Oct 19, 2013

Salomè (1972)

After having the rare and distinct pleasure of recently getting to see the Italian flick Veruschka - poesia di una donna (1971) aka Veruschka: Poetry of a Woman starring the eponymous German supermodel, I felt the need to see more of the tragic and melancholy but always stylish 1970s Veruschka von Lehndorff and her bizarre self-created body art, so I decided to watch the bodacious, bawdy, and blasphemous piece of keenly kaleidoscopic celluloid Salomè (1972) aka Neon Vampires directed by wacked-out Guido Renaissance man Carmelo Bene (Our Lady of the Turks, Capricci), a filmmaker that had next to nil interest in films/filmmakers of his time, once confessing regarding his thoughts on cinema history, “[Cinema] it’s the celebration of the Lumière Brothers. That is: since the Lumière period, what has come out of it? If you exclude that minimum of "self-fright” sought at all costs, or that hint of bewilderment in certain African tribes, at the sight of that train. The Lumières… I think their commemoration goes on since the 19th century. The same one which has been perpetuated,” as if he had the megalomaniacal mind to attempt to resume where the Lumière brothers left off.  Described by kosher cineaste Amos Vogel in his work Film as a Subversive Art (1974) as, “an unknown genius of contemporary cinema” whose films are “visual, lyrical and auditory cataclysms, whose lava-like outpourings are of unequalled hallucinatory perversity…Their visual density and creative exuberance defy description,” Bene was a filmmaker whose cinematic works, in their flamboyance and pageantry, surpass even the most surreal and sensational works of Federico Fellini, including Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and Satyricon (1969), and like virtually all of his major works, with Salomè—a work loosely based on but uncredited to Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play of the same name, which, in turn, was based on the Biblical story of Salome—the shamelessly flamboyant yet surprisingly heterosexual absurd-garde auteur puts himself at the center of the sensually Satanic action by playing the role of King Tetrarch Herod Antipas (a man accused in the pseudepigraphical Gospel of Peter of ordering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) , the hyper horny and incestuous maniac monarch who served John the Baptist’s head on a platter to his Semitic slut stepdaughter Salomé in dubious payment for her infamous proto-femme fatale ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ in what is true dirty dancing of the delectable decadent dego variety.

 Featuring lanky yet lecherous Nordic goddess Veruschka as a bead-adorned yet ultimately unclad (beads are nowhere to be found when it comes to her naughty bits!) beauty with an aversion to clothing who arrives on the scene via the sea, a very vain and vampiric Jesus Christ who cries like a bitch as he rather unsuccessfully attempts to nail himself to the cross, a physically grotesque Salome with a dyke-inspired shaved head who could only appeal to the most degenerate of shabbos goy kings, a shit-talking and soccer-saluting John the Baptist who has no problem taking a couple blows to the head via a big book so long as he can call Salome a slut and whore, a debauched ancient aristocrat who dines out of women’s derrieres, and the sort of in-your-face watermelon and buttocks fetishism you might expect from an American Deep South rap video, Bene’s Salomè is sharply schizophrenic and sacrilegious celluloid at its most suavely sardonic, strangely and semi-sinisterly salacious and sordid, and spastically surreal. Directed by a man who once stated of his no less iconoclastic TV movies, “When editing is being made during the shot, one can achieve a music-movie. Then recording becomes an event,” Salomè is a seemingly impenetrable work that will most likely thoroughly enrage and irritate both cinephiles and epileptics alike as an ADHD-inspired, art-addled work where no single shot lasts longer than a second or two and that makes the intellectually masturbatory montages of Sergei Eisenstein seem like that of Béla Tarr, but also an innately aesthetically idiosyncratic work of nihilistic neon naughtiness that borrows from Baroque art, the Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, and cubism, as well as the greats of Italian Futurism and German expressionist cinema, but also popular goombah auteur filmmakers, especially Federico Fellini, even if Bene would never admit so. A sort of grotesque ‘Guido Lucifer Rising,’ Salomè—a nearly narrative-less celluloid nightmare of the peculiarly ‘high-camp’ sort that takes Italian histrionic acting to more hysterical heights and is more absurd and aberrant than Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty—is quite arguably auteur Carmelo Bene’s celluloid magnum opera, especially compared to the director’s previous film Don Giovanni (1970), which is a sort of aesthetic and thematic prototype for what was accomplished with the filmmaker’s Oscar Wilde adaption. 

