• 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


    Monday, August 21, 2023

    Wilde Salomé (2013)

    I've wanted to see Al Pacino's Salomé production for many years despite not being entirely sure what it was. There were seeming two entries on IMDb that seemed relevant and while things are a little clearer there now, originally it was confusing. Was this a filmed play, or a (more standard movie); or was it a documentary. It briefly popped up on Amazon Prime so I bookmarked it to come back to. And then it disappeared. 

    Fortunately, after an absence of 2 or so years (in the UK at least) it's back on Prime again to rent or buy on Amazon. So, ever trying to learn from past mistakes, I snapped it up, watched it and decided I should probably get some initial thoughts down before it disappears again.

    It turns out that what you are buying is in two distinct entities run into one. Firstly there is a documentary called Wilde Salomé from 2011. This is then immediately followed by a filmed version of the play which sits part way between a filmed play and a film. I'll offer a few thoughts on the latter in a future post as it's more the typical focus of this blog, but for now here are a few thoughts on the documentary


    Wilde Salomé is a 90 minute documentary which tracks Pacino's journey in adapting Oscar Wilde's famous play Salomé. Apparently the project has been a long term passion project for Pacino and he tells his story as he tours round various key locations in Wilde's lifetime, in Ireland, the US and in the UK. We also hear from a number of other people Pacino talks to, ranging from one of Wilde's descendants and people like Bono, through to a literal man on the street outside one of Wilde's British homes who, despite being a local resident, had no idea of the location's significance prior to bumping into Al Pacino blocking the pavement there. There's also some footage from Israel/Palestine.

    The travelogue footage is interspersed with extensive excerpts from the filmed version of the play, as well as lots of behind the scenes footage. Pacino trying to bring the production together, rehearsals, passionate discussions about the way a certain aspect should be handled. It emerges that there are three levels to the project which are all being produced in the same five days period: the stage play, which is being performed in from of a paying audience; a separate filmed version of the play which is being shot in the same few days, but entirely separately from the theatrical version; and the documentary itself. 

    There are certainly some interesting details, particularly for those, who like me, can recall only a little about Wilde and are never sure how much of it is true and how much is fiction from productions ranging from comedies such as Blackadder Goes Forth (1989) to more serious biopics like Wilde (1997) starring Blackadder alumnus Stephen Fry.

    The details of Wilde's final years, particularly those of his incarceration in a hard labour prison are pretty horrifying and the more editorial take on "Bosie", is welcome. I picture him as Jude Law, forget his father's codifying of the rules of boxing and can never recall a great deal else.

    Richard Strauss's famous operatic adaptation also gets a mention here -- For some strange reason I struggle to think of Strauss's work as coming after Wilde's. He, or at least his opera, somehow seems like a much more established / accepted work in terms of the British establishment. 

    While there are I'd really have liked a decent discussion of other filmed versions of the play or story. Pacino mentioned first seeing the Steven Berkhoff version in the late 1990s, and there's a little footage from that, but only regarding how it inspired him. And then there's footage from an early silent version and another adaptation shot in the Mojave desert. Fine if you want to skip the 1953 Rita Heyworth version (which not only steers clear of Wilde's play and drops the accent on the "e", but also changes Salome into a heroine who thinks she's dancing to save John the Baptist), but it would be nice to hear his thoughts on the 1922 Nazimova version or Ken Russell's The Last Dance (1988).  Actually I should get round to reviewing that one myself...

    All in all, there are certainly some points of interest, and it does flesh out Pacino's filmed version of the play which follows, but it's not as interesting as might be hoped, partly because, for all Pacino's charisma and enthusiasm, there's very little discipline. Pet passions like this need reigning in and this is hard to do when the obsessive fan making the project is one of Hollywood's biggest ever stars. It's not hard to imagine -- not least seeing the direct way with which Pacino talks to his colleagues -- that no-one really stood up to him to reign him in a bit. 

    But hey, I'm hardly one to talk. And just as I've enjoyed carving out a bit of space on the internet to let my pet passion ramble on untethered, then why shouldn't he? And for a making-of style documentary for a film about strong, irresistible, irrational passions, perhaps that's rather appropriate.  



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