That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Short

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SilentsPlease

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That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Short

PostWed Jan 04, 2012 2:00 pm

Ah, D.W. Griffith and his racial dramas. This one, however, is probably long forgotten. It is actually on DVD, nevertheless. It is included as a bonus feature in this $40 2-disc DVD set, which I own: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JLWHX4O" target="_blank .

Despite the title, "That Chink at Golden Gulch" is actually a sympathetic portrayal of a Chinese man's self-sacrificing ways despite the racist surroundings he is in. But of course, all things are relative. A "sympathetic" portrayal done in 1910 may seem outdated and condescending to today's viewers.

The DVD set also includes the recently discovered rare 1916 silent film made by Asian-Americans in San Francisco called "The Curse of Quon Gwon".
Last edited by SilentsPlease on Wed Jan 14, 2015 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Rodney

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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 7:57 am

Griffith's Broken Blossoms was based on a story called "The Chink and the Child," and the original title for The Italian was also less appetizing. Redskin is another epithet that actually got through as the final title.

But for many of these films, the point of the movie was how the character arose above the expectations implied by the racial/cultural epithet and usually proves "the better man," as in the title of another film on the topic. This tendency of silent films to show foreign types acting nobly (the sympathetic Imam in The Thief of Bagdad also comes to mind) is nice to see, but the fact that film-makers should highlight a "chink," "dago," or Muslim for being noble--as though it's something normally unexpected--also says something about low cultural expectations at the time.
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 9:24 am

Before we get too altruistic about a few film examples that exist today we should remember that film companies cranked out so many stories on such a rushed schedule that in was their best interests to continually recycle stories from different perspectives in order to stay on their timetables. One week the Asian would be the villain, the next week the hero and the following week the comic relief. And so on with Indians and Irishman and Swedes and right down the ethnic line. Since the majority of these filmmakers output no longer exists it's hard to ascertain their actual feelings on the subject.
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 5:38 pm

In all due respect gjohnson I don't think Rodney or SilentsPlease are being altruistic at all. Mr. Griffith came up in an atmosphere of small, regional stock companies that valued stock characters, not only "chinks" and "coons," but "tramps," "cowboys," "greasers," "Indians," fancy, haughty ladies, greedy old misers, swindlers, crooks, cheats, flighty females and other characterizations that we do not have a frame of reference for in current context entertainment. They were all associated with certain costumes, mannerisms and acting styles that were familiar to those audiences, and Griffith especially valued them. They didn't need a lot of introduction.

The trend toward rehabilitating such characters into "noble" situations seems to belong to the era Griffith was at Biograph, and although he was part of it, he did not lead that trend. Kalem and other producers were making a lot of those kinds of pictures, but this falls off in about 1915, particularly as the Western became established in a kind of a routine. The cowboys definitely benefited the most; nowadays hardly anyone knows anything about the terribly low social status a cowboy enjoyed before 1910 -- it was a profession that was considered near the bottom of the social ladder. A proper lady would never entertain the idea of dating a cowboy, no matter how dashing and noble he may have been, and he generally wasn't so.

This is another reason it is impossible to judge such films with current eyes. It isn't so much that the characterizations are considered offensive in the current context -- although that is significant -- but we do not have a grasp of the stage conventions of the day, and how these did not reflect how real people were perceived in society. It is significant that Griffith and others were trying to elevate some of these stock characters into roles that had some measure of dignity, promoting the idea of social tolerance. And these films would not have been made if there wasn't some measure of sympathy among the audiences of the day, then overwhelmingly females and their kids. But it didn't last, and it would be an interesting study someday to see just why they didn't.

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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 9:14 pm

Universal made several films starring Chinese and/or aimed at Chinese audiences.

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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 10:00 pm

spadeneal wrote:The trend toward rehabilitating such characters into "noble" situations seems to belong to the era Griffith was at Biograph, and although he was part of it, he did not lead that trend. Kalem and other producers were making a lot of those kinds of pictures, but this falls off in about 1915...

