Mayer, Ruth (2012):
"Image Power: Seriality, Iconicity and The Mask of Fu Manchu." Screen 53.4: 398-417.
Journal Article

This essay explores the workings of popular seriality with respect to the evolution of an ideologically fraught serial figure – Fu Manchu. It focuses on the function of iconicity in this context, taking its point of departure from the pre-Code film The Mask of Fu Manchu of 1932. The film features Boris Karloff in the title role and forges Fu Manchu's iconic image several decades after the figure's literary inception and ensuing crossmedial gestation. I shall investigate the interrelated processes of serialization and iconization by probing the film's ‘image power’ – its employment of intense visual arrangements and melodramatic tableaux which explode the individual film's diegesis yet figure as nodal instances of serial concatenation. To illustrate the serial dynamics of this development, the essay will finally turn to the popular film serial Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), which improvised freely on the film of 1932, drawing heavily not only on the plotline mapped out almost ten years before, but also on the film's suspense management and narrative structure. Combining various approaches to seriality and the serial, ranging from popular culture studies, semiotics, film studies, to political theory, I argue that powerful ideological figurations (such as the imagery of the yellow peril) are serial in nature.