Tag Archives: Anna May Wong

The Thief of Bagdad (1924): DVD/Blu-ray review

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Just in time for Christmas, Masters of Cinema is rereleasing some more of its silent back catalogue, in gorgeous new dual-format DVD/Blu-ray editions. This is a Good Thing no doubt, and if there is one title especially suited for the pantomime season it’s The Thief of Bagdad (1924) – a middle eastern romp starring Douglas Fairbanks as Ahmed, a light-fingered adventurer, beautifully photographed and bulging with the last word in 1920s special effects.

Forget the effects for a minute though, forget Raoul Walsh behind the camera, Anna May Wong slinking around the corners, and William Cameron Menzies’s towering sets, and settle in for the Douglas Fairbanks show. This is Fairbanks at his very best: fortysomething, athletic, beaming, stripped to the waist and bouncing in and out of giant pots, swashbuckling and soaring through the air and under the sea. If you want to understand why Fairbanks was the King of Hollywood, this is a key text. He burns up the screen here, forcing you to smile, to chuckle, to gasp in awe at his latest trickery or feat of physical prowess, daring you to remain unmoved. It would take a heart of stone not to relent – it’s his ambition as producer that lends this film its grand scale, and his radiant personality that wins the audience’s affection as well as its awe.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

But you will have to possess a mind as gymnastic as Fairbanks’ buff body not to be troubled by the fact that this movie is pure orientalist claptrap. It can be done – Fairbanks on a magic carpet with his princess Julanne Johnston by his side is a sight beauteous enough to tempt you into a little light doublethinking duty. Just like Ahmed, you’ll have to earn your happiness here. It’s not a nasty film, but it is an ignorant one. If it weren’t for the gloss of that stunning production design and the stardust sprinkled by its leading man, that would be all we had to write about. As it is, we can take heart from the fact that the guff that underpins this movie is mostly well-intentioned but misguided romanticism. Rather this, you could argue, than yet another flick where the only middle eastern characters are bloodthirsty terrorists.

Continue reading The Thief of Bagdad (1924): DVD/Blu-ray review

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014: Pordenone post No 6

Bailey's Royal Punch & Judy show in Halifax (1901)
Bailey’s Royal Punch & Judy show in Halifax (1901)

Two Barrymores today, two appearances from Little Tich and too much, as usual, to recount here. But like the hard-working Cupid in La Rose Bleue (Léonce Perret, 1911), I’m going to give it my best shot. So if you’re sitting comfortably …

In a move designed to cure, or provoke, homesickness in weary British bloggers, this morning we were treated to 90 minutes of Edwardian Entertainment courtesy of Bryony Dixon and Vanessa Toulmin. Accompanying the 40-odd shorts and fragments on piano, percussion voice and everything in between were Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius on stellar form (Horne’s witty use of a kazoo, yes kazoo, in a telephone sketch was priceless). This was a peek at England in its Sunday best and some more outlandish costumes. It was all fun, fun, fun with trips to the seaside, the Punch and Judy show, fireworks, the cinematograph, barrel jumping, the fun fair, the panto and many wonderful processions showcasing our forefathers and mothers’ considerable talent in the fields of costume design and formation dancing – and not just Morris troupes and maypoles. It’s enough to make one crave a stick of rock and a trip to the illuminations. Certainly my northwestern heart leapt at a panorama of Blackpool. And who could resist the sight of a row of Mutoscopes on Morecambe beach with the sign “Look at this and get a laugh”. The perfect solution for those of us who want to watch the flicks all day without depriving ourselves of vitamin D.

If you really want sunshine at this time of year, a trip to Greece is in order, and Oi Peripeteiai Tou Villar (The Adventures of Villar, 1924), the oldest film ever restored by the Greek Film Archive, was a sketchy comic caper, doubling as a sun-dappled tour of Athens. Larky nonsense, but great shots of the Acropolis etc. And now I can say I have seen a Greek silent movie, which is sure to wow the folks down at the Rose and Crown on my return.

