Next Thursday, March 29, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present another installment of its “Lost and Found” series, with a screening of two long-thought lost films that have been recently discovered and preserved by the Academy Film Archive: The Curse of Quon Gwon (1917), the first known feature made by Chinese-Americans, and the Colleen Moore vehicle Her Wild Oat (1927).
The Curse of Quon Gwon remains incomplete: Two 35mm reels were found by filmmaker Arthur Dong while he was researching his documentary Hollywood Chinese; another 10 minutes of 16mm materials have also been restored. Shot in Oakland, Calif., the film was directed by Marion Wong (there were quite a few female film directors during the silent era), who also appears as an actress in it.
In December 2006, The Curse of Quon Gwon was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. On their website, it is stated that Quon Gwon “shows us that the history of ethnic filmmaking in the United States goes back much further than earlier thought.” That's a strange remark (even if one ignores the nonsensical “ethnic” label), for Sessue Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki, though not “filmmakers” per se, were two highly popular East Asian performers in Hollywood movies of the 1910s.
In the Marshall Neilan comedy Her Wild Oat, the 1920s prototypical flapper, Colleen Moore, plays the owner of a small lunch wagon who falls for a duke's son (Larry Kent), who pretends to be his own chauffeur. With her savings, she pursues him to a resort hotel, where she's mistaken for a duchess.
According to the Academy's press release, Moore was the top box office star of 1927 – although such lists should be taken with a (large) grain of salt, Moore was indeed a superstar at the end of the silent era.
She made only a handful of talkies, however, in large part because of personal problems that affected her career at the dawn of the sound era. (Her film producer husband, John McCormick, was an alcoholic who abused her. They were divorced in 1930.) Her most important talkie was the 1933 drama The Power and the Glory, in which she is quite effective as tycoon Spencer Tracy's neglected wife. Moore's last film appearance was as Hester Prynne in the little-seen 1934 version of The Scarlet Letter.
A couple of other Colleen Moore films have been discovered in the last few years. So, there should be more Moore screenings in the not-too-distant future.
The Curse of Quon Gwon and Her Wild Oat screenings will be held on March 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater on 1313 No. Vine St. in Hollywood. Both films will have live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Tickets are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID.