Salome

Beautiful Nazimova as Salome

Salome is a peculiar film. Based on a play by Oscar Wilde, the story is based on the death of John the Baptist from the Bible. Salome is the daughter of King Herod, but falls in love with a poor Jewish man while he is held captive for speaking out against the government and the Jewish establishment. However John the Baptist does not return her affection, so as revenge she demands his head on a platter. Spoiler alert: She gets the head. This story has been told several times a parable about how bad women can be, so the story is not the peculiar part. The execution of the story is.

Alla Nazimova was a famous actress on stage and in very early silent pictures. She was rich and strange, so she decided to finance this film and bend it to her whims. Her whims included costuming by avant-garde designers, obtuse angles on the placement of the camera and the set design, and an extended sequence that involves an intricate dance. This dance sequence is presented as the penultimate scene and involves some feathers and beautiful costuming. The dance itself is quite odd. Maybe something was lost because of the lack of sound and therefore you do not know quite what song she is dancing to. Or maybe it is supposed to be odd, like her ball headdress. I don’t know but it is fascinating. In fact this whole film is. Legend has it that every actor and actress in the film is either homosexual or bisexual (Nazimova liked her women and her men very very much.). The costuming, especially of the men, seems to reinforce this notion. The servants (who are all men) wear as little as possible and sparkle like stardust.  The king is flamboyant and openly courts Salome in front of his drab wife. Of course Salome is supposed to be his daughter which makes it gross but in the best way possible. No wonder this film flopped and Nazimova went down in history as only a sidenote. She was too daring. She was too ballsy. She acted too much like a man.

This film should be treated like an event. It should be projected on 35 mm nitrate film stock with a small band accompanying it. It should influence fashion, storytelling and the homosexual experience in film. It should be celebrated just like I did after seeing it for the first time on youtube: with a toast of delicious wine. It is only fitting.

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