Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Marion E Wong

Best Supporting Actress 1916

Women were an important part of silent movie history, often stepping outside of the “traditional” roles to become involved in writing, production, and even directing. Historian James Card emphasized the depth of female characters on the screen as well – he often found that the women in this period are more interesting than the men. Not only as stars, but also as supporting character, female parts often gave their actors a chance to stretch and grow as artists.

This year, the women in supporting roles varied from heroines to mothers to villains, and even villainous mothers. Lidiia Koroneva’s role as a mother in “A Life for a Life” is non-traditional, in that she is a successful businesswoman whose decisions regarding inheritance and favoritism inform the rest of the plot. In “Return of Draw Egan,” Louise Glaum brings vivaciousness and brazenness to her role as a femme fatale. Constance Talmadge has a more positive approach, but no less energy, in her part as “The Mountain Girl” in D.W. Griffith’s spectacle “Intolerance.” Appearing in her own movie, “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” director Marion E. Wong also makes a complex villain as the traditional mother-in-law of an immigrant girl torn between past and present. And Musidora was the iconic Irma Vep in “Les Vampires,”  going through multiple costume changes and misadventures during the course of “The Lord of Thunder.”

The Nominees for Best Supporting Actress of 1916 are:

  1. Lidiia Koroneva, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Louise Glaum, in “Return of Draw Egan”
  3. Constance Talmadge, in “Intolerance”
  4. Marion E. Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  5. Musidora, in “The Lord of Thunder”

And the winner is…Marion E. Wong for “The Curse of Quon Gwon!”

What's that on your shoulder, son?

All of the nominees were good this year, but I felt that first time actor-director Wong deserved recognition for the subtlety and strength of her performance. Because the movie was never released, she never became the star she could have been, but a century later she can still be celebrated as one of the best actresses of her era.

Best Screenplay 1916

Movies begin with a story of some kind. Although the silent cinema as an art form transcends the written word to include visual artistry, acting and pantomime, editing and forms of structure that no static medium can reproduce, it begins with an idea, and that idea is most often and most effectively a written script. Although films were often improvised in the earliest days, and still sometimes at studios like the “fun factory” of Keystone, by 1916 most critically and commercially successful films (especially features) had detailed scripts written in advance. This category recognizes the importance of that writing as a source of great filmmaking.

This year, the screenplays up for consideration range include many original screenplays, only a few with adaptations from other sources. The original story for “East Is East” was highly influential on later British movie plots, setting up a young orphan who suddenly inherits a fortune who has to discover her true class loyalties. Another original story, “Hell’s Hinges” pushes the limits of the traditional Western to a new extreme of darkness and apocalypticism. “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” another original story, gives a truly unique view of Asian-American life that unfortunately would not become influential on American cinema, in part because it failed to achieve distribution during the lifetime of its creator, Marian E. Wong. The Russian movie “A Life for a Life” is based on a French novel and shows the ongoing fascination of the movie-going classes of that time with romance and tragedy. Finally, the screenplay for Cecil B. DeMille’s historical epic, “Joan the Woman” takes liberties with the biography of Joan of Arc to create a highly entertaining version of that tale.

The nominees for best screenplay of 1916 are:

  1. East Is East
  2. Hell’s Hinges
  3. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  4. A Life for A Life
  5. Joan the Woman

And the winner is…“The Curse of Quon Gwon!”

Curse of Quon Gwon3

This sensitive and moving story never got the chance for recognition during its own time, but a hundred years later we can see it as a truly unique example of independent filmmaking. Although it has its heroes and villains, the screenplay avoids caricaturing its characters and gives each a clear, believable motivation. It fits to some degree into the “lost girl” narratives that were common at the time, but takes the situation in a new direction by bringing in the clash between traditional values and modernity in the context of the immigrant experience. Truly an excellent screenplay, carried out well by its freshman director.

1916 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medSo, once again the Academy Award nominations have been announced, so once again I announce the nominees for the Century Awards. This year, incidentally, I saw several Oscar nominees – all in categories like “production design” and “visual effects” and “makeup and hairstyling.” So yeah, whatever.

Some basic ground rules, once again: I do not have categories for animation or shorts. Those movies are treated like everything else, since they were on a more even playing field at the time. I didn’t actually watch any animation for 1916, so that’s moot anyway, but lots of shorts (mostly comedy) have been nominated in various categories. I only watched one documentary this year, so that category’s a gimme, but I have included it as a nominee in a number of other areas, including Best Picture (because it really is good enough to be considered for it). Oh, and I make no distinction between English and “foreign language” films, since with Intertitles it makes minimal difference.

I do reserve the right to make changes in the final weeks as there are still a few more 1916 films I hope to get around to watching. If you have any opinions on these nominations, or suggestions for things I should watch (especially if they can be seen for free on the Internet), please do write a comment.

Battle of the Somme-film

Best Documentary

  1. Battle of the Somme

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. Intolerance
  2. Queen of Spades
  3. Waiters Ball
  4. The Danger Girl
  5. Snow White

Best Costume Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  3. Queen of Spades
  4. Snow White
  5. Joan the Woman

Intolerance BabylonBest Production Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
  3. One A.M.
  4. Joan the Woman
  5. The Captive God

Best Stunts

  1. The Matrimaniac
  2. Flirting with Fate
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. Reggie Mixes In
  5. The Poison Man (Les Vampires)
  6. The Rink

Best Film Editing

  1. Intolerance
  2. East Is East
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. The Battle of the Somme
  5. The Bloody Wedding (Les Vampires)

Hells Hinges3Best Cinematography

  1. Eugene Gaudio, for “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
  2. Elgin Lessley, for “He Did and He Didn’t”
  3. Billy Bitzer, for “Intolerance”
  4. Joseph H. August, for “Hell’s Hinges”
  5. Carl Hoffmann, for “Homunculus

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  2. The Spectre (Les Vampires)
  3. The Devil’s Needle
  4. Homunculus
  5. The Mysterious Shadow (Judex)

Best Screenplay

  1. East Is East
  2. Hell’s Hinges
  3. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  4. A Life for A Life
  5. Joan the Woman

lord-of-thunderBest Supporting Actress

  1. Lidiia Koroneva, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Louise Glaum, in “Return of Draw Egan
  3. Constance Talmadge, in “Intolerance”
  4. Marion E. Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  5. Musidora, in “The Lord of Thunder” (Les Vampires)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Al St. John, in “Fatty and Mabel Adrift
  2. Robert McKim, in “The Return of Draw Egan”
  3. Eric Campbell, in “The Count
  4. Marcel Levésque, in “The Bloody Wedding”
  5. Ernest Maupain, in “Sherlock Holmes”

Best Leading Actor

  1. William Gillette, in “Sherlock Holmes”
  2. Charlie Chaplin, in “The Vagabond
  3. Olaf Fønss, in “Homonculus”
  4. Henry Edwards, in “East Is East”
  5. William S. Hart, in “Hell’s Hinges”

joan-the-woman1Best Leading Actress

  1. Vera Kholodnaia, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Florence Turner, in “East Is East”
  3. Geraldine Farrar, in “Joan the Woman”
  4. Marguerite Clark, in “Snow White”
  5. Violet Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”

Best Director

  1. Evgeni Bauer, for “A Life for a Life”
  2. Yakov Protazonov, for “Queen of Spades”
  3. Marion E. Wong, for “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. Cecil B. DeMille, for “Joan the Woman”
  5. Charles Swickard and William S. Hart, for “Hell’s Hinges”

Best Picture

  1. “Intolerance”
  2. “Hell’s Hinges”
  3. “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. “East Is East”
  5. “A Life for a Life”
  6. “Joan the Woman”
  7. “Homunculus”
  8. “Sherlock Holmes”
  9. “The Battle of the Somme”
  10. “The Return of Draw Egan”

The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916)

Once upon a time, an enterprising Chinese-American businesswoman named Marion E. Wong set out to make a feature film, using friends and family members for her cast. After two advance screenings, the movie languished in her basement for fifty years before she gave it to a relative, and then it was another 39 years before it was restored and digitized in 2007. Now it is available, and serves as a document of a culture that was rarely captured on film at the time and even more rarely in charge of its own narrative when it was.

Curse of Quon Gwon3I cannot give a detailed summary of the movie, because some of it is lost, importantly including the Intertitles that would explain much of the relationships and action on the screen. The basic story is timeless enough, however, that we can follow it in broad outline: a young Chinese American girl (Violet Wong, real-life sister-in-law of the director) with Western ideas marries into a very traditional family and is driven out by her scornful in-laws. The movie opens as the groom gives a statue of a household god to his mother, who seems to lecture him about the old ways. We see a good deal of the build-up to the marriage, in which the girl and her betrothed have tea together in what will be her bedroom, and she pokes good-natured fun at some of the traditional accoutrements of the ceremony, including a pair of oddly-balanced slippers for the bride, and a dangly headpiece for the groom. We also see her efforts to get along with her future mother-in-law, who seems quite formal, but not unfriendly at this stage. There is a scene I couldn’t follow in which she speaks to her husband in an outdoor setting, and suddenly breaks down crying (I’m guessing that he’s telling her he must go away for a while, based on what happens next). Then we see what seems to be the tail end of the wedding ceremony, demonstrating that she has learned to walk in the awkward slippers.

Curse of Quon Gwon2In the next sequence, the husband is missing, but there is a new element: Now Marion Wong appears as the “villain,” evidently a sister-in-law or other relative living in the same house. She takes Violet’s baby away and the mother-in-;aw gestures for her to leave after a confrontation, offering her a knife to commit suicide. I think Violet is being accused of neglecting her baby, since what seems to be a doctor comes to look at the child in a later scene. Violet goes out into the rain and seems to be ready to slash her wrists, but suddenly throws down the knife and wanders out into the wilderness. There is an odd scene in which she cuddles a lamb, appearing no worse for the wear after sleeping outside in the rain. Then we return to the house, where the husband returns and learns what has happened. He cries for his loss and confronts Marion with her cruelty. Then Violet turns up at the door again, and her takes her in and comforts her. Marion, realizing that her plot has failed, plunges the dagger into her own heart. At the end, Violet produces the household god and pays homage to it, suggesting that all the turmoil was due to her disrespect at the beginning, and that the tragic events since then have helped her to accept traditional ways.

What's that on your shoulder, son?

What’s that on your shoulder, son?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from an non-studio film from this period but I was pretty impressed, especially by the filming and editing techniques. Most beginning filmmakers, especially at this early time, don’t give themselves enough “coverage” to show a scene from multiple angles, get close-ups and establishing shots, etc., but Marion and her crew did quite well. It was, in fact, less “stagey” and static than a lot of professionally-made films at the time, and demonstrates a good grasp of so-called “film grammar” with a liberal amount of different angles and shots. Scenes sometimes end with an iris-in, especially for strong emotional moments. One particularly good shot shows Violet at her mirror, with her face perfectly framed by the mirror as she works on her complicated braids. That’s not to say there are no mistakes – one scene had a distracting reflection that kept hitting the leading man’s shoulder, and a couple of edits have a sort of “hiccup” effect where we see the last few frames before the cut were repeated. And, of course, some of the footage is less than perfectly intact, so it’s hard to know how good it was meant to be.

Curse of Quon Gwon1It’s a pity that audiences of 1916 missed out on this movie. I suspect that Ms. Wong discovered that distribution was more difficult and expensive an investment than she’d anticipated, and gave up when she realized she probably wouldn’t make her money back trying to do it independently. It remains however as a document of a truly under-represented segment of American culture from a time period that tends to look disturbingly white when only the most popular images are seen.

Alternate Title: The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West

Director: Marion E. Wong

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Marion E. Wong, Violet Wong, Harvey Soohoo.

Run Time: 35 Min (surviving print)

You can watch it for free: here (no music).