Friday, December 4, 2009

When Chang came to town, part two

As noted in a prior blog, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927) proved to be a popular film. It played all around the greater San Francisco Bay Area, including at least two showings in Berkeley.

Back in the 1920's, films usually played a week in major cities like San Francisco or Oakland. In smaller markets, and on a second or third run, films usually played for two or three days. Those were the circumstances behind Chang's showing at the Lorin Theatre in Berkeley in October, 1927.

Chang returned to Berkeley the following year - and in a most uncommon venue. Like a few other select films of the time (such as Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings - a favorite of the Methodists), Chang was screened for the public in a church. In this instance, it was shown at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley in January, 1928. The church billed the film as "unusual" "informing" and "enthralling." The screening didn't seem to be a fundraiser, as admission was free. Perhaps this screening, which included a lerformance by a lyric soprano, was just a social occasion provided for congregants.

Besides other local screenings, Chang also showed in nearby Lodi, California. That screening took place in October, 1927 at the Lodi Theatre, which was part of the local T & D chain of theatres.

As the advertisement notes, the New York Herald-Tribune said the picture "contains the most exciting moment in motion picture history!" The local newspaper, the Lodi  Sentinel,  even went so far as to state, "Chang towers head and shoulders above practically everything which has come to the local screen during the past year." Find out for yourself on Saturday, December 12th, as the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness at the Castro Theatre. Further information here.


  1. The church screening is interesting. I wonder if it was part of a nationwide tour to such venues.

    I found a mention of Chang in a book called History of Protestant Work In Thailand, 1828-1958. According to the author, Kenneth E. Wells, the leading man in the film, Kru Muang, was a Christian evangelist from Nan Province, Thailand (where the film was shot) who had in 1917 helped to found the first church in Jinghong City, China.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I think the church screening is interesting - very interesting. In going through old newspapers, I have come across a handfull of church sponsored screenings - usually featuring "King of Kings." It's appeal to Christians needn't be explained. However, all of this makes me wonder why this Berkeley congregation screened "Chang." What was the connection?

  3. Though a direct connection between this church and the religous missions in Northern Thailand (Siam at that time) seems unlikely to have occurred, and seem even unliklier to be proved, I'm reminded that one of the fascinations certain Westerners had for so-called "primitive peoples" in the 1920s was that they represented souls Christians could save. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the screening.

    I don't think it's coincidental that before Cooper & Shoedsack made their film, pretty much all of the Westerners who travelled in the region were Christian missionaries.