Peter: Having a discussion with you brings one up against the fact that each of us sees a different world when we step outside our front door each morning. At the moment, I don't do that very often, so I'm at a disadvantage. However (whatever happened to that old interrupter?), in the matter of subtexts, Orson Welles told many interviewers, including Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Parkinson, the BBC Arena people, and others that subtexts, background, and back stories were what principally interested him in his creations. What's more, almost every major stage work he ever attempted illustrated that interest: the "Black Macbeth" (Haitian ursurper copies imperialist model), The Cradle Will Rock (the need for a unions), Danton's Death (the course of revolutions), etc -- and of course, his most famous, history-making theatrical example, "the [much discussed here of late] "modern dress" Julius Caesar. How you could miss the obvious purpose of Welles' cutting the text to 90-odd minutes, in two acts, on a bare stage, dispensing with Elizabethan theatrical claptrap, putting characters in Fascisti uniforms -- to use one of your phrases -- is "jaw dropping." The point of his staging was to concentrate the audience's attention and interest on the relevant; that the tyranny and right wing revolutions of Rome in 44 B.C. were being repeated in "modern" 1937; that people now as then would be fooled by rhetoric and propaganda; and that what was happening in far places would eventually come here to America.
Need I go through every one of his films for equally unequivocal statements about subtext and back story? He told various friends and interviewers that "The Newsreel" was the best thing in . . . KANE. The whole point of . . . AMBERSONS (about the transformation of American classes by the motor car) was lost. The twenty minutes of back story cut from THE STRANGER about smuggling fascist war criminals out of Post-War Italy, using "rat lines," by way of South America to the United States, was what he had spent most of his time on. I could go on --
But clearly, the major theme of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, now under discussion here, is how the vast greed of our world destroys innocence and all that makes life worth living -- not how a dumb Irish sailor got taken in by a femme fatale.
Neither in my question nor in anyone's discussion about THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI has it been intimated that the meaning of the film is contained in the Mandarin Theater sequence. Of course, at one level, the sequence is a device to advance the action and explain the plot, but my simple question was about what nuances in the sequence lent meaning to Welles' underlying interest. His vehicle was that of "a thriller," but his purpose, as always, was more ambitious.
The same could be said for von Sternberg's use of the old 1920's theatrical warhorse, The Shanghai Gesture. He was making different use of the play's elements, as Welles was adapting a pot boiler to his purposes in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. My guess is that in both cases, neither of these brilliant, difficult artists was concerned with race as such . . . rather, in the cultural domination of women by men.
Finally, Peter, to paraphrase Plato, Victor Hugo, or one of those New England guys: "Frustration is the Mother of Invention."
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, one may discover if we huff-and-puff enough through thousands upon thousands of words here, is on Facebook. We don't need risking Asian friendships or being hauled off by the San Francisco Chinatown detail (like Michael O'Hara) in order to view and study that Mandarin Theater dialogue. The entire thing runs about four minutes, and though most of it requires no translator, about 30 seconds, as it stands, involves songs and dialogue from the stage which could use translation by an interpreter, and commentary by someone who knows what he's talking about.
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, Peter, as Rawlston said to the "faceless" reporter: "dead or alive."
It ought to be pretty simple.