Sunday, May 10, 2015

Silent Sundays: Madame Butterfly (1915)


“How oft’ the hand of Fate is disguised in the glove called chance.”

            Stories of fate and chance are some of my favorites. I have always believed that things in my life, good or bad, have happen for a reason. Sometimes in films the plot can get a little overused but when used right I love the story. It seems that in dramas the device of fate and chance are usually used to tell the most depressing of stories. Madame Butterfly was just sad from almost the beginning right to very end.
            Cho Cho San (Mary Pickford) is the prettiest girl in her small Japanese town. She and her maid visit a soothsayer one day and he tells her that a visitor from a foreign land will come and fall in love with her and woe to her if she takes him into her heart.
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            That day a US Naval Lt. Pinkerton comes ashore in a Nagasaki. On the road into town, Pinkerton’s carriage and Cho Cho’s carriage crash into one another. All day long he thinks about Cho Cho. They see each other that night at the opera by chance.
            The following day Pinkerton is granted shore leave. He goes to look for Cho Cho. He brings flowers to her house but does not give them to her directly. Her maid gives the flowers to her and she is struck with the arrow of love. Pinkerton later hears about the marriage broker. He sends the man to speak to Cho Cho’s parents about marrying her. The parents agree to the deal. Her parents hold a long wedding reception. Pinkerton cannot handle the long ceremony and forces Cho Cho to end it early. Her family is outraged and insulted and disowns their daughter. Several weeks later Pinkerton has to leave Cho Cho. On the same day her family officially disowns her making her an outcast.
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            Almost an entire year goes by. It is reveal in so many ways that Pinkerton only married Cho Cho to sleep with her. Now Cho Cho is alone in Japan with their child. He never felt the marriage was official or real so while he was in America he married another woman. Pinkerton heads back  to Japan with his ship and his new wife travels by a steam ship to be with him. Cho Cho can see his ship and prepares for him to come home all day. She is devastated the following day when she sees his ship leave.
            While in Japan Pinkerton goes to the American consul with some papers regarding his marriage to Cho Cho. The consul informs Pinkerton that Cho Cho has their baby. When he is informed it is clear that he had no idea about it. Pinkerton gives Cho Cho money through the consul so she will never have to worry.
            Cho Cho goes to the American consul with her maid and her baby. At the same time Pinkerton’s American wife comes in. She tells Cho Cho she can take the baby to live with her and take good care of him. The American consul agrees. Cho Cho gives the wife the baby to be raised by his father.
            Later on out of grief Cho Cho drowns herself.

            What a load of baby mamma drama. This is one of the saddest uses of Fate and Chance I have ever seen in a film. I think as women most of tend to imagine what it would be like to have a mysterious yet kind foreigner come into our lives and sweep us off our feet. If that dream happened like it did in Madame Butterfly I would throw it deep down in the trash can because that is who can have it. I have heard of Madame Butterfly both as several versions of films and as an opera and I never could have imagined the story would be like it is. Madame Butterfly was alright. Somehow it did hold my interest and I have no idea how that managed to happen. Could be because I watched it on my break at work where there were less distractions than at home. I will go with that reasoning. The film is not bad. Mary Pickford gives a great performance. Like most silent actresses Pickford tended to go a little over board with emoting but in this film she was perfect. She was devastating to watch in the final scenes. This silent version of Madame Butterfly is available to view in full on YouTube. If you like silent films you will like watching Madame Butterfly
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