Starring the tempestuous, Russian-born Alla Nazimova, Salome adapts the controversial Oscar Wilde play with an abundance of sumptuously fantastic visuals. Loosely based on the Biblical story, this saga of King Herod and ... more »his unbridled lust for his young stepdaughter leads to the haughty Salome's demand of the head of John the Baptist in exchange for an alluring dance. Hailed as America's first art film, this striking evocation of a fantastic, surreal era of perpetual night and rampant debauchery still retains its power to shock and captivate. No less remarkable is Lot in Sodom, a sensual depiction of the Sodom and Gomorrah story filled with sinewy and semi-clad bodies, delirious bacchanales devoted to physical pleasure, and a searing, cataclysmic finale depicting the fall of a city devoted to sins of the flesh. Both films are digitally mastered from excellent 35mm elements. Salome includes a choice of an orchestral score composed and conducted by Marc-Olivier Dupin and a score composed and performed by Silent Orchestra (Carlos Garza and Rich O'Meara). Lot In Sodom has its original experimental soundtrack by Alec Wilder.« less
"Oscar Wilde's 1892 retelling of the Bible story of Salome, who danced before Herod to win the death of John the Baptist, was considered so depraved that the High Lord Chamberlain of England refused to grant it a license for public performance--and in the wake of Wilde's scandalous exposure as a homosexual and his subsequent imprisonment, all of Wilde's plays were swept from the stage. Wilde, who died in 1900, never saw his play publicly performed.The worth of Wilde's plays were reestablished by the 1920s, but even so SALOME, with its convoluted and exotic language and hothouse sense of depravity, remained something of a theatrical untouchable--and certainly so where the screen was concerned. No one dared consider it until Russian-born Alla Nazimova, who is generally credited with bringing Stanislaski technique to the New York stage, decided to film it in 1923.It proved a disaster. Theatergoers in large cities might be prepared to accept Wilde's lighter plays, but Main Street America was an entirely different matter--especially where the notorious SALOME was concerned, particularly when the film was dogged hints of Nazimova's lesbianism and by the rumor that it had been done with an "all Gay cast" in honor of Wilde himself. Critics, censors, and the public damned the film right and left. It received only limited distribution and faded quickly from view. Even so, the legend of both the film and its exotic star grew over time. And so now, some eighty years after its creation, Nazimova's SALOME is at last widely available to the public in this DVD release, which packages it alongside the 1933 art-short LOT IN SODOM.Given that much of the original play's power is in Wilde's language, SALOME suffers from translation to silent film--the title cards are often awkwardly long, and in general fail to convey the tone of Wilde's voice; moreover, the convolutions of the original have been necessarily simplified for the silent form. Even so, it is a remarkable thing in a purely visual sense. Directed in a deliberately flat style by Charles Bryant and designed by Natacha Rambova (wife of Valentino, she would also design Nazimova's silent CAMILLE), the look of the film seeks to reproduce the playscript's equally infamous illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley--and succeeds to a remarkable degree.And then there is Nazimova herself. Well into her forties at the time she played the teenage Salome, Nazimova is an electric presence: while she often shows her years in close up, she is remarkably effective in capturing the willful, petulant, and ultimately depraved Salome in facial expression and body posture, balancing an over-the-top style with moments of quiet realism to most remarkable effect. The supporting cast is also quite memorable, with Mitchell Lewis (Herod) and Rose Dione (Herodias) particularly notable.The accompanying LOT IN SODOM is related to SALOME only in the sense that it too has a Biblical theme. Created by J.S. Watson and Melville Webber, this 1933 film is less "art" than "experimental," and consists largely of double, triple, and quadruple exposures of writing and often seminude bodies--and while it clearly influenced later experimental filmmakers such as Kenneth Anger, it is perhaps best regarded as an interesting curiosity.SALOME is not, perhaps, a "great" film in the traditional sense--and given the technical limitations and social restrictions of the era it never could have been--but it is not for want of trying, and it is worth noting that its designs and style have cast a very long shadow; indeed, when Ken Russell set out to film SALOME as a "play within a play" for the film THE LAST DANCE OF SALOME, he borrowed ideas quite liberally from Nazimova's original. While it is no more likely to appeal to today's rank-and-file viewer than it did eighty years ago, it is a must-own for those interested in silent film, who will likely find it fascinating and frustrating in equal degrees.LOT IN SODOM does not appear to have been significantly restored in any way, and the short film is riddled with scratches and blips and assorted artifacts. SALOME, however, has been restored; even so, the film was neglected for many years, and the restoration represents a "best case" situation rather than "mint." The DVD offers the option of two soundtracks for SALOME; for myself, I preferred the Garza-O'Meara score performed by Silent Orchestra, but both are quite good, each in its own way. Recommended to silent film fans with a taste for the unexpected.GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
Utterly Bizarre Double Bill
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 07/24/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If proof were ever needed that silent films were an art form unto themselves as opposed to just a primitive warm up to the talkies then Alla Nazimova's SALOME' is it. Even 80 years after its initial release SALOME' remains art with a capital A. This is not necessarily a good thing as works that fall into that category are more often than not appreciated only by a select few.
