Review: Salome @ Lichfield Festival

This is one of the best and most original things I’ve seen in a long time. It shouldn’t really work being merely an old forgotten silent film with some new music, but it does, on lots of levels at once. But why?

Well the first thing (which the programme doesn’t mention) is that this is a film of Oscar Wilde’s decadent and outrageous play Salome which couldn’t be presented in England in his lifetime and was instead performed in naughty Paris. Second the highly stylised set and costumes designed by Natacha Rambova (Mrs. Rudolf Valentino) are “inspired” by Aubrey Beardsley, but have that extra decadence and luxury as if executed by French showman Erte nodding enthusiastically to the Ballets Russes.

Everywhere there are references not only to the history of design but to its future. So we have a pair of tiny black pages, literally very small children wearing powdered eighteenth century headdresses higher than themselves. But this 1923 Salome first appears in a Fortuny mini-dress, and later dances in a metallic number that makes her look like Jean Shrimpton glimpsed gyrating on Ready Steady Go.

There is nudity, sexual titillation and sly deviancy everywhere that keeps the viewer guessing and it has to be said, enthralled. But that’s not all. Because on two towers placed either side of the screen four young black-clad musicians thrillingly performed a sumptuous percussive sound-track unnervingly invoking the strangeness and exoticism of this visually sophisticated exercise in style.

I have no idea why this marvellous film has been forgotten, but I can only applaud composer Charlie Barber’s superb taste in rescuing a mislaid masterpiece and in composing his miraculous score so wonderfully played by these outstanding musicians. I would quite happily see this again tonight but they’ve whisked off to Buxton already. Come back soon please Mr Barber, and bring your musicians with you.

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