The Influence of Louise Brooks on the French New Wave and David Lynch

March 19, 2023 4 mins to read
Michael Garcia Mujica
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Matthew McConaughey, as the indomitable Cooper in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpiece, Interstellar, narrates a dialogue of profound resonance in the film’s 2013 teaser trailer. His contemplative soliloquy begins, “We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible.” He continues, “And we count these moments…these moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known.”

These poignant sentiments ring remarkably true for one earthly titan who traversed her own galaxy of challenges – the silent film siren, Louise Brooks. The latter half of Cooper’s dialogue, “We count these moments as our proudest achievements, but we lost all that. Or perhaps, we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun,” can be seen as an allegory for Brooks’s career. She confronted the conventional, rendering it mute, and in the process, dared to aim higher, breaking barriers in a fledgling industry. Like the pioneers Cooper speaks of, she too began a journey into an unknown universe, forever changing the landscape of silent cinema.

Born in 1906, Kansas, Brooks initiated her cosmic ballet as a dancer and chorus girl. However, it was the gravitational pull of the burgeoning film industry that drew her into an orbit destined to illuminate her legacy. She erupted onto the scene as a nova: independent, sensual, and unapologetically herself.

In an industry akin to a celestial entity, perpetually expanding, Brooks was fueled by the thirst to explore the outer realms of possibility. Much like astronauts of the narrative mind, she employed her body and expressions as vessels to traverse vast emotional voids, delivering performances as intense as supernovae.

The radiance of Brooks’ influence, however, extended beyond her captivating performances. She was a meteor, streaking against the conventions of her era, carving a trail for future generations of artists to follow, inspiring them to pursue their visions without the fetters of compromise.

David Lynch, a fellow astronaut in the cosmos of cinema, once reflected, “There are things in life that are out of our control. But in the world of cinema, we have the power to shape reality and tell stories that transport us to another dimension.” Brooks, ever the celestial pioneer, harnessed this power, delving into the enigmatic depths of the surreal and subconscious in her films.

In the 1929 cinematic constellation, Pandora’s Box, Brooks morphed into Lulu, a woman defying societal norms and weathering the consequent fallout. This film, a nebula of expressionist cinema, pulsated with Brooks’ performance, encapsulating its thematic core and elevating it into a masterstroke of art.

Mulholland Drive, another cinematic universe spun by Lynch, defies conventional genre laws, merging shadows of film noir, strands of romance, and echoes of horror into a genre-bending odyssey. In such a nebulous world, Brooks would have thrived, dancing on the blurred boundaries of reality and imagination.

Much like the winding paths of Mulholland Drive, Brooks’ films embark on a cosmic journey of self-discovery, prompting us to confront the nebulous fears and desires that inhabit our hearts. She acts as a celestial cartographer, guiding us through the labyrinth of the human psyche, unravelling the cosmic enigmas of our internal world.

As Louise Brooks herself once quipped: “I have a gift for enraging people, but if I ever bore you, it will be with a knife.” Her audacity and authenticity continue to mesmerize, as she cements her place in the celestial assembly of cinematic legends.

Although defining Louise Brooks as a harbinger of the surreal might seem a leap of light-years, her stellar legacy of challenging cinematic norms and ushering in experimental and avant-garde forms of storytelling is irrefutable. Her performances, often laden with psychological depth and raw emotion, emitted a light not typically seen in silent films. In this regard, she served as a stellar precursor to the cinematic explorations of the surreal and the subconscious that would later be undertaken by the likes of the French New Wave and David Lynch.

Louise Brooks, the celestial trailblazer, utilized her talent and charisma to journey into the enigmatic realms of the human experience, audaciously defying the status quo. As a beacon in the cosmos, her enduring legacy continues to inspire today’s filmmakers as they dare to stretch beyond their horizons, crafting timeless art that transports us into dimensions unknown.

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