Saturday, March 12, 2011

SFIAAFF 2011—Anna May Wong: In Her Own Words (2010)

In complete concurrence with my colleagues Frako Loden and Michael Hawley, the importance of Yunah Hong's documentary Anna May Wong: In Her Own Words (2010) lies in its focus on the star's personal life and career through—as the title imparts—her letters and interviews. Partnered with stunning photographs and clips, Hong's portrait is an effective and welcome addition to recent tributes. Less effective is Hong's decision to shuffle in reenactments with actress Doan Ly posing as Anna May Wong. Pose is the key word here as Ly's "performance" is nothing but. Against the real deal her competitive efforts are anemic, ill-placed and—as Frako Loden pegs it—bothersome. What was Hong thinking? If Marlene Deitrich could barely hold her own against Anna May Wong, what chance in the world did Doan Ly have? In a separate piece this idea might have worked well; but, by comparison, not at all.

Already familiar with much of Anna May Wong's life and career, I was nonetheless surprised to learn that lyricist Eric Maschwitz wrote the classic ballad "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" for Anna May, when they parted ways and he returned to England, leaving her in Hollywood. This ballad has been covered by numerous vocalists and several versions can be found on
YouTube, including Benny Goodman (with Helen Ward), Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Della Reese, and The Duprees. Likewise available are instrumental jazz versions by Chet Baker, Lester Young, Stephane Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani, Dave Brubeck, and Thelonius Monk.

YouTube clips feature contemporary covers of the tune with photomontages of Anna May Wong; Bryan Ferry (whose version was patterned after Dorothy Dickson) and Rod Stewart.

1 comment:

Michael Hawley said...

Thanks for posting this, Michael. I especially liked second tribute, with its numerous photos of Wong that weren't in the documentary.