The production is based on Aubrey Beardsley's scandalous drawings of Oscar Wilde's even more scandalous play. In this respect the film is a complete success with credit for the design going to Natacha Rambova (Valentino's wife who was originally born Winifred Shaughnessy Hudnut) who worked closely with Nazimova to create what is probably the most stylized film ever made. It is this ultra stylization which makes the film so utterly bizarre even to today's audiences.
Once seen the film cannot be forgotten as there are enough memorable images in it to fill 10 movies. Nazimova is utterly mesmerizing as Salome' with Mitchell Lewis' Herod one of the most decadent looking figures you'll ever see (Fellini MUST have seen this movie) while Nigel De Brulier's Jokaanan radiates spirituality.
The film was a notorious flop in its day so special thanks go to Image Entertainment and all who worked on this restoration to make the film available once again as very few people have ever seen it. It has some signs of minor decomposition but these are hardly noticeable and with 2 scores to choose from you get to pick the one that works best for you.
The second part of the double bill is the experimental short film LOT IN SODOM which was made in 1933. While just as artistic in its expression as SALOME', it lacks the delirious visuals that make Nazimova's film so memorable but it makes a nice companion piece for the DVD. An excellent disc for the silent film enthusiast and the more discriminating movie buff."
A Visual Feast for Salome Fans
J P Falcon | Fords, New Jersey United States | 07/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unfortunately, there are not many film adaptions of Oscar Wilde's play Salome available on DVD....there is Ken Russel's Salome's Last Dance which is very good, but is a play within a play, so it is not a true representation of the work....perhaps the best adaption of Salome has been Richard Strauss' opera and I urge anyone who loves the play to see it, as the music and faithful libretto make for compelling viewing...now however, there is an alternative, and Nazimova makes for a an interesting and conflicted Salome...she actually depicts Salome in three different characterizations throughout the play....initially Salome is shown as a flirtatious and tempetuous teenager whose sexual awakening blooms at the sight of John the Baptist(Jokanaan)...she then is transformed into a youthful seductress as she coyly temps and taunts a lust ridden Herod during the dance of the seven veils...it should be noted that Salome's dance could have passed for a flappers gig performed at any 20's Chicago beerhall...Nazimova's final transformation of the Salome character occurs after the head of John is presented to her...Salome appears more mature and perhaps a bit wiser as she declares her genuine love for John and is resigned to her impending doom...these changes in character are performed remarkably by Nazimova especially when you consider it is a silent film and these changes are reflected by her mood, costume, and facial expressions....there are many scenes which stand out but the most moving is when the brutish executioner, when faced to deal the death blow to John, instead kneels in reverence in front of the Baptist...John's own sexual stirrings towards Salome, and his denial by strength of faith, is also well done...Herod is ably portrayed as a lout while his wife Herodias is a shrieking shrew....the sets are avante garde and are something that you well may see in a production of the Strauss opera...there are two different scores to the film and both are effective and it's interesting to listen to both scores during a particular scene to compare the composer's intent....While stage productions of Salome are fairly common, it is not easy to find traditional film versions of the work, especially on DVD, so this is a release that is a vital addition to anyone who loves Oscar Wilde's play...highy recommended."
