Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SALOME (1923)

Back to the 20s and back to works of considerable literary pedigree, as SALOME sprung from a play by Irishman and homosexual Oscar Wilde, who was inspired by another famous gay sex book called The Bible.  I'm making the homoerotic content here crystal clear because I have seen the search stats.  Visitors in search of "string bikinis" or "narcissistic woman masturbate" are going to have a bad time with this entry (but I am proud of you for spelling that correctly, searcher person!).   


At the early stages of this film, I was afraid that we'd repeated HEADLESS HORSEMAN's sins.  Wordy title cards droned on and said, "Profound was the moral darkness that enveloped the World on which the Star of Bethlehem arose", then said four more title cards' worth of similar things.  Luckily, the text eventually gave way to images, as we visit the very avant-garde court of the Tetrarch, his stepdaughter Salome, and the prophet that they keep locked in their floor underneath a big cage.  And all their RLY WACKY FRIENDS!!!


Like these scholars, who hash out theological arguments by barking, "ANGELS DO NOT EXIST!"  "YES, THEY DO!"  "NO, THEY DON'T, GODDAMNIT!!!"  They also wear craaazy hats!  If someone were to make a SALOME pie chart, perhaps 20% of it would be devoted to supporting characters in outlandish apparel.


30-40% devoted to gay people looking as gay as possible.  The percentage of genuine horror content would be far tinier, despite the Grey who lives in the moon.  Set decoration and general aesthetics kind of steal the show here.


In terms of actual plotting, if you remember your Sunday School youth, you will remember the basics of the story.  Salome is rebuffed by the God-intoxicated prophet Jokanaan, who likes to keep his flanks very warm.  Salome dances for her pervo stepdad in exchange for anything she wants.  And what she wants is the head of the prophet.  Horror arrives, right at the end of our tale.


Mostly, this reads as pre-camp rather than anything meant to genuinely disturb.  Perhaps homosexuality was more threatening in 1923, but the distaff approach tends to deflate the seriousness of the defenestration.  It's hard to get emotionally involved in head-cutting when the grape guy from Fruit of the Loom is vamping it up in grandma's pearls.


 That said, some cool images abound. 


SALOME is hypertheatrical, like a filmed version of experimental theater, so it sometimes doesn't feel so effective as a movie.  It's very stagey and very in love with itself, but it's also frequently pretty dull.  Here, have some weird clothes.  Here, have some bad dancing.  By the time the head-slicing finally happens, it feels like we've been watching for years instead of 72 minutes.


It deserves credit for pioneering the YouTube navigation tools, though (sorry, I'm too lazy to go back and crop stuff out).

RATING: 4

TOP TEN OF THE 1920S (no change):
1.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2.  Faust (1926)
3.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
4.  The Man Who Laughs (1928)
5.  The Unknown (1927)
6.  Maciste in Hell/Maciste all'Inferno (1925)
7.  The Wind (1928)
8.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
9.  A Page of Madness (1926)
10.  The Cat and the Canary (1927)

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