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I just saw the opening of "Wilde Salome" in San Francisco, with Al
Pacino there to give an introduction to the film. He described the
passion he felt when he first saw a staged version of "Salome," in
London years ago. He was riveted by the writing and wanted to meet the
author - before he realized that it had been written by Oscar Wilde.
That set him upon a journey to learn more about Wilde and the play
itself. In form, it's like, "Looking for Richard," his 1996 exploration
of Shakespeare's "Richard III."
What follows is a dissection of Wilde's "Salome" that cuts between a stage performance, the filming of that stage performance, filming in the desert to catch the feeling of Biblical life, and a documentary about Pacino's own exploration. While the film can seem a bit disjointed, it's actually a circular route that ends at the most dramatic parts of the play.
Pacino weaves in bits of Wilde's tempestuous private life and how it relates to the themes of the play. (I didn't know that his wife and children changed their last name to "Holland" after his jail sentence.) It includes visits to Wilde's London house and ultimately to the hotel room in Paris where he died - and where he famously said on his deathbed, "Either the wallpaper goes or I go."
The performance of the play itself is anchored by the Salome of Jessica Chastain, in her first film role. Pacino said that he would not have made the movie without her. And one can see why; it's an electric performance filled with passion, coquettishness, raw sexuality, and evil. After Herod promises Salome whatever she wants in return for dancing for him, he is shocked when she demands the head of John the Baptist. Pacino's King Herod then promises her peacocks, jewels, and titles. But Chastain's Salome never wavers in her vengeful demand. She had been spurned by John the Baptist and she is determined to win - at all costs.
But, ultimately, this is Pacino's story. I felt that it was a bit of a vanity project because Pacino overwhelms both the play and Wilde. He is an over-the-top performer and an over-the-top personality. He pulses with passion, fire, frustration, humor, and intellectual curiosity. One can either marvel at his intensity or be irritated by it. At times, he seems to be a caricature of himself - the bellowing Al Pacino of "The Devil's Advocate."
"Wilde Salome" is an enlightening journey into the world of Wilde, acting, preparation, directing - and the art of being Al Pacino.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wilde Salomé is a documentary-drama film that is an exploration of
Oscar Wilde's play Salomé.It was starred,written and directed by Al
Pacino.The cast also includes Jessica Chastain,Kevin Anderson,Estelle
Parsons and Roxanne Hart.
The docudrama takes us on Oscar Wilde's once banned and most controversial work Salome, a scintillating tale of lust, greed and one woman's scorn.Written in 1891, the one-act play was banned from being performed publicly in the U.K., owing to an archaic law prohibiting the depiction of biblical characters on stage. A prime example of turn-of- the-century decadence, the work is a hothouse of sexual tension whose fortunes were particularly tied to Wilde's increasing demonization as a "sodomite." At the infamous 1918 Billing trial in London, the play was called "a perfect museum of sexual pathology" and it only received its first public performance in the U.K. in 1931.In the play excerpts, shot in Los Angeles in, Pacino is Herod and Jessica Chastain is his stepdaughter Salome, who willfully demands that he bring her the head of John the Baptist.Wilde's climactic scene, as Salome does her veil dance and Herod tries to coax her out of her murderous whim, has a surprisingly vivid kick; but that's just part of the fun. Pacino makes pilgrimages to Wilde haunts in Dublin and London; chats up Tom Stoppard, Gore Vidal, Tony Kushner, and Bono for insights into the gay Irishman's genius and tragic end; and, in a few scenes shot in the desert, impersonates Herod in a caftan and burnoose, as if in a screen test to play Gaddafi.
Little of this makes it into it despite Pacino's stated wish to examine the nature of the play and its background. In fact, within the first five minutes, the star admits he doesn't know what he's doing, and by the time the end credits roll the objective isn't clear. What makes it interesting is that he brings some actors out to the Mojave Desert to imitate the desert of Judea.Playing mostly himself but also King Herod and, in one scene, Oscar Wilde, with whom he toys with identifying, Pacino is the creator and real subject of the work. For all its esotericism, it can count on the star appeal of veteran Pacino and Jessica Chastain's first film as she fascinating in the role of Salome.See it for these reasons alone.
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