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Pioneer Entertainment presents
Salome's Last Dance (1987)

"Let me kiss your mouth."
- Salome (Imogen Millais-Scott)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: July 11, 2000

Stars: Glenda Jackson, Stratford Johns, Nickolas Grace
Other Stars: Douglas Hodge, Imogen Millais-Scott
Director: Ken Russell

MPAA Rating: R for (Nudity)
Run Time: 01h:29m:18s
Release Date: September 14, 1999
UPC: 013023031296
Genre: offbeat

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-B- B-

DVD Review

On the night of his birthday, author Oscar Wilde (Nickolas Grace—Brideshead Revisited), descends upon an English brothel accompanied by his male lover (Douglas Hodge as Brozey/John the Baptist), where a private showing of his latest work "Salome's Last Dance" will be staged. His play has been banned from the playhouses of London for its erotic and blasphemous nature, thus this showing features a cast comprised of courtesans and their clients, with the role of Herod (Stratford Johns) played by none other than the brothel owner himself. From his cushioned perch in the center of the drawing room, Wilde witnesses the unfolding of his tale of passion, betrayal and revenge in grand theatrical style.

As the play begins, young Salome (Imogen Millais-Scott), daughter of Queen Herodius (Glenda Jackson), finds her way onto the balcony where an infatuated young captain of the guard eyes her. Salome, however is more interested in the man imprisoned in the black depths of the guardhouse, the man known as the prophet John the Baptist. Using her seductive wiles, she coerces the guardsmen to release John the Baptist, whom she unsuccessfully tries to woo with her charms. After the young guardsman kills himself in jealousy, the king comes out on the terrace and is dismayed by the omen presented by the blood now on his shoes. He too is captivated by the young Salome (his brother's daughter), and lasciviously requests her to dance for him, in return for anything she wants. Finally, she submits to his request and performs the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils. When she reveals the price for this undertaking, the results are echoed in Wilde's own life.

Considering that the entire feature is shot in one room with a single stage dressing, director and screenwriter Ken Russell (Crimes of Passion, Altered States) manages to pull together quite a fine piece of work, that could otherwise have been cinematically boring. Varying his compositions and camera angles he crafts a film which leaves the vast majority of Wilde's stageplay intact. The exquisite portrayal of Salome is pulled off by Imogen Millais-Scott, who dynamically recites long stretches of dialogue in a single shot. Herod is masterfully played by Stratford Johns, and Glenda Jackson also excels as Herodius. The set and costumes are overdone (except for the half dressed female guards), as is the makeup, in decadent theatrical fashion. As the story unfolds Russell returns to the audience showing Wilde partaking of champagne, cigars and a young boy from the production, adding a connection with the staged scenes. Although he took a few factual liberties with the ending (which are outlined in his commentary), the story parallels the actual events which led to Wilde's ultimate imprisonment.

I found this film somewhat difficult on first viewing, mainly due to the rich theatrical style in which the film is presented. However, upon revisiting it while listening to the commentary, the true artistry of the work becomes much more evident, and I could appreciate the performances more now knowing the outcome. Russell cameos as the photographer, and has interesting anecdotes to share about his performance on the commentary track.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is quite good, with rich deep blacks and vibrant color in the costumes and set pieces. Film grain is evident, but not disturbing. The image is a touch soft, though it looks natural this way, and there is no annoying edge enhancement employed. The overall look of the film is fairly dark, but not overly so, and seems intentional given the style of the presentation.

The DVD utilized an existing open matte transfer, and though Russell's intended ratio was 1.66:1, he did not feel it necessary to matte the image for the DVD release. Considering the type of film this is, I feel the presentation is very adequate, with no distracting dust or dirt elements in the print.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio quality for the feature Dolby Stereo track is very good, though the staging is primarily focused on the center dialogue with musical cues spreading the image. Russell notes that the soundtrack is made up of public domain works by Debussey, Korsikov and Grieg (Hall of the Mountain King accompanies the famous Dance of the Seven Veils). The presentation is suitable and doesn't detract from the experience in the least.

The commentary track, while accompanying the entire feature, is broken into segments, with lapses back to the feature audio in between. This track doesn't fare quite as well from a technical standpoint, with some hum or distortion in a few passages while Russell is talking. Though not technically perfect, it is what is said that counts, and this is where Sharpline Arts (who also supplied supplements on The Lair Of The White Worm) has done another fine job in bringing Ken Russell's thoughts to DVD in a concise and interesting manner.

The feature and commentary audio channels are available while the film is playing from the remote control.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Lair Of The White Worm
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Ken Russell
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As mentioned above, the commentary track is broken into segments separated by feature audio. As with his work on the The Lair of the White Worm DVD, Russell is engaging, blending information on the film, the play's author, and the production throughout the commentary. He relays a wealth of information about the real life Wilde, and comments on the actors—as well as his own performance at length. Two trailers (one for Salome's Last Dance, the other for The Lair of the White Worm) round out the supplements. Not extensive, but the commentary content makes up for any lack of production or cast info that would be somewhat redundant.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

For a film as unique as this, it is hard to recommend it across the board. It is stylish and interesting, and I would imagine that those with a taste for something a little more fringe would enjoy it. As it is imperative to the story, Wilde's homosexuality is well established and observed throughout the film. Less imperative is the abundant female toplessness (I can't tell if they are only wearing makeup or pasties) and some brief full frontal nudity. If you find any of the above offensive, I would recommend staying away. Otherwise, it is a well executed film featuring a complete performance of Oscar Wilde's banned play (which was never actually performed during his lifetime), as only Ken Russell could do it.

I would also recommend a visit to the Sharpline Arts site for a look at their production diary for this and The Lair Of The White Worm.


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