This article analyzes the 1986 restoration of the first successful Technicolor II feature film, The Toll of the Sea (1922), which invoked Madame Butterfly tropes and fantasies of Asiatic femininity to amplify its spectacle of chromatic novelty. Restorers worked to reconstitute the film’s two-color scheme and used an antique beam-splitting Technicolor camera to shoot new footage of the narrative’s definitive suicide, which was missing from the recovered negative. By tracing these two constitutive absences—the initial suicide of the figure I call the “yellow woman” and the remade scenes of her death, voided of her corporeal presence—this article takes up restoration and racialization as analogous processes that reproduce material conditions of visibility. I use this restoration’s epistemic investment in certain forms of continuity and completion—technological, aesthetic, temporal—to examine how film archival practices can perpetuate historical ways of knowing circumscribed by racial and colonial common sense.
Restoring the Technicolor Ornament: The Yellow Woman’s Death in The Toll of the Sea (1922)
Phoebe Chen is a writer and PhD student in Cinema Studies at New York University. Her essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Review of Books, Artforum, The Nation, Criterion, Film Comment, and elsewhere. She has appeared on panels as a critic at the New York Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival.
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Phoebe Chen; Restoring the Technicolor Ornament: The Yellow Woman’s Death in The Toll of the Sea (1922). Feminist Media Histories 1 April 2022; 8 (2): 109–131. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2022.8.2.109
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