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!