to couple the subjective recollections of a subject with an objective aesthetic analysis of another related subject congruently.
Consider the many DVD special features that one is most familiar with. A celebrity, either director or actor, recalls the pleasures of making a film whilst, via jump cuts, the film in reference is often cut to. The difference between these supplemental features on DVDs and blu-rays and Leacock’s Lulu In Berlin is their motivation. Where Leacock presents an analysis that is two prolonged and intent on enlightening the audience as to the mechanics of a film and the experience of constructing those mechanics that make the film your average special feature is nothing more than a prolonged advertisement for whatever film happens to be in question. Even some of the most informative special features, like those on Warner Bros. DVD release of Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973), are, at their heart, commercials.
Leacock’s film of Louise Brooks, with all of its aforementioned merits, still would not likely to have been seen on a home video release if it weren’t for the fact that Louise Brooks is the subject. In Barry Paris’ excellent biography on Brooks, Louise Brooks, Paris will, again and again, reassert this timelessness. He points out that to many fans of the cinema today Brooks is more famous and recognizable than those actresses with whom she often competed, such as Clara Bow. This observation, that is very true, was also shared by Leacock; who opened and closed Lulu In Berlin with the sequence pictured below.