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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2013
the film itself is excellent. However, I've never heard a less appropriate musical accompaniment to a silent film. It was so bad that I resorted to, you've guessed it, silence. It is decidedly MOR, extremely light-weight pseudo jazz like it came from a b-movie 1960's film -- or maybe even elevator music, it was so bland. At many points it doesn't even attempt to be part of the same film -- truly awful, and that, unfortunately, detracted from the enjoyment of the film.
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!
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on 1 September 2011
A wonderful restoration by bfi of a 1929 film, but it's been ruined by adding a modern sound score. The new soundtrack bears no relation at all to 1920's jazz or dance music, and even worse, continues along with very little regard to the intricacies of the plot.

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.
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on 2 April 2013
I can only echo what has been said by previous reviewers, in the hope that the weight of opinion will get through to someone at BFI...

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.
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Filmed at the very start of the talkie era Piccadilly was released in both silent and talkie version this is the silent version.

Anna May Wong dominates the film as Sho Sho a Chinese dancer but there are other fine performances from Jameson Thomas as "Valentine Wimot" the owner of the Piccadilly night club. The excellent scenes in the Piccadilly take us back to the exuberance of the flapper era, although the famed exotic dancing of Wong falls a little short of modern concepts.

For a silent film "Piccadilly" has complex relationships, especially between Sho Sho and Jim (King Hou Chang) who seems to live with her and could be either her lover or her brother.

We are fortunate that the fine production, acting and sets are presented in a near perfect tinted transfer.
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There are three reasons to watch Piccadilly, a 1929 British silent backstage melodrama. The performance of Anna May Wong is primary. She's a knockout as Shosho, a Chinese dishwasher in a posh London nightclub who gets a chance to show how she can dance, and then becomes a star. Wong is so charismatic, so fine a performer and so confident an actress, that you might wonder whatever happened to her. But there's more to Piccadilly than Wong. Perhaps not too much, but enough to enjoy the passing parade of dated movie choreography and the moody atmosphere of transplanted German expressionism. The downside is the story...one of those behind-the-scenes melodramas of entertainers and impresarios, stilted and dated, filled with tremulous glances, suspicious glares, clutched hankies and faces turned away.

Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) owns the Piccadilly Club, the poshest of the posh, where the sophisticates of London crème de la crème, dressed to the nines, come to dance and dine, and to watch Mabel & Vic, "London's Greatest Dance Attraction." Wilmot is a tough, smooth, perfectionist. He made the Piccadilly what it is. He discovered Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray) and made stars out of her and her dance partner, Vic Smiles (Cyril Ritchard). While he appreciates Mabel's talents, his nightclub comes first. Mabel really loves the guy and Vic really loves Mabel. ("My dear, I'm simply mad about you!") One night a diner is given a dirty plate. He makes a scene; Wilmot is furious and storms into the kitchen and scullery. There he sees Shosho, dancing on a table for the other workers when she should have been washing dishes. He fires her. Then he has second thoughts. Shosho has something that the impresario in Wilmot tells him might make a star attraction...exotic, sensuous, unusual. It's not long before Shosho is a smash. By this time Vic has left, Shosho finds it no trouble at all to delightfully snare Wilmot (in probably the best scene in the movie) and Mabel is jealous. Into this hot stew of fervid emotions, a shot rings out, scandal ensues, a trial is held...justice, both criminal and moral, is served up. And in that great tradition of melodramatic showbiz...life goes on with a million more stories undoubtedly waiting to be told. The storyline is a slog.

Still, the big dance number with Mabel & Vic at the start of the movie is a delight of dated style. Mabel and Vic each come prancing down the two grand staircases that bracket the Piccadilly's elegant dance floor, he in tails, she in a swirling gown, and off they go. It's one of those tricky, ricky-ticky fast numbers where elbows and feet fly about, complete with winking glances of mischievous fun. It goes on and on, with Vic and Mabel each having a chance to shine. Mabel flirts and shows her legs. Vic with slicked back hair seductively grins with the silent nasal charm of Jack Buchanan or Noël Coward. It's the kind of well-meaning, "classy" dance that Fred Astaire drove a stake through four years later in Flying Down to Rio. However, watch this number with affection. It does no harm and at one time held the paying movie customers in thrall.

The look of the film is all moody atmosphere. This isn't enough to salvage the movie by itself, but it gives Piccadilly a lot of visual class.

And then there's Anna May Wong, an actress of talent, style and screen presence. She's featured in the billing but she dominates the movie. She comes straight through the camera to us, sexy and innocent, calculating and surprised, whose dancing captures us and whose acting tells us here is a woman to pay attention to. As an actress of Chinese descent, she hadn't a chance in Hollywood except as a stereotype. In the Twenties she finally left for Europe and had a few star roles in Germany and England, but then returned to Hollywood with a contract that seemed to assure her of star Hollywood roles. The contract didn't say major star roles with star male leads. She lost the leads in The Good Earth and Dragon Seed because producers said she looked too Chinese. She had to watch as Luise Rainer and Katherine Hepburn starred, both gussied up in some of the oddest "Chinese" eyelids and makeup Hollywood ever devised. Anna May Wong wound up playing characters with names like Su Lin, Lin Ying, Lan Ying and, in an explosion of Hollywood creativity, Lan Ying Lin. (I'm not kidding: Impact, Bombs Over Burma, Dangerous to Know and Daughter of Shanghai.) Then there was Ling Moy, Kim Ling, A-hsing, Lois Ling and, of course, Chinese Woman. (Daughter of the Dragon, Island of Lost Men, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery and Producers' Showcase)

So put Piccadilly in the DVD player, probably with your finger on the fast-forward button, to watch Mabel & Vic in their big number and, most of all, to watch a woman who could have been a great star if it hadn't been for Hollywood.

