Ten years ago, Thomas Gladysz stumbled upon a video of Pandora’s Box and found himself intrigued by the 1929 film’s billing: “Featuring one of the sexiest actors of all time.”
“I was hooked,” he recalls, entranced by the beauty and personality of silent-film star Louise Brooks. So he did what anyone with a piqued interest does in the digital age: He started a Web site.
“The nature of the Web,” says the San Francisco resident, “is for people to get together and indulge.” And it turns out he wasn’t alone in his Brooks fandom.
With his site up, Gladysz began receiving e-mails from all over the world. The Web community rapidly became the Louise Brooks Society, whose goal “is to celebrate and honor the actress by stimulating interest in her life and films,” according to its Web site, www.pandorasbox.com. The fan-club component of the site has blossomed to include 1,000 members.
Together, they work to keep Brooks’ memory alive. When her biography, Louise Brooks, and a collection of her own essays, Lulu in Hollywood, went out of print, Gladysz and the society started a signature campaign to resurrect them. They were successful, and in the summer of 2000, the books went from used-bookstore rarities to corporate-bookstore staples.
Detractors may argue that Brooks and other silent-film stars are dinosaur acts, irrelevant to today’s film landscape. But Gladysz and & Co. are out to prove otherwise with Lulupalooza, a Louise Brooks Society–sponsored event created and organized by Richmond-chapter society member Harry Kollatz Jr.
“I thought, All these people in the Louise Brooks Society talk about the films, but how many have we actually seen?” says the 43-year-old Kollatz, who’s been part of the society for four years. “Let’s bring the online community into the real world.” Society members are traveling all the way from Australia for the event. “I know they’re coming,” says Kollatz, “despite rising gas prices.”
“I know it’s an obscure topic,” laughs Kollatz, “so there will only be a few people from Virginia who will actually care.”
But according to Gladysz, Brooks resonates with a wide audience: goths, people into retro culture, swing kids. He adds, “People respond to her as a symbol, the way they do with Madonna or Marilyn Monroe.”
“She was emblematic of the 1920s and the emergence of the modern woman.
From 1906 to the teens was this Victorian era that really governed the way people behaved with icons like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish,” he says. “The whole golden-curls way of being.”
But Brooks was different, Gladysz explains. “Lulu was a lot more modern and freer.”
Kollatz has helpfully illustrated this point on the film fest’s Web site, creating a hybrid image of Lulu, Joan Jett, and Chrissie Hynde. “Lulu was a rocker before there was rock,” he says.
Lulupalooza takes place Saturday, July 23, and Sunday, July 24, at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., Richmond, VA. For more information, visit www.lulupalooza.org.