The Toll of the Sea

Scene from the film Toll of the Sea
scene from THE TOLL OF THE SEA

A popular melodrama based on Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,“ The Toll of the Sea is not only the first-ever, two-strip Technicolor film, but also Anna May Wong’s first leading role. Interestingly the screenplay is by another leading woman of early 20th century cinema, Frances Marion.

In this tragic tale of Western exploitation, an American man in China falls in love with and marries a young Asian woman named Lotus Flower (Anna May Wong). After he leaves her to return to the United States, Lotus Flower gives birth to a son, whom she dotingly raises on her own. When the man later returns to China with his new American wife Elsie, he meets his mixed-race son and his understanding white wife urges adoption. In a destructive act of self-sacrifice, Lotus Flower allows her son to return to American with his father. 

The Toll of the Sea kicks off our fall series, From Silent Film Star to American Icon: Celebrating Anna May Wong, presented in partnership with the Wharton Studio Museum and Cinemapolis in honor of the 12th annual Silent Movie Month in Ithaca in partnership with the Wharton Studio Museum and Cinemapolis in honor of the 12th annual Silent Movie Month in Ithaca.

This special event will feature live musical accompaniment by local musicians Robert Aceto, Peter Dodge, and Chris White, who perform together as the Cloud Chamber Orchestra, and will perform an original, live experimental score.

The film screens in a 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

This series is made possible by generous support from the Asian-American Studies Program, the East Asian Program at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Performing and Media Arts, and the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. 

About the musicians

Cloud Chamber Orchestra is an improvisational trio based in Ithaca, New York. Led by musicians Robby Aceto, Chris White, and Peter Dodge, the ensemble has existed to create live, original soundscapes for silent film since 2008. 

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