fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Chang and Eng ... and Opie?

The film I went to see at the Freer Gallery (which is part of the Smithsonian and, together with the Sackler, holds their Asian art collection) was part of an annual Asian Pacific American film festival. It was titled "The Siamese Connection" and was a documentary about Chang and Eng Bunker. Before the main feature, there was a short titled "Dream of Me," which had to do with a young adopted woman searching for her deceased sister. This was way too experimental for me, with dizzying images of scrolling through microfiche and several people talking at the same time.

"The Siamese Connection" was a more conventional documentary for the most part. Much of it involved a reunion of the descendants of the famous Siamese twins. I had lunch at a diner in Mt. Airy, North Carolina once and the more famous connection to the town for most people nowadays is Andy Griffith. (In fact, I remember the diner having menu items named after characters from his shows, though I don't recall what character my tuna sandwich and lemonade were named after.) But I had known that Chang and Eng had settled on a farm in North Carolina, so that part of their story wasn't news to me.

For those who are less familiar with the details, they married sisters and fathered 10 and 11 children, respectively. It had never occurred to me that the interracial aspect of the marriage was the part that was viewed as controversial at the time. Several of the descendants mentioned that their families had not wanted to talk about their connection for that reason. I had also never drawn the connection between a pre-civil war tobacco farm and slave ownership. Apparently, Chang sold his slaves to Eng when he saw where things were going, but Eng paid him in Confederate money, so neither really benefited. The financial woes of the post-war era were a big factor in their exhibiting themselves at Barnum's American Museum. (They had actually managed their own exhibitions through much of their earlier careers.)

The movie was reasonably interesting, but a bit too slow paced. I also had difficulty understanding the accents of some of the speakers. (Bear in mind,however, that I need subtitles south of about Richmond.) My biggest disappointment was the failure to explain why they adopted the surname "Bunker." Overall, it's worth seeing if you have an interest (as I do) in 19th century popular culture, but it doesn't break any new ground.
Tags: movies, sideshows

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