PRESS MATERIALS - Pearls Over Shanghai Fifth Anniversary Revival

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As a child, Pearls Over Shanghai’s lyricist, Link Martin, would watch TV reruns of Fu Manchu movies, Flash Gordon battling the evil Emperor Ming, and Charley Chan with Number One Son solving murders with inscrutable cunning, and Ruby Keeler as Shanghai Lil, a “sing-song girl” with a liking for a Yankee Navy boy James Cagney.

Joseph von Sternberg gave us the ultimate glamour goddess amidst ruthless warlords, Marlene Dietrich in The Shanghai Express. And in The Shanghai Gesture, von Sternberg gave us Mother Gin Sling, dragon lady owner of a fancy gambling establishment in the most decadent Shanghai, where, as in all of China, my aging parents thought, Human Life had little value.

All these films, from the sublime to the B movies and serials, were awash with the Mystery and Intrigue characteristic of the Orient to most Western minds at the time. But Link, growing up in San Francisco, which had the largest Chinese-origin population anywhere outside China, and of mixed race himself, dismissed all this as camp and found it curious that people held, or once held, this distorted view of Asian culture as depicted by early Hollywood.

Link never laid any politics aside. Though some may see racism on the surface of the script, he never intended to condone, but rather to show the absurdity of the attitudes of the 1930s period as depicted in the movies from that decade. The stupidity of this derogatory depiction of Asians is contained in the script, as when Mother Fu says, "Go forth as simple cliché……." Link loved the laughably inaccurate and  glamorized depictions of Asian stereotypes in the movies, and played off the "Mystery and Intrigue". He loved the whole concept of Shanghai, a notorious, glamorous monstrosity of it's time, the very embodiment of European colonialism as it preyed on the dependence of the Chinese populace on opium, a dependence Western capitalists orchestrated to fuel profits from trade and make the City an ultra-decadent playground for the West.

As hippie freaks of the 1970s, we saw the ‘opium-of-the-masses’ that was soul-less consumerism and attempted to get as far from it as possible, forming food co-ops, finding our treasures at thrift stores, helping our brothers and sisters when we could. In this revival, we hope to show some treasures-from-thrift-stores pluck that was the pride of our large tribe at the Palace Theater whenever the Cockettes hopped on the stage. And we hope to show some of the absurdity of holding any group of people in judgment.

February 2014