Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Salome” (1923)

by on April 24, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

4:30 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]

A lot of gobsmacked amazement but little sustained analysis of Salome is available online. Hungry young film bloggers heading to today’s screening are advised to bring their notebooks.


Hal Erickson for Allmovie:

Seeking to bring High Art to the American hinterlands, silent film star Alla Nazimova sank a great deal of her own money into her 1922 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Art director Natacha Rambova (notorious as the contentious second wife of Rudolph Valentino) based her set designs on the works of fin-de-siecle artist Aubrey Beardsley. The story remains as always: Salome is coerced by her mother Herodias (Rose Dione) to demand the head of John the Baptist on a platter. She performs an erotic dance around the head, then is crushed to death by Herod’s guards. Legend has it that everyone in the supporting cast and production crew of Salome was homosexual–hand-picked by Nazimova, who reportedly believed that only a gay aggregation could do full justice to her bizarre, excruciatingly stylized cinematic vision.

James Travers for Films de France:

Salome feels more like a bizarre Art Nouveau-inspired erotic dream than a piece of cinema. The extravagant costumes, striking minimalist set design and highly stylised acting suggest narcotic-induced fantasy, not realism. Whilst the film’s effete artificiality and sluggish pace are somewhat off-putting, these are outweighed by its sheer novelty value – it is a work of visual poetry which tacitly defies categorisation and for which there is no comparable benchmark. It is a “one off”, in the strictest sense of the term, and a treat for any admirer of experimental cinema.

We are never put off by effete artificiality.


Subsection from the Wikipedia entry:

Gay Cast Rumor


A longstanding unsubstantiated rumor, which seems to have started while the film was still in production, suggests that its cast is composed entirely of gay and 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.


Time Out Film Guide:

1920s art, California style. Despite careful stylisation and exquisite photography, this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play boasts a healthy streak of vulgarity of which Wilde, one suspects, would have secretly approved. Sets and costumes, designed by Valentino’s wife Natacha Rambova, are fashioned after Beardsley’s drawings, but the film’s atmosphere comes less from the artist’s effete preciousness than from the robust and strapping decadence of ’20s Hollywood.


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