This is another reason it is impossible to judge such films with current eyes. It isn't so much that the characterizations are considered offensive in the current context -- although that is significant -- but we do not have a grasp of the stage conventions of the day, and how these did not reflect how real people were perceived in society. It is significant that Griffith and others were trying to elevate some of these stock characters into roles that had some measure of dignity, promoting the idea of social tolerance. And these films would not have been made if there wasn't some measure of sympathy among the audiences of the day, then overwhelmingly females and their kids. But it didn't last, and it would be an interesting study someday to see just why they didn't...spadeneal


Thank you for the thoughtful response. I think there is an interesting parellel here to the 19th century minstrel show in it's first generation or so before the advent of the Civil War, an area I know far more about than silent film, but I've also been thinking about these issues and wonder if there is a parallel and would like your thoughts, if you'd be willing to share them.

The minstrel show reaches a coherent structural and dramatic from around 1850, from it's first incarnations in the period 1840-44, in this period the show is full of the sort of racist stereotypes we expect, and the audience tends to be urban, often males, or young people fresh from the country, and much of the success of the shows has been related to the dislocation and difficulties of adjusting to urban life, in the character of the "dude" or Zip Coon, the black-faced actor portrayed someone even more ill-adapted or suited to urban life, because being black he was inherently inferior. However, as the minstrel show evolved from 1842/44 into the late 1840's the characterization of blacks in the skits and songs began to follow a more humane trajectory, a path familiar to the one traveled by Irish stage characters (who would have their ups and downs in the conventional stock driven theater traditions of the 19th century), but this movement toward sympathy is arrested and reversed as the 1850's wear on because of the strident anti-abolitionist inclinations of the typical minstrel show demographic (urban, working class, Democratic); and with the outbreak of the Civil War, the predominate stereotype that rises is the happy go-lucky slave who pines for the land of dixie, and see's the war and freedom as a bad thing (there are exceptions to this). After the Civil War the minstrel show evolves in many ways and also absorbs some antebellum melodrama's, esp. Uncle Tom's Cabin, and so it becomes a more variety show experience, and/or a nostalgic reminder of a shared white culture before the fraction and psychological turmoil of the civil war.

Here's how I've been thinking about the relationship of the two - firstly, the above interpretations of the Minstrel Show are of course speculative, and I think fairly persuasive but not iron-clad; and I wonder if the relationship with the films in the period 1910-1915 have to do with the general cultural meme that was current toward "brotherhood", the world peace movement, liberal Protestantism, etc., and if these had some tangential impact on the perception of the "other", a perception that the average theatre goer (like the minstrel show goer 70 years earlier) shared, but that were shattered in the invective and passions that were roused by the First World War, and the subsequent revival of racial tensions, and the Red scare. Secondly, I wonder if the movement to the city that was accelerating and then slowing between 1870 - 1920, has something to do with it as well, as well as second wave immigration.

Just an idea.
Eric W. Cook
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 11:32 pm

Bruce,

Geez - Thanks SO much for the Chan Hong trade advertising. I wrote of him in my Wiki article about L-KO, but have never so much as seen a picture of him.

Do you know if even one of these films have survived?

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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostThu Jan 05, 2012 11:39 pm

Gentleman Farmer - you may be interested to read Richard Waterhouse's `From Minstrel Show to Vaudeville; The Australian Popular Stage 1788-1914' if you haven't already.

I think it's possible to over-intellectualise the motivation behind some of these films. Some had very earnest moral intentions (and 'earnest moral intentions' was certainly Griffith's personal motto), but particularly with Asian-themed pictures, many seemed to simply feed an appetite for a sort of naive exotica - much like things such as Grauman's Chinese Theatre - which I'm sure they did very well:

Image

The poem on the right hand page reads as follows:

She'd wink
Til hearts
Went on
The Blink
And staid professors
Couldn't think
And everywhere
They'd stop to stare
And say "Some chink!"
When Ming Toy winked
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostFri Jan 06, 2012 12:23 am

spadeneal wrote:Bruce,

Geez - Thanks SO much for the Chan Hong trade advertising. I wrote of him in my Wiki article about L-KO, but have never so much as seen a picture of him.

Do you know if even one of these films have survived?

spadeneal


Of Chai Hong's IMDb filmography, two titles returned a hit in the FIAF database, although neither is an L-KO picture:
THE SNOWSHOE TRAIL (1922): Library of Congress (35mm)
HEARTS OF THE WEST (1920): bfi/National Film and Television Archive (unspecified format)

~Roger
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostFri Jan 06, 2012 6:20 am

Dear Brooksie,

Agreed, we can become all too cerebral about what was in reality a lucrative way to make money based on popular entertainment and expectations - but I think with Griffith, we do see one of the early individuals who saw at it as more than that - as you noted - and I don't think my ideas account for all but a tiny part of what was going on in the intersection of race, ethnicity, and the zeitgeist. Also, I think the comment that was made above - that fact that we have such a tiny slice of actual films to study and put into context, makes it very hard to have a fair gauge of what audiences really saw and we have even less information about how the reacted (with a few prominent films or locations excepted), so yes, it's easy to take a tiny amount of evidence and build a straw house, or palace.

Also, your point about exotica is well taken, it has always had an appeal, and more so in the past when it was frankly, more exotic.

Yet, it seems like there are things at work in the intersection of popular entertainment and broader intellectual and historical themes that might help make some sense of these issues.

I had not seen the book you recommended, my research into the 19th century minstrel show has been largely related to America and the UK, so I will see if I can manage to pick up that title. Many thanks for the tip!
Eric W. Cook
Director, Ivy Leaf Orchestra
Silent Film, Salon and Ragtime Orchestra
Please visit us at ivyleaforchestra.com
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostFri Jan 06, 2012 8:31 am

I've managed to see two of Chai Hong's L-Ko comedies, the only two that I know about existing. MoMA has about three minutes of THE FRECKLED FISH ('19), which also features Oliver Hardy, and the Eye Film Institute Netherlands has CHARLIE, THE HERO ('19).
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostFri Jan 06, 2012 9:50 pm

I've seen 'the Snowshoe Trail' with Roy Stewart at LOC, Chai Hong has a decent part.-We also thought we spotted him in 'Get-Rich-Quick Peggy' (Century Comedy 1922 with Baby Peggy). Maybe one of the comedy gurus can verify if/when they see it.
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Re: That Chink at Golden Gulch - 1910 Griffith Biograph Shor

PostSun Jan 08, 2012 8:53 am

gentlemanfarmer wrote:I wonder if the relationship with the films in the period 1910-1915 have to do with the general cultural meme that was current toward "brotherhood", the world peace movement, liberal Protestantism, etc., and if these had some tangential impact on the perception of the "other", a perception that the average theatre goer (like the minstrel show goer 70 years earlier) shared, but that were shattered in the invective and passions that were roused by the First World War, and the subsequent revival of racial tensions, and the Red scare. Secondly, I wonder if the movement to the city that was accelerating and then slowing between 1870 - 1920, has something to do with it as well, as well as second wave immigration.


First of all, thanks to Steve Massa, David Denton, rogerskarsten for the wealth of information regarding surviving Chai Hong subjects!

gentlemanfarmer -- You may very well be on the right track. Note that The Battle Cry of Peace and Intolerance both opened in 9/1915 and 9/1916 and did poorly. Civilization appeared in 6/1916 and did well, and I don't see how that film is less moralizing and pacifistic than the others, though it is allegorical which may have helped its chances. Intolerance attempted to connect three historic stories to a separately conceived modern-day tale of injustice, whereas The Battle Cry of Peace took place in some unimaginable future whereby a domestic attack on the U.S. from a foreign power was possible. Needless to say, by now we have crossed that threshold.

Intellectualizing aside, there was a concerted effort among filmmakers in the immediate pre-war years to take on big projects that promoted the cause of peace, in the end to no avail. Religious reformers of that day had a lot to do with trends in American culture, and not all were promoting peace in 1916. But possibly Griffith, Blackton and Ince all felt that there was enough general interest in this grand, altruistic subject to merit these expensive epics. Only Ince succeeded, and he never took anything on like that again, sticking instead to his entertainment oriented quickies and Westerns.

spadeneal

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