A 1923 interpretation of dear Oscar Wilde’s Salome.
Watch from the beginning here.
Salomé’s Dance – from Charlie Barber’s score for percussion and voices featuring the 1923 film starring Alla Nazimova
Salomé (1923) is a rarely seen curiosity from the silent era of film. Based on an idea of artist and Hollywood 1920s bohemian Natacha Rambova, the film was produced by and starred the flamboyant Russian actress, Alla Nazimova and directed by Charles Bryant. Nazimova’s intention was to produce a piece of work that would raise the artistic levels of American film. Filmed in 1923, it might be considered one of the first ‘arthouse’ films to be made.
An adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, it has, like the play, always been surrounded by controversy. Before it had even been completed rumours took hold that Nazimova had demanded an all gay and bi-sexual cast in homage to the playwright. Adding to its notoriety is the film’s undoubted aura of loaded eroticism, heightened by the melodramatic, highly stylised performances of the cast. The film’s visual imagery matched the illustrations made by Aubrey Beardsley and was in black and white only, having just some metallic details as accents that would thus reflect the light. As one critic commented, it is “more like a bizarre Art Nouveau-inspired erotic dream than a piece of cinema”.
Hebrew text – Psalm 1, v3:
v’hayah ke’etz shatul al-palgei mayim asher piryo yiten be’ito
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season
Inspired by early fragments of music from Judea and Syria, this version of Salomé features an array of percussion instruments and voices.
Dominated by an assortment of drums, tambourines, castanets and cymbals, the percussion battery also includes the Sistrum (a small instrument with bronze jingles used in dances and religious ceremonies in ancient Egypt), Djembe (a traditional skin-covered African drum) and Tibetan Singing Bowls.
A large amount of the percussion writing is derived from ‘wazn’, the fixed rhythmic patterns that are the building blocks for Arabic music from earliest times. Most wazn are in unusual time lengths such as 10, 13 or 19 – each constructed out of smaller units of long and short beats.
For the Film
Director – Charles Bryant
Writers – Oscar Wilde (play), Peter M Winters (scenario)
Cinematography – Charles Van Enger
Art Direction/Costume – Natacha Rambova
Mitchell Lewis – Herod, Tetrach of Judea
Alla Nazimova – Salomé, stepdaughter of Herod
Rose Dione – Herodias, wife of Herod
Earl Schenk – Narraboth, Captain of the Guard
Nigel De Brulier – Jokanaan, the Prophet
Arthur Jasmine – Page of Herodias
Frederick Peters – Naaman, the Executioner
Louis Dumar – Tigellinus, a young Roman
Nick Baron – percussion
James Hulme – percussion
Alun Hathaway – percussion
Dave Danford – percussion
Rhiannon Llewellyn – soprano
Gareth Treseder – tenor
Kelvin Thomas – bass
Sianed Jones – vocal improvisations