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Portrait of Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS SIERRA

Date: 8 August 1929
Medium: Glass plate negative
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Photographs
Object Name: Photograph
Object No: 00034657
Place Manufactured:Circular Quay

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    Description
    This photograph depicts Japanese vaudeville performer, singer and comedienne, Kono San (or Konosan), at a Movietone event board SS SIERRA. The photograph was probably taken on 8 August 1929 at Circular Quay during the welcoming and celebrations of the arrival of Australia's first Movietone News truck. Kono San was on her Australian tour and performed at Melbourne's Tivoli Theatre the day after her arrival in Sydney.
    SignificanceThe Samuel J Hood photographic collection records an extensive range of maritime activity on Sydney Harbour, including sail and steam ships, crew portraits, crews at work, ship interiors, stevedores loading and unloading cargo, port scenes, pleasure boats and harbourside social activities from the 1890s through to the 1950s. They are also highly competent artistic studies and views - Hood was regarded as an important figure in early Australian photojournalism. Hood’s maritime photographs are one of the most significant collections of such work in Australia.
    HistoryIn March 1929, reports were appearing in Australian newspapers of the first sound and talking films to be produced in Australia by the end of the year. Stanley S Crick, a film producer who was manager of Fox Movietone Ltd and the Fox Film Corporation at the time and later became known for entering politics, made the announcement also saying that the first Australian productions would be gazettes. He stated that the equipment for producing such films would arrive in Australia within three or four months, and that it would be 'handled by Australian staff and be taken around Australia on a special truck' ['The Daily News', 15 March 1929, p 8].

    On 8 August that year, the first Fox Movietone sound truck arrived in Sydney from San Francisco on board SS SIERRA to facilitate the making of the 'Fox Movietone Talkie Gazette'. According to 'The Sydney Morning Herald', the Aero Club arranged for aeroplanes to meet the steamer upon its arrival in Watsons Bay, to escort it to Circular Quay and welcome Stanley Crick.

    Sydney's 'Evening News' reported that the deck was:

    '... converted into a movie studio ... and in the presence of leading film men of the city the first Australian talking picture was made. This was possible through a movietone camera specially brought here by Mr Stanley S Crick ... who has returned after a visit to America, where he completed arrangements with Mr William Fox that will revolutionise the picture industry in Australia.'
    ['Aust "Talkie" Made on Sierra, Fox Chief Returns', 'Evening News', 8 August 1929, p 14]

    Crick went on to tell the media that the 'machine' would be used to make weekly newsreels 'which will be distributed throughout Australia and other parts of the world, thus gaining an advertisement for this country.' The article went on to note that the 'first release would be shown at the Regent', which possibly refers to the Regent Theatre which opened near the Sydney Town Hall in March 1928 at 487-503 George Street and was demolished in 1988.

    Kono San (or Konosan) was a Japanese singer, comedienne and vaudeville performer. Part of a group of Japanese women known as the modan gaaru (‘modern girls’) these moga, as they were nicknamed, veered away from traditional Japanese social and cultural conventions and instead opted for the dress and lifestyle embraced by a group known as the flappers. Flappers were seen as brazen, modern women of the 1920s, who wore excessive makeup, smoked and drank alcohol freely and flouted traditional conventions prescribing behaviour and dress. Tasmanian newspaper the 'Examiner' claimed:

    'The avidity with which foreign fashions and customs are being assimilated fills their conservative elders with despair … The Japanese “flapper” has been born and is doing well. Her skirts are as short as can be, her silk stockings, trim shoes, and tight little hat, her walk and her public devotion to lip-stick and powder-puff place her beside the “flapper” of the Western world.'
    [‘In Japan’, 'Examiner', 18 December 1929, page 18]

    Dubbed ‘Japan’s foremost flapper’ by the American press, Kono San posed on board SS SIERRA on 8 August 1929. Looking directly at the camera, she posed on deck, hand on hip, lavishly made up and dressed in a coat and fox fur finished off with flowers, high-heeled shoes, jewellery and a hat.

    Perhaps most shocking of all was the fact that Kono San earned her living on the stage. American newspaper 'Albany Evening News' published one review on 26 April 1929 noting that although she sang in her ‘native tongue’, she ‘got better results with our type of vaudeville songs’. After her contract with the Keith Vaudeville Circuit in America ended, the Japanese contralto decided to perform her number on Australia’s famed Tivoli Circuit. Sydney newspaper the 'Bulletin' published a snippet on the ‘Japanese nightingale’ after her arrival aboard SIERRA noting she would be performing at Melbourne’s Tivoli theatre.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Oriental woman sitting on the deck hatch of SS SIERRA

    Web title: Portrait of Kono San at a Movietone event on board SS SIERRA

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