The DVD restoration looks much better than one might expect. However, you'll probably best enjoy the screen music, written for the restoration, if you also enjoy the incessant chatter of those golf announcers who can't keep their mouths shut. The music never stops. This is one DVD where it pays to watch the extras before you watch the movie. The audio is not good on "Dangerous to Know: The Life and Legacy of Anna May Wong," but the feature is informative.
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on 16 January 2014
I enjoyed this film because If you lip read it becomes obvious that the dialogue being spoken is a lot more interesting and delivered in a naturalistic style that's way ahead of it's time, more interesting than than the lumpy, inserted dialogue cards. I will be researching to find out if there is a spoken word/sound version. Also the the music is diabolical. Distracting and narratively random.

I don't think BFI got it right this time.
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on 19 December 2010
From the opening credits you get to see how far ahead of its time this film was. The use of buses for stating the personnel involved in the film, was a stroke of genius. The restoration by BFI is outstanding and the film feels so fresh. What is obvious about Piccadilly is that it was made as a silent film and Dupont put all the energies into the visual side of the film. In doing so I feel that he set the standard for talkies, even though I do not think Piccadilly works as a sound film.

It seems to be a film about beautiful people (and Anna May Wong is certainly that) and there is much emphasis on the trappings of money. However. Although Ian Cristie's sleeve note suggest that the storyline is progressive, I beg to differ.

Set at a time where the social classes were more physically separated from one another, we can understand the the distance between the lives of Valentine and Shosho's background. For example when the two visit Limehouse we catch a glimpse of poorer people gathered around a brazier. We do not see their faces but we are supposed to sympathise with their poverty.

Shosho, however, is the stereotypical mysterious Oriental who deserves more than just being a scullery maid. And, as such, she is a likable character. However once she does climb the social ladder our view of her changes. She becomes scheming and nasty (this reverses the role of her and Mabel, who she usurps and who is portrayed as a spoilt rich girl at the beginning of the film). In the end, no matter how beautiful she appeared, we are left in no doubt that Shosho has it in her to be a `scheming bitch'. The role of her sidekick, Jim (who is also Chinese) also suggests that these people `should know their place', even though we are made to sympathise with him.

When we do get to see the faces of the poor they are invariable an ugly lot, either physically (as in the case of Bessie) or morally. This brings me to another opinion in the sleeve notes. there is a scene in a bar where a black man (an actual black person as opposed to a white person, blacked - up, which was the norm at the time) dancing with a white woman (and we are left in no doubt that the woman is a prostitute). Their dance is broken up by the boorish pub-owner, who is white and from the lower classes. Cristie seems to suggest that this scene shows Dupont in a progressive light. I don't think so. It suggests to me that Dupont saw the wealthy as the guardians of moral virtue who could accept a foreigner (even stereotypically) whilst those in the lower classes where either the deserving poor, huddled around a fire or boorish brutes with narrow-minded views.

This last point is something that I feel is relevant to today. The portrayal of poorer people by the media, especially the liberal media, is either of a `deserving poor' or as overweight, loud, bigots. There is another scene that touches on contemporary morality: An overweight diner (a young Charles Laughton), who is one of the wealthy patron of the Piccadilly Club, is only interested in stuffing his face rather than the two stars dancing on the floor. Again we are provided with a caricature that seems cheap, but fits in well with much of today's thinking.

Piccadilly is an outstanding film. It has a gripping story line (one that would have been suited to a later Hitchcock film), the scenes are beautifully shot and in many ways it was well ahead of its time. But it was also a product of its time, which illustrated the divide between the wealthy and the poor.

Sadly, although society has become enlightened since then, many of the prejudices, portrayed in the film, have been recently resurrected and are the common parlance of the chattering classes.
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on 21 September 2007
I only found out about this film very recently whilst rediscovering my love of the silent era. It is a truly great film full of style and imagination, a great tale well told and very modern in it's daring to take on the issue of multi-cultural relationships. This is a unique view of Britain in the jazz age. It amazes me that films like this, part of a great treasure trove of British silent films, are so little known and most are often not available on DVD.

And i must take issue with the review before this one, who praises the film (and quite rightly in my view) but goes on to say; 'That said, much of this is due to a German director & the imported PRESENCE of Anna Mae Wong & Gilda Gray.' I don't think such a commet gives credit to the story (written by an Brit), nor the sets, the cinematography, etc. Films are more than just a couple of actors and a director.

This seems to me to be part of the ongoing belief that Britain didn't produce much in the way of great films in that era and it was down to foreigners to take the lead; if it's good thats because talent was imported. This is surely the same as saying 'Greed', one of the greatest of all silent movies, is only great because of the imported talents of the Austrian director and British lead actor and detracting from the fact that Hollywood produced (admittedly against it's own will) a landmark masterpiece.

If you are reading this its probably because you have an interest in silent films and i can wholeheartedly recommend Matthew Sweet's documentary 'Silent Britain'and reading the first third of his book 'Shepperton Babylon,' both of which totally changed my view of early British film making and made me realise what is lost and often denegrated.
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on 26 May 2016
Beautiful, historically distinct, interesting piece of cinema. Cinematography superb, a film that dances past the plot, rarely hindered by it.

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.
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on 22 September 2008
Fans of Terry Gilliam might do well to give this movie a try as there are quite a few moments and shots that will seem familiar. The Charles Laughton character is basically Mr Creosote from 'Meaning of Life' and several shots are lifted for 'Brazil'. Thanks are due to my film tutor, Paul Sellors who introduced me to the movie.
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