"This is an excellent DVD package. "Salomé", the play, has aged very well and this film version shows how it should be played. The actors are uniformly excellent, with special emphasis on Nazimova (Salomé) and Rose Dione (Herodias). I'm withholding only one star because Jokanaan could have been bearded and looked a tad more masculine and desirable and a tad less like an angry junkie and the page could have been a tad less effeminate with less of an underbite and more charm. Of the two scores, the small mostly-woodwind ensemble composed and conducted by Marc-Olivier Dupin is musically "interesting", which is unfortunately the kiss of death for film music. It is flaccid, rhythmically challenged, at times jarring with the action, mostly uninvolving and at all times BORING. The alternate score, composed and performed by Silent Orchestra (Carlos Garza and Rich O'Meara), even though it only uses two players, gloriously recreates all the instruments of the orchestra (on electronic keyboards and percussion) and has all the musical qualities lacking in the other offering, including more than a passing reference to French Orientalism, great attention to the action, a genuinely heartfelt dramatic arc and a solid 5.1 surround recording. Nazimova's staging of Salomé is uncompromising, even though the prophet's severed head is never shown and the final kiss happens under a veil. Even with those slight attenuations, the play still carries great impact and I'm sure it didn't go down too well in places like Akron, Ohio, in the twenties. I'm afraid, however, it will not shock anyone today when innocent 8 to 12 year-old girls are trained by their ambient American culture to act and dress like little hookers, following in the footsteps of Madonna, Beyoncé, Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson. The accompanying avant-garde talkie "Lot in Sodom" is mistakenly legendary as a "gay classic" that has been pored over and analyzed by film cultists for decades. Although I will grant it is obscure and has possibly several levels of meaning, it has always struck me as a particularly heterosexual ode to procreation (especially in view of what Lot's daughters eventually have to go through to insure their father's lineage after their mother's death). There is more female than male nudity on display and the Sodomites' sin is eventually depicted, as should be understood in the Bible, more like a crime against the sacred law of hospitality than a "crime against nature". Darn! I suppose repressed gay audiences have, for generations, looked on it with pride, as at least a fleeting depiction of "what they are", because of the sheer lack of better examples."
Steven Hellerstedt | 11/28/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Charles Bryant's SALOME is a gaudy, glittering, fantastical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play of the same name; his `historical phantasy' of the Jewish princess who danced and demanded as payment the head of John the Baptist. Wilde's play is faithfully, perhaps too faithfully, rendered. All the action takes place on one large set, and it very much feels like we're watching a stage play. The actors sway and swoop, arch their backs and throw back their heads to portray the pangs of unrequited love. Great stuff if you're sitting in the back row of a large auditorium, but a bit too much when the actors are photographed in full shot and closer. I enjoyed it, but I can imagine being turned off by the artificiality of it all. The costumes, based on illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, are pretty loud as well. Salome (Alla Nazimova, simply billed as Nazimova in this one) wears what looks like small, glittering Christmas tree bulbs in her wig, and when she's pictured in her peacock gown it look as if she's embedded on a page from Beardsley's sketch book. The second film on the dvd, LOT IN SODOM, is a whole different kettle of fish. Although made in the sound era (1933), there's no dialogue, save for an off-screen prayer and other stray bits of words, in its thirty minutes. Just about everything is thrown into this one - multiple exposures, prismatic lens effects, cascaded and rotated images. Everything save coherence. If, as I think may have been the case, this was an experiment in telling a story using only filmed images, pure film storytelling, I'd called it a mixed success. If you don't know the biblical story of Lot this will probably seem very confusing. LOT IN SODOM isn't much more than a 30-minute montage, interesting and uninvolving. Both movies are taken from acceptable to good source prints (SALOME seems to have come from multiple source prints). As an added bonus, SALOME comes with two music tracks, each of which give the movie a different emotional feel.