“There is no Garbo. There is no Dietrich. There is only Louise Brooks!”
So declared the pioneering French film archivist Henri Langlois in 1955, when his decision to place a large period poster of the then-forgotten actress at the entrance to a Paris exhibition celebrating sixty years of cinema was criticised by a journalist, who wondered why he hadn’t chosen Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich instead.
It’s unlikely that such a decision would be questioned today. Brooks’ face, with its limpid eyes framed by her trademark shiny black bob, has become one of film history’s most iconic images – endlessly recycled and referenced on posters, in books and films. Yet if the face is now familiar, relatively few people have actually seen it in its natural habitat – on screen.