Monday, December 30, 2013

Picadilly (Anna Mae Wong)

You know how sometimes you are looking something up for a good reason, and then you are dragged down the copious bunny trails of wikipedia and end up somewhere completely different and unexpected, and you write poetry about it?  Okay, maybe you don't write poetry, but maybe you've gotten dragged down the link black hole.  That's how I got to this movie.  Rudolf Valentino -> Sessue Hayakawa -> Anna Mae Wong.  (Surviving decent films that Netflix had.)

One thing that drives me nuts about silent films is that they don't have cards for all the dialogue.  The characters on the screen have a long, intense, obviously important exchange, and they they post, like two lines of dialogue, and you just want to rage because you want to know what they said, and there's no way to find out.  The music also tends to drive me bonkers because it's usually cheap, synthesizer-created music, and I remember when I was working at a bookstore when a lonely, old customer kept me on the phone for over an hour talking about his glory days playing the organ is silent movie theaters, when that's how they provided the music.

Picadilly is long, a bit scattered, and incredibly soapy, but Anna Mae Wong's power as an actress is very much on display.  I find myself really wishing she could have been allowed to act in The Good Earth, not because I feel that her heritage would necessarily have allowed her to show a more accurate portrayal but because I think she should have for once gotten some reward from Hollywood out of her ethnic heritage (and her guts, dedication, and hard work).  I've no doubt her performance would have been just as Oscar-worthy as the Caucasian woman who was given the role because the male lead was white, so he couldn't kiss a woman of Chinese descent.  Not that I'm bitter.  Not nearly as bitter as those "ethnic" actors and actresses during the bad old days of anti-miscegenation laws . . .

I am also puzzled by the naked breasts on the movie cover because the version I saw did not involve any such image (thankfully).  I guess even in the 20s, it was a sad truth universally acknowledged that nudity sells.

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