ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) just ran a retrospective on silent movie star Anna May Wong and I caught the last show, Piccadilly, which had live accompaniment. I found her completely captivating and wish I hadn't missed the rest of the retrospective.
Watching Piccadilly with live accompaniment was inspiring for several reasons.
Firstly it allowed me to reflect on musical tone and mood shifts, and it made me, as an audience member, more conscious of the relationship between music and image. There were many moments of musicality both accidental and deliberate. The exaggerated gestures and facial expressions of silent movies translate amusingly to a modern audience, but the musical texture actually seemed to tone them back if anything, in my eyes at least, since the emphasis on the emotional narrative was carried by the music.
Secondly, omg, Anna May is MESMERISING! Obviously the institutionalised racism of the 1920s and 30s limited her screen performance (her character dies and allegedly a screen kiss planned between her and the Caucasian male lead was cut). However, she totally steals the show with her performance. I wondered what difference the period made, but apparently there was press at the time along the same lines.
The first glimpse of her is in the scullery (thanks to a heavy handed plot about a dirty plate), where she is dancing on the tables for the entertainment of the distracted and smitten scullery maids. Let the following video load to 5.08 and you can catch it. Fab scene!
She wears some absolutely delicious costumes, including the coat in this sequence:
(Entire movie available in sections here.)
A controversial figure both in Hollywood and China, Anna May seems like a fascinating character. This doco gives a bit of background on her if you're curious:
If you can deal with the Rod Stewart (singing a song written for Anna May) this film has some delicious photos of her:
I'm going to look out a biography of her, I think.
In other news, my Vividcon DVDs just arrived! \o/ Excuse me while I hunker down for some serious vid-viewing...