After watching Singin’ in the Rain and seeing them act foolish during the filming of silent features it’s weird now watching a silent movie where people are really acting in it. This is about some pretty heavy stuff. A young girl is constantly abused by her father, and then there’s the male lead, a Buddhist monk living in London who has to suffer racial prejudice on a daily basis. Parts of this movie, though may seem tame by today’s standards, were very dark and controversial for its time.
It’s nice to see a woman take center stage in this. I don’t think any of the other movies I’ve seen on the list had a woman lead yet. In this movie, even though the other two main characters are men, this is definitely the girl’s story. I think that says something about cinema throughout the ages and even up to today.
This film loses points for having a white guy playing an asian guy as our main character. I suppose that couldn’t be helped at the time. You couldn’t have anyone who wasn’t a white person and you were lucky that women were allowed to act (I think they still weren’t allowed to vote at this point or it was soon after). Still, it’s really off putting to me every time I see our “Yellow Man” as the movie calls him, and it’s obviously just some white guy squinting his eyes. Did they even try to put makeup on him? Would using makeup be more racist? Less Racist? Does it matter? I don’t know, still it’s off putting and takes me out of the movie every time I see him. I feel the subject matter supersedes this though, and it’s a good film despite this fact. Wait, does saying that make me racist? Did this film just turn me racist?
The acting in this movie really surprised me. I guess it’s just my 21st century prejudice but I didn’t think there could be acting in silent films that were as good as that of today. I should know that DW Griffith is an exception to any preconceived notion I have about silent films. He invented movie making for what it is and every filmmaker has simply been emulating him.
Why it’s on the list: This is widely considered to be the first tragedy in American cinematic history. It’s also it’s also a testament to how good acting could be in a silent film.