Salomé (1923) at the Purcell Room, 9 February 2012

Salomé (1923)
Alla Nazimova in Salomé (1923)

A rare screening of a much-gossiped-about silent film, made by one of Hollywood’s most controversial stars, presented in a unique way. Well, that tickles our fancy just fine.

Alla Nazimova was born in what is now Ukraine in 1879. She made her stage debut in Moscow as a teenager and swiftly became a big star. She then moved to New York to work on Broadway, winning plaudits with roles in plays by Chekhov and Ibsen and made her first movie, War Brides, in 1916.

Nazimova is best remembered for her colourful life in Hollywood: her several affairs with women, the rumoured wild parties at her mansion and her position of influence in the industry, helping many a young actress to get a start, including Anna May Wong, Patsy Ruth Miller, Natacha Rambova and Jean Acker. The last two were married to Rudolph Valentino, but were also romantically linked to Nazimova.

Her most famous film, Salomé, was also fodder for the rumour-mill. An adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play, it was said that the cast comprised only gay and bisexual actors, in homage to the author. It’s impossible to say whether this was really true, but the idea has certainly stuck. Nazimova takes the title role, Charles Bryant directs and the whole thing is just over an hour of extravagant Aubrey Beardsley-inspired design, sexy costumes and decadence. Salomé slumped at the box office, bankrupting Nazimova’s production company, but continues to intrigue audiences, becoming something of an art nouveau cult sensation.

This February, Salomé will be screened at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre, with live music composed by Charlie Barber, which is inspired by ” the evocative sounds and intricate rhythms of traditional Arabic ensembles”. Instead of sitting in front of the screen, the musicians will perform on two towers on either side of it, which sounds like a fantastic idea.

This clip shows the famous “Dance of the seven veils” from Salomé, with a taster of Charlie Barber’s score:

Salomé screens at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre on Thursday 9 February 2012 at 7.45pm. Tickets begin at £12 and are available here.

• We’ll see more of Nazimova when the silent Rudolph Valentino biopic Silent Life is released later this year. Nazimova is played by Galina Jovovich.

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