 Opening with a scene of beaded yet naked baldheaded Veruschka as “Myrrhina”—an Alexandrian noblewoman of the femme fatale sort featured in Oscar Wilde’s unfinished play La Sainte Courtisane (1894) who attempts to tempt a Christian hermit named Honorius away from goodness—Bene’s Salomè immediately establishes itself as a wild and whimsical take on Wilde that endlessly wallows in wanton whores of the sinister skinheaded sort corrupting the lives of men, especially of the god-bothering sort. Flash forward a couple seconds to a surreal scene of the Last Supper where a vampiric Jesus Christ declares to his Apostles that, “One of you will betray me” and a split second later a Jew drops a bunch of Shekels and said Apostles unanimously declare, “me, me, me” in their greedy desire to play Judas against their undead master. With goofy Disney-esque animated camels jumping through golden hoops, swarthy lard asses slicing watermelons in half with Arab swords, and a bloodsucking Christ carrying the disrobed bodies of voluptuous young women, the radically ridiculous realm of Bene’s Salomè is serenaded in superlatively silly sacrilege that takes the Biblical story of Salome and death of John the Baptist about as serious as a soda-induced hiccup. Before the glorious appearance of unholy Judaic harlot Salome, young Roman twinks in borderline drag queen makeup whisper about the Jews, with one young man asking who are the “wild beasts howling?” and the other responding that, “The Jews, they are always like that…They are in dispute over their religion.” Flash forward and Salome (Donyale Luna, who not surprisingly appeared in Fellini Satyricon), against the better judgment of her Jewish princess mother Herodias (bizarrely played by two actors simultaneously of different sexes, Lydia Mancinelli and Alfiero Vincenti) and stepfather Tetrarch (Carmelo Bene), decides to speak to the prophet John the Baptist, a seemingly senile and exceedingly eccentric old fart absurdly dressed in an anachronistic soccer uniform who insults the Hebrew harlot, calling her a “daughter of Sodom” and “daughter of a whore” among various other disparaging yet fitting things. For his hysterical insults to Salome, John the Baptist is beat over the head with a big book, but that only fuels his seething holy hatred. Of course, Salome herself does not take kindly to big John’s incendiary personal insults and his spurning her affections, so she pays him back by putting on a debauched dance, the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils,’ for her degenerate stepfather Tetrarch (as meta-histrionically played by auteur Carmelo Bene), who rewards her with the head of the foulmouthed Baptist. In the end, Salome picks the dead silky skin off of Tetrarch's face and neck as he babbles incessantly, and a nihilistically narcissistic Jesus of Nazareth attempts to nail himself to the cross, but only manages to drive a couple nails through his feet and hands, ultimately failing in his respectable yet exceedingly egomaniacal attempt at self-matrydrom. 

 As director Carmelo Bene once confessed, “I am not interested in any filmmaker. I am not even interested in my own films, except for a couple of moments: the failed self-crucifixion in Salomè (1972), and the burnt, torn film in Our Lady of the Turks (1968) as a parody of recollection,” and, indeed, Salomè, like virtually all of the filmmaker’s work, seems like it was directed by a man who had next to nil interest in filmmaking trends of his time and even less interest in entertaining the masses, as if he made the film to test how far he could personally take cinema as an artistic medium. A challenging celluloid work that portrays a young Hebraic whore of the exceedingly exotic yet less than erotic sort as the ultimate cryptic manipulator and destroyer of prophets and kings, Salomè is a feverishly and freakishly frolicsome femme fatale-driven work that reminds the viewer of the long historical role of Jewesses in subverting alien cultures, peoples, and religions with their women's naughty bits, while portraying Christians as crazed kooks suffering from self-induced cuckoldry. Undoubtedly, Bene’s Salomè even makes Salome (1923) starring real-life subversive Jewess Alla Nazimova and Ken Russell’s play-within-a-film Salome's Last Dance (1988) seem totally tame due to its fiercely fetishistic and brazenly blasphemous take on Oscar Wilde’s Salomè. A personal friend of degenerate frog philosophers like sadomasochistic sodomite Michel Foucault and poststructuralist Gilles Deleuze—both of whom were incidentally fans of German New Cinema dandy Werner Schroeter—Bene was a sort of Guido Werner Schroeter with a seemingly equal keenness for kitsch and camp, albeit of