The Dragon Painter
Written by Richard Schayer (as E. Richard Schayer)
Based on the Novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa
Directed by William Worthington
It’s CAAMFest time again, so Tars must chart out a bunch of film he wants to see vs. the actual amount of real world time that he has to go to see the films. This year there was a few Sophie’s Choices among films playing at similar times where I was unable to go to the other shows, so in the end I ended up with three screenings, all in one day! So I’ll make sure all three reviews get put up in one week! First up is 1919’s The Dragon Painter, a silent film presented with a live score!
The Dragon Painter was a production of Haworth Pictures Corporation, which box office star Sessue Hayakawa formed with actor/director William Worthington (hence the name of the company!) This is an important piece of film history, as the big deal is we have Japanese characters being played by Japanese actors, and they aren’t playing stereotypical villain characters, which was the style of the time (and partily how Sessue Hayakawa gained fame!) Hayakawa’s life was amazing, and deserves more focus than just the intro paragraphs of a review of one of his film.
It is easy to see in The Dragon Painter why Hayakawa was so popular, he’s a fountain of pure talent. He begins as a manic madman named Tatsu, obsessed with painting the landscapes, which he claims are paintings of his lady love, a princess who was turned into a dragon by the gods 1000 years earlier. He sleeps in the wilderness and the local villagers largely avoid him (the few who try to cause trouble are easily shook when he threatens them) This is all presented straight, and Hayakawa both sells that a man would live in the wilderness and be obsessed with a dragon princess with a compulsion to paint, but that this is an actual person with the emotional turmoil that the scenario in his mind is causing him painted all over his face.