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Piccadilly  [DVD]
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Valentine Wilmot, the owner of the popular Piccadilly Club finds his lead male attraction, Victor Smiles (Cyril Ritchard) has quit and that the public has judged Victor’s partner Mabel as over the hill. Though they are lovers, Valentine must find another dancer to replace Mabel or face an uncertain future. When a customer (Charles Laughton in his first feature film) complains of a dirty dish, Valentine discovers the answer to all his problems down in the club’s scullery…
After many years of supporting roles in Hollywood, Anna May Wong left for Europe in search of better roles. And did she find one. Her electric, sexually-charged performance in Piccadilly is a revelation. Wong is mesmerizing as Shosho, the Chinese scullery maid who overnight becomes the toast of London--and the object of sexual desire of all around her. The camera adores Wong, and against Alfred Junge’s astonishing set design, her beauty glows in every frame. Piccadilly was the brilliant apex to Dupont’s trilogy of backstage life (Varieté and Moulin Rouge), showcasing the director’s signature mix of great acting, amazing imagery and astonishing camera movements.
'Piccadilly, restored to its original glory, was a genuine revelation to me. It's a bold, beautifully crafted, completely modern picture...One of the truly great films of the silent era.' --Martin Scorsese
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I found the soundtrack both intrusive and monotonous and ended up turning the sound off because it was driving me up the wall.
If the talkie version of this film still exists I would certainly buy it, at least I wouldn't have to listen to that dreadful background music.
Surely the BFI is aware of the monstrocity of this musical accident -- they should be prepared to remaster (re-record!) the music as well as they have done the film. 5 stars for the film, minus for the so-called music!
Piccadilly has its flaws as a film, but it's nevertheless a unique and enjoyable piece of work. It's difficult to take your eyes off Anna May Wong, and the other central performances, from Gilda Gray, Jameson Thomas, King Hou Chang & Cyril Ritchard are all excellent. The cinematography is exceptional, particularly for a British film of this period, the sets and settings are interesting and beautifully realised. Even the plot, which other reviewers have critiqued, is to me perfectly serviceable, with some unexpected twists at its climax. However the whole effect is ruined by a truly awful modern score by jazz pianist Neil Brand, which seems to bear no relation to the visuals whatsoever. In itself the music is a bland, unadventurous modern take on 40s-50s film noir jazz, but without a hint of the tension and excitement of even the most perfunctory noir soundtrack. Composition, performance and recording are dull as anything. Not only this though, but the dramatic power of the visuals is reduced not enhanced by the music, which meanders along in much the same vein regardless of what happens on screen. There's no eroticism and no danger, only perfunctory 'dinner jazz' which sounds as though it's being played by bored music college students. Worst of all, in the several dance scenes, which are pivotal to both the plot and the visual impact of the film, Brand can't even get his musicians to play in sync with the dancers; the effect of which is to make the performers look at best strange and at worst comical, when they should be engaging, and in Ann May Wong's case enchanting. Nothing less than dreadful, and a serious lapse of quality control on the part of the BFI to allow it be included as the only soundtrack on tis DVD.
If anyone at BFI is reading, please dig up the original score if it still exists, or otherwise commission a decent modern effort. Almost anything at all would be better than this.
If you're considering buying this, I would still recommend it, and I think it's probably the only version available, so you don't have much choice. If I were you though I'd turn the sound off, and either use your imagination or put your favourite record on instead.
p.s. By no means as crucial, but my other criticism of the DVD release is with the text colouring on the inter-titles, which doesn't seem to agree very well with the rest of the tinting (which itself is very effective). I have a hunch those aren't the original titles, in which case I wonder why the need was seen to change them. If they are original then I would at least tone down the yellow so that it sits better with its background and the rest of the photography.
And yet...a soundtrack, BFI has one option of only this modern totally inaccurate anachronistic tripe. Jazz well perhaps. Several decades out of synch with the beam of the original film though. It is blatant, muzak-kitsch. Not only is it tedious it certainly fails to evoke the correct era. Massive disappointment. Offer an option for Anything else and i add the stars again.
That said, much of this is due to a German director & the imported PRESENCE of Anna Mae Wong & Gilda Gray.
But why don't they just put the dialogue on screen as subtitles on the DVD rather than retain the clumsy device of inserted dialogue cards? It could even be expanded from the original, particularly if Arnold Bennett's screenplay is still in existence, without slowing down the action.
I was intrigued by the inclusion of the Prologue to the sound version among the extras. Does any more of this version exist?
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