Salomé (1923 film)
|Directed by||Charles Bryant|
|Produced by||Alla Nazimova|
|Written by||Oscar Wilde
Nigel De Brulier
|Cinematography||Charles Van Enger|
|Distributed by||Nazimova Productions|
Salomé (1923), a silent film directed by Charles Bryant and starring Alla Nazimova, is a film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play of the same name. The play itself is a loose retelling of the biblical story of King Herod and his execution of John the Baptist (here, as in Wilde's play, called Jokaanan) at the request of Herod's stepdaughter, Salomé, whom he lusts after.
Salomé is often called one of the first art films to be made in the U.S. The highly stylized costumes, exaggerated acting, minimal sets, and absence of all but the most necessary props make for a screen image much more focused on atmosphere and on conveying a sense of the characters' individual heightened desires than on conventional plot development.
Despite the film being only a little over an hour in length and having no real action to speak of, it cost over $350,000 to make. All the sets were constructed indoors to be able to have complete control over the lighting. The film was shot completely in black and white, matching the illustrations done by Aubrey Beardsley in the printed edition of Wilde's play. The costumes, designed by Natacha Rambova, used material only from Maison Lewis of Paris, such as the real silver lamé loincloths worn by the guards.
No major studio would be associated with the film, and it was years after its completion before it was released, by a minor independent distributor. It was a complete failure at the time and marked the end of Nazimova's producing career.
Gay cast rumor
There is a longstanding rumor, which seems to have started while the film was still in production and has been asserted by chronicler of Hollywood decadence Kenneth Anger, that the film's cast is composed entirely of gay or bisexual actors in an homage to Oscar Wilde, as per star and producer Nazimova's demand. It is, of course, impossible to say, but one of the extras in Salomé reported that a number of the cast members—both featured and extras—were indeed gay, but not an unusual percentage of them, and certainly not all of them. What can be said is that Nazimova herself was usually thought of as a lesbian (despite occasional flings with men including Paul Ivano), the two guard characters (who, next to Salomé, have the most screen time) are at least played very stereotypically gay, and several of the female courtiers are men in drag.
Release and legacy
A writer for Screenland described Salomé as "a painting deftly stroked upon the silversheet" and that "poets and dreamers will find imaginative delights in the weird settings and the still more weird acting, depressing at times to ordinary folks. And it is worth something to watch Nazimova balance her Christmas-tree headdress!"
Salomé was screened in 1989 at the New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay films and in 1990 at the New York Gay Experimental Film Festival.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- Getty Center. "Film Series: The Ornament and the Enchantress". The J. Paul Getty Trust. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- "The Shadow Stage". Photoplay. New York: Photoplay Publishing Company. August 1922. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
- Theophano, Teresa. "Film Actors: Lesbian". glbtq, Inc.,. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- "Little Hints". Screenland. Hollywood, California: Screenland Publishing Company. September 1922. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- Lori K. Martin review and DVD liner notes
- Salomé at the AFI/TCM database
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