Thursday, August 23, 2007

SILENT CINEMA—The Films of Sessue Hayakawa

Daisuke Miyao in his fascinating account Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom (London, Duke University Press, 2007:5) claims that Hayakawa's acting style so inspired French intellectuals that they developed the concept of photogenie, "the unique aesthetic qualities that motion picture photography brings to the subject it films."

"The photogenie later became a significant theoretical basis of the French impressionist movement, filmmaking that [quoting Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's Film History: An Introduction (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1994:89)] 'displayed a fascination with pictorial beauty and an interest in intense psychological exploration.' " (2007:5)

New York fans of silent film will have the opportunity to assess for themselves just how photogenic Sessue Hayakawa is when the series "Sessue Hayakawa: East and West, When the Twain Met," opens at the Museum of Modern Art September 5–16. I mention it in passing here because, according to my friend Frako Loden, discussions are already underway to bring the program to the Pacific Film Archives.

Miyao writes at the KineJapan mailing list: "This is the first extensive retrospective of Sessue Hayakawa (1886-1973), Japanese actor and very popular movie star in the period of silent cinema. Most of the surviving prints of his silent films in the American film archives, including Hayakawa's debut film O Mimi San (1914), Thomas H. Ince's The Wrath of the Gods (1914)—a spectacular film with scenes of a volcano eruption—and Cecil B. DeMille's controversial race melodrama The Cheat (1915), will be screened in the series. This is a rare opportunity to witness Hayakawa's acting with "great intelligence and subtlety." The Devils' Claim (1920)—the film produced at Hayakawa's own production company, which has recently become available and has not been seen even by Hayakawa specialists—is also included in the series."

Donald Richie reviews Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom for The Japan Times, as does David Cozy for Google Groups, and Film Stew.


Brian Darr said...

Oh, that looks like a great series! I've seen very few of these films: only the Cheat, the Tong Man, an Arabian Knight, the short Banzai, and of course Bridge on the River Kwai.

After my experience researching him earlier this year, I especially hope the PFA brings the two William de Mille films the Secret Game and the Victoria Cross. The Secret Game is supposedly one of his two films available on DVD, but I couldn't find anyone in town who rents it.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Brian. You're way ahead of me. I've not seen anything other than excerpts in The Slanted Screen. I'm drooling at the bit to see these. If I weren't going to TIFF, I probably would have flown to Manhattan just for this series.

I'm interviewing Miyao on Monday afternoon and am, therefore, spending most of the weekend reading his intensely fascinating study. It's not really a biography. Much much more.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could see those films. When I was researching Hell to Eternity, which features Hayakawa, I found out that the woman who plays Jeffrey Hunter's "mama-san" was Tsuru Aoki, the wife of Hayakawa. Tsuru was a prominent silent star as well, up through 1924. Hell to Eternity was her first film in thirty-six years.

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Peter. Yes, it's odd how I'm familiar with Hayakawa in his later roles--Bridge on the River Kwai, Hell to Eternity, Swiss Family Robinson, even The Geisha Boy. I've seen clips of The Cheat in both The Love Goddesses and The Slanted Screen; but, that's about it for his early silent work, which I'm hungry to see.