salome’s last dance

When I first started this blog, my plan was to regularly recommend movies of merit. Such has not been the case, for reasons even I am unsure of. In an effort to remedy this situation, here’s one of my all-time favorite films.

Ken Russell’s little-seen Salome’s Last Dance (1988) is a forgotten gem. Scant distribution, coupled with a smaller budget than on previous efforts, caused it to languish in obscurity. Critics and audience’s expecting The Devils, Altered States, or even Gothic were sadly disappointed, but taken on it’s own, Salome’s Last Dance is a richly rewarding experience. It is, perhaps, the distilled essence of Russell’s films, his more excessive instincts reined in by budgetary constraints. Limitations can often serve to inspire, and such is clearly the case here.

Basically a filmed staging of Oscar Wilde’s Salome – as performed at a brothel – this is a chamber piece, a jewel-box miniature that sparkles gaudily, enticing the viewer into a glittering realm of decadence and depravity. The sets, costumes, and stagecraft are a pleasure to behold; the dialogue enchanting; the lead actors scintillating. As the titular princess, young Imogen Millais-Scott is both seductive and demented. The great Glenda Jackson hams it up as a droll and jaded Evil Queen archetype. And as King Herod, Stratford Johns reaches near-Shakespearean heights. Each of these performances, and indeed the entire endeavor, works on multiple levels, as would befit the conceit of a play-within-a-film. Say what you will about Ken Russell but he understood the power of artifice. Salome’s Last Dance is fabulous.

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