Piccadilly

92 minutes

This remarkable British silent (1929) is special in many ways. Directed by German master E.A. Dupont, with lavish sets and luscious cinematography by his compatriots Alfred Junge and Werner Brandes, it charts the erotic hold of a Chinese beauty (Anna May Wong) over the owner of a palatial London nightclub (Jameson Thomas). He fires her as a dishwasher for distracting coworkers with her tabletop dancing, then hires her back as a featured performer, to the consternation of his mistress (Gilda Gray). Scripted by Zola-inspired novelist Arnold Bennett, with significant roles for Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton, this is far ahead of its time in treating both race and gender. Dupont has an original way of employing camera movement to suggest erotic chemistry between characters, and Wong, who even provoked a rave notice from Walter Benjamin, is as memorable and confident as Louise Brooks was in the films of G.W. Pabst.

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