The Toll of the Sea (1922)
The Toll of the Sea (1922)

But if you want something really gorgeous … the second Dawn of Technicolor compilation had many diverting treats inside, culminating in The Toll of the Sea (1922). This was an exceedingly picturesque melodrama, a reboot of Madame Butterfly in which Anna May Wong plays a young Chinese woman in love with an American. But the bond of love and “marriage” is held more sacred by her than him … Oh and it all ends in sadness and sacrifice and another word beginning with S. Not before Wong’s sumptuous wardrobe and elegant garden (complete with peacock!) have been given the full Technicolor treatment, though. The sweetest of sorrow and the sugariest of eye candy.

Continue reading Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014: Pordenone post No 6

Piccadilly at the Prince Charles Cinema, 13 April 2011

Piccadilly (1929)
Piccadilly (1929)

Anna May Wong fans rejoice. After a whole evening devoted to the actress at the Cinema Museum, including a screening of Song (1928), and the chance to see Pavement Butterfly (Grossstadtschmetterling, 1929) at the British Silent Film Festival, comes an outing for one of her most famous films – and one of the best London-set silents.

Piccadilly (1929) is a fantastic film, directed by German director E A Dupont and set in a glamorous, jazzy West End nightclub. Anna May Wong plays Shosho, a dishwasher who is “discovered” while dancing on the kitchen sink, and whose sensual routines propel her to fame as the club’s lead dancer. She wins the heart of the nightclub’s owner too, which provokes his ex (Gilda Gray) to become dangerously jealous. Anna May Wong is absolutely stunning in the film, which has been recently restored by the BFI, preserving the original’s striking blue and amber tinting and making the most of its proto-noir photography. This is a film you’ll really love, I’m sure. You can get a taste for it in this extract:

Piccadilly screens at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s glittering West End on 13 April 2011 at 8.45pm. Tickets are £10 or £6 for members – and they’re available here. Piano accompaniment will be provided by Costas Fotopoulos.

Anna May Wong: Song and Frosted Yellow Willows at the Cinema Museum, 26 March 2011

Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong

You want glamour? We got it. on 26 March, the Cinema Museum will host an evening to celebrate the life and work of the beautiful actress Anna May Wong, star of Piccadilly and Shanghai Express.

The night begins with a screening of the biographical documentary Anna May Wong – Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend, and a Q&A session with the film’s director Elaine Mae Woo. Frosted Yellow Willows is the literal translation of Wong’s real name: Wong Liu Tsong. The documentary incorporates interviews with those who knew Wong, and was made with the support of such luminaries as Kevin Brownlow and Leonard Maltin.

From humble beginnings in a Chinese laundry, she went on to star in pictures such as Technicolor’s Toll of the Sea (1922), E.A. Dupont’s Piccadilly (1929) and Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Never one to rest on her laurels, Anna would utilize her fame to aid her country and the country of her ancestors during times of war. Her body of work establishes her as a true pioneer of early cinema.

For more information about the documentary, visit the official website here. The Q&A will be followed by a screening of the melodrama Song (1928):

After the interval we will be screening a BFI archival 35mm print of the rarely-seen 1928 film Song (Richard Eichberg), an Anglo-German production in which Anna May Wong received top billing. In this her first European film, Anna plays a dancer drawn into a tragic romantic triangle when she meets a cabaret knife thrower (Heinrich George) and his capricious sweetheart. Song is notable both for Anna’s dancing and for the dramatic power of her performance. There will be a live piano accompaniment.

Most British silent film fans will know Wong primarily for her role in Piccadilly, but this will be a welcome chance to see one of her lesser known films, and the whole evening will be an opportunity to learn more about Hollywood’s first Chinese American leading lady.

Tickets in advance are £6.50 available from www.wegottickets.com or 0207 840 2200, and they will also be for sale on the door at £8. Doors will open at 6.30pm and refreshments will be available. The event is due to start at 7.30pm and finish at 10.30. For more information, visit the Cinema Museum website or the event’s Facebook page.

• UPDATE: This event will also be held at Liverpool John Moores University on 22 March 2011. More details here.