• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Wednesday, June 13, 2018

    Salomé (1910)

    Incredibly, even before 1910 there had already been seven silent film adaptations of the story of Herodias' daughter including four release in 1908 alone.1 The oldest of these seven, the German film Tanz de Salome dates all the way back to 1902, three years' before Strauss' famous opera was first performed. Given the opera's popularity, it's not entirely surprising that so many films about the subject were released, nor that Blackton, Capellani and Feuillade were among those to give it a go.

    Nevertheless, 1910 saw the release of two more films about Salome: Herodiade a French effort by Alice Guy's former assistant, Victorin Jasset; and this Italian-based film by Ugo Falena. At the time Falena was working for Film d'Arte Italiana, which as a studio was very much back in third place behind Italy's biggest two largest film producers Cines and Ambrosio.

    As should be clear from the above, the film is colourised, presumably by hand, using the stencil method. Though it won't necessarily be obvious viewing the film using the 240 pixel screen above, viewed in the right way the colour is remarkable. In particularly Salomé's red dress is striking and a fairly early example of using stencilled colour as meaning (the scarlet woman) rather than simply to make things more attractive. In particular the procession when Herod welcomes the 'proconsul' Vitellius (and the biblical films of this era loved a good procession) features various Romans wearing leopard skins where the subtlety and variation of the colour fading is remarkable. We often patronisingly think that silent film producers cared less about their products than those commanding armies of CGI artists today, but the degree of skill and care exhibited by the colouring here should put pay to that.2

    The film broadly follows Wilde/Strauss' variation on the New Testament tale. Certain details such as the Baptist being held in a cistern are drawn straight from the play, but it's interesting that in contrast to the play opera the cistern is a subterranean pit opposed to an above ground structure. I'm not sure where this variation originated, but it finds its way into the 1922 Nazimova film adaptation. Two elements of the plot are also added. The first is the visit of Vitellius (presumably the future emperor, though of where he is meant to be procnsul at the time of the story is anyone's guess). The other is a moment where a serving girl spills wine on Herod and is instantly dragged off, tied to stake and stabbed to death by a group of female revellers. Salome's dance occurs immediately after this incident such that the unfortunate woman's corpse is visible throughout Salomé's dance.

    The dance, such as it is, is preceded by Salomé (Vittoria Lepanto) removing her scarlet robe, to reveal seven veils tucked, rather conveniently, into her waistband and ends with the daughter of Herodias throwing herself on the floor at Herod's feet. John's head arrives on the platter, but the footage - at least in the versions I have seen - ends here, so it's unclear if Salomé kisses the Baptist's severed head or not. In addition to Lepanto, the film starred Ciro Galvani as John, Achille Vitti as Herod and Laura Orette as Herodias.

    Aside from the Nazimova version of the film, seven more films centered on Salome would be released before the close of the silent era, the most famous being the now lost Salome (1918) starring Theda-Bara.3

    1 - Dumont, Hervé (2009) L'antiquité au cinéma  p.374
    Available online at http://www.hervedumont.ch/L_ANTIQUITE_AU_CINEMA/#/374/

    2 -Readers wanting to find out a little more about colour in early silent films should read Fritzi Kramer's introduction at her Movies Silently site.

    3 - Dumont ibid. pp.374-375

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