Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anna May Wong Evening @ The Cinema Museum

Just before I left for China I attended the Anna May Wong evening at The Cinema Museum in Kennington. Tucked a way in South London back street (aren't all the best thing?s!) I was bowled over by The Cinema Museum - old posters and lobby cards, ushers in stylish vintage get up, old projectors and even cinema carpet samples.

There was a nice little display of Anna May Wong stills and lobby cards and a cute little china figurine doll:

The evening began with a screening of Elaine Mae Woo's documentary film on Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows. I had heard that the film focused mainly on Anna May's professional life and was a little idealistic. I found this to be the case and was perplexed as to why Elaine had chosen to present such a formal account of AMW's life. After the film Elaine did a Q&A and explained that she is working on a part 2 which will cover the more personal aspects of AMW's life. I am not sure why she didn't do one comprehensive documentary instead. I know there is a lot of material but I think it would have been more balanced and well rounded. Elaine was a little vague in her answers during the Q&A and quite often went 'off piste', totally ignoring one gentleman's question about including an account of the song These Foolish Things (which was written for Anna May by writer and broadcasting executive Eric Maschwitz as an evocation of his longing for her after they parted) in the next film. To have a song written for you (and a good song at that) is pretty amazing - surely worth a play/mention in a documentary!

I did learn some new facts from the film and it was wonderful to see all the old footage, it is clear that Elaine Mae Woo is passionate about her subject and wants people to remember AMW as the great star she was. She was also a person, and people have flaws, it doesn't mean they are bad or they aren't worthy of being remembered or that they are not role models for a race (quite a burden anyway, I guess even more so in AMW's case as there just was not anyone else representing Chinese women on screen at that time).

After the Q&A it was time for a rare screening of the Anna May film Song - with live piano accompaniment - what a treat!
My favourite test excerpt from the silent film was when the character Carlotto was introduced and he was described as being "full of garlic and gaiety". What a wonderful description.
I really enjoyed the film - AMW shows her comedic potential in some silly skits and really steals the show. The knife throwing scenes are pretty hair raising - especially when the thrower is blind!
For a film of 1927 the special effects used were pretty good; an underwater sea fight, a flash back positioned on screen in a table and a scene shot underneath a steam train!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! The museum looks great. I hope I get the chance to visit it someday.

Song sounds fabulous. I really want to see it. I'm hoping it will get released on DVD like Picadilly.

BTW, I actually woke up early today and am very happy to be listening to your show live right now. :)

Elaine Mae Woo said...

What many people don't seem to know or remember, is that this was my FIRST documentary film that took over 10 years to make. It is not only the "first" documentary film on Anna May Wong but the first bio doc on an Asian woman's contribution to early American cinema.
With a personal collection of
over 1,500+ photographs; 450+ magazines; news-clippings from all over the world during the time while Anna May Wong (1905-1961) was alive and the one-on-one interviews with family members, friends, co-workers, studio executives, film-historians and the research still
"Anna May Wong ~ Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend" (2007) was meant to be an academic/archival documentary not an entertaining one. (sort of Anna May Wong 101).
Not everyone in the world knows
about the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), Miscegenation Laws, and what women-of-color had to go thru during Anna's generation.
Yes, Anna's personal life is important to know but to just to throw out a couple of rumored names and not to go into "details" of the romances of her life; the discrimination she faced in not being able to buy a house during the early 1930's; only being able to travel second-class on ships because only "white" customers didn't want to mix with "other-kinds" etc.--
Yes, there are still so many unanswered questions to Anna May Wong's story but I believe myself to be a true documentarian not just a documentary film person.
"Frosted Yellow Willows" may not have been every thing that you had hoped or wanted it to be but not too many people would of...stop working a paying job to research, travel, locate rare materials for 10 years to document an important pioneering woman's contribution to history. If so, why didn't a real documentary filmmaker make a film on Anna May Wong (1905-1961) before 2007??
Public television usually only accept half-hour or one-hour programs (with breaks for commercials).

I hope that you and others realize that people like myself don't do
these type of projects for money or fame. We do it because we believe and are passionate in what we are devoting our time and energy towards.
I am sorry if you felt disappointed in the documentary film and in meeting me but I don't feel that way about you. You embrace Anna and that to me is the important thing
--BTW, I had pneumonia the week I was in London but I did't cancel out.

Lucky Cat said...

Thank you for your comments Elaine. I hadn't realised you were ill with pneumonia when we met, I am sorry to hear that and I hope you are feeling better.