Sunday, September 18, 2011

Insomniac Theater Presents: Salome's Last Dance (Ken Russell, 1988)

Last night, my cat Olivia and I watched Ken Russell's Salome's Last Dance (1988), and wow, what a blast. I can't think of any director I have been as devoted to as Ken Russell. Looking at his IMDB page, I have watched ten of the 19 feature films listed.

Just like his earlier film, The Boyfriend (1971, with Twiggy and 6 foot, 6 inch dancer Tommy Tune), Salome's Last Dance presents itself as a story within a story. However, instead of focusing equally on the actual setting of the play, Salome is almost solely about a performance of Oscar Wilde's banned play, Salome, for it's author,  by staff and customers of a brothel.

Russell's love of literature was also featured in 1988's Gothic, about the famous, 19th century, horror story writing contest that produced both Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and John Polidori's The Vampyre.  Experienced as a laudanum induced hallucination, the viewer gets to see, among other things, breasts with eyes for nipples and Henry Fusell's painting, The Nightmare, come to life as the Shelleys, Lord Byron and other guests attempt to outdo (and undo) each other

Russell's flamboyant, visual style was completely unleashed in 1975's The Who's Tommy, which took viewer on an insane, psychedelic trip.  Resist the urge to watch this movie under the influence of drugs, the film is hallucinogenic enough.  Tina Turner's performance of "The Acid Queen" will tear your soul apart.  And you will never forget Ann Margaret, all in white, writhing on on the floor in front of a television screen, ejaculating baked beans (an allusion to the cover of an early Who album).

Tommy starred Oliver Reed.  Reed is best know (to me) as the hairy chested  Leon in Hammer's 1961 Curse of the Werewolf.  He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Ridley Scott's massively overrated Gladiator ( I know it is a great film, but believe that sometimes the weight of sadness that must crush Russell Crowe is so overwhelming that many nights, he goes in his study, stares at his Best Actor Oscar and weeps in shame, knowing that it belongs to Chow Yun Fat for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.)

Reed played Urban Grandier in Russell's 1971 The Devils, a stew of sex, religion, political intrigue, hysteria, and lesbian nun sex.  Clearest memory, besides the big orgy wherein a statue of Christ is sexually assaulted by a bunch of "possessed" nuns, is the arrival of the witch hunter, who leads his entourage onto the scene like a rock star complete with long hair and purple tinted glasses.

Anyway, Salome's Last Dance is a visual treat as the lounge in the bordello becomes transformed into the setting of Wilde's play.  Wilde's prose, mostly unadulterated, flows from the mouths of the elegantly costumed whores and johns in a delightful cadence.  Imogen Millais-Scott, as Salome, captivates the viewers eyes as she prances around the stage, the petulant teen-ager whose desires lead to her undoing.