Salome, the daughter of Herodias, seduces her step-father/uncle Herod, governor of Judea, with a salacious dance. In return, he promises her the head of the prophet John the Baptist.Salome, the daughter of Herodias, seduces her step-father/uncle Herod, governor of Judea, with a salacious dance. In return, he promises her the head of the prophet John the Baptist.Salome, the daughter of Herodias, seduces her step-father/uncle Herod, governor of Judea, with a salacious dance. In return, he promises her the head of the prophet John the Baptist.
The art design is meant to be based very much on the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley. I saw a large version of Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist at an exhibition once, it's a quite monstrously beautiful thing, and you get a feeling of a Salomé who wants to play with John's blood. If you also read Beardsley's "The Story of Venus and Tannhauser", which is a fine read, written by the great man whilst dying slowly in the casinos of Deauville, you will find naked erotic content that has nothing in common with this movie. The movie is perverse but in a quite different way, it has a beauty that is not nearly as profane as Beardsley's, but as good in its own way, it's Thespian and ripe with impotency and death. However that doesn't go anywhere near far enough in explaining the luminous and unnerving images created by Nazimova and M. Bryant.
So I think the scene is set very well, of an almost pre-moral world which is metaphorically benighted. Herod presides, a fish-faced man with a droopy wreath, and dirty darkened teeth which are surrounded by a rouged mouth and a heavily whitened face. He's got the appearance of a senile erotomaniac.
Salomé is a milk-and-honey-eyed nymph who peers out tentatively from kohl rings beneath a baubeled coiffure. She is ignorantly innocent as well as tempestuous, and is played by Nazimova, director Charles Bryant's wife. Beardsley's Salomé in contrast has been inducted into depraved rites.
John the Baptist is a gaunt imprisoned man with a fanatic's stare who is portrayed rather irreligiously as a kind of Christian sadist, wishing all sorts of nasties on the women of the court. Shots of him in his cell are brilliant and are positively Sternberg-ian in their luminosity and blasphemous nature (think of the way Russian orthodoxy is portrayed in The Scarlet Empress).
The genius of the film really I think is that it has a slow miasmic tempo, which is achieved by always having slowly wafting fans towering over the court to cool the night down.
Another satisfying thing about the film is that the intertitles, presumably poached from Wilde, are extraordinarily well written. The main detractor from L'Herbier's L'Argent for me is very substandard and naive intertitles. Intertitles can generally only detract from a movie, in Salomé we have a totally unusual example of the opposite.
It's a haunting movie, which more than once made me mutter astounded compliments under my breath. Examples including the "leap", the veil dance, and the peacock montage. I would like to have been there to see what they did with the veil dance to make it so diaphanous, I have an idea they could have done it with strong lighting, the effect was pretty amazing to me.
- Sep 2, 2009