#8 – Amelie Hastie – “Louise Brooks, Star Witness”

Something really fascinates me about the self-mythologizing of moviefolk.  Just today in our Video Essay class, we were talking about the relative self-consciousness of directors before and after Cahiers du Cinéma and the French New Wave days – I think we all know that the general consensus is that this is when “cinema became aware of itself”, so to speak, and that later directors were much more aesthetically self-aware (and prone to self-mythologizing) than those previous.  (I’m sure this is violating our anti-historization mandates, but just accept that and bear with me for simplicity’s sake.)  I could go on and on about this, but let me just leave it at the fact that I love David Lynch’s insistence that he’s a normal, hamburger-lovin small town American boy despite his 4.5 marriages and the relentless Freudian weirdness of his films.

Well as far as the self-mythologization game goes, it seems Louise Brooks was way ahead of those pre-French New Wave directors.  According to Hastie’s article, Brooks played an active and ingenious role in the creation of her complex public identity.  I suppose the question remains as to whether she was intentionally crafting a specific persona or was just instinctively adept at throwing rumors about herself around in the right way.  But something about all her little contradictions and claims about veracity and sexuality seem intentional to me.  I particularly like the idea that the pseudo-memoir she later published (after saying that writing her memoirs would be useless) was just another “performance”, except this time she had switch from being a cinematic object to a cinematic spectator and critic.  Perhaps she felt conflicted about being “looked upon”, just like her character in Prix de Beauté feels, and decided to become a “looker” herself, meanwhile throwing sand in the eyes of those who would seek to mythologize her by doing the mythologizing herself.  In the end, it’s all almost like a little lesson on the dangers of historicization, but trying to fit her many-layered persona into a coherent historical narrative is exactly what’s so interesting to me.