On film: '20s actress and '80s critic; Brooks recalls career; Lulu in Hollywood, by Louise Brooks. Introduction by William Shawn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 109 pp. $15.
Why have reviewers been paying such serious attention to the written word of a movie star half a century after her cinematic peak?
Partly no doubt because they were alerted a few years ago by critic Kenneth Tynan's discovery of the septuagenarian Louise Brooks tucked away in Rochester, N.Y. But now they could see how trenchantly Miss Brooks would speak for herself - if not in the voice with its ''range of a dozen birdcalls,'' as heard by Mr. Tynan, at least in the prose he drew upon from her autobiographical essays in specialized film journals. She had been writing these over a couple of decades from research at Rochester's Eastman House photographic archives.
Little Kansas girls who become glamour symbols are not necessarily expected to be literary stylists, too. That is the piquant news of Miss Brooks. She went through the Hollywood artifice mill, saw its tinseled tragedies, lived its broken life, gained a niche in film history for an artistically ambitious role or two amid the assembly-line product. She looks back at the perverse and tawdry scenes, less censorious of some things than she ought to be, but determined to set certain records straight.
A central theme is how Hollywood dominates its talent - even a Garbo, Gish, or Bogart - both on and off the screen. Among Miss Brooks's key images is one of W.C. Fields, the dedicated professional behind the manufactured mask, performing every comedy scene with his whole being, as if on stage with the audience able to appreciate the complete routine, including ''the dainty disposition of his hands and feet.'' Then, like Hollywood itself, ''every time the camera drew closer, it cut off another piece of him and deprived him of some comic effect.''