The Toll of the Sea. 1922. United States. Directed by Chester M. Franklin. With Anna Mae Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley. Silent with piano accompaniment. 53 min.
Using the “two-color Technicolor II” process for the first time in a U.S. feature, The Toll of the Sea was loosely adapted from Madame Butterfly by prolific Hollywood screenwriter Frances Marion. Anna Mae Wong plays Lotus Flower, whose discovery of a shipwrecked American sailor and the unrequited love that follows expose stereotypical divisions between East and West. Calling attention to “Orientalist ideologies” in their book Chromatic Modernity authors Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe describe how the notion that “primitive spaces, bodies and subjectivities are more closely aligned with saturated colors” is handled in the film. For instance, Wong’s color-coded costume changes define her “difference,” communicating her desire and her doom as the tragic tale progresses.