Film

Film

by

Fate has decreed Anna May Wong the subject of two new books, each filled with fascinating material and both convincingly characterizing the star’s depth and sophistication. Graham Russell Gao Hodges’s Anna May Wong is the more straightforwardly biographical. Hodges, a professor of history at Colgate University, is particularly good on Wong’s German period, uncovering an untranslated 1929 newspaper piece on her by a clearly gaga Walter Benjamin: “With a serious and comradely gaze that looks past every charm, this fit and upright girl has nothing of a movie star.” (Hodges also speculates intelligently on Wong’s likely affair with Marlene Dietrich.) Chan, a professor of communication at the University of Washington, is more analytical and more concerned with placing Wong in the context of Chinese and Chinese American history. As his title suggests, he sees her as an innate hipster and compares her performance in Piccadilly to Marlon Brando’s turn in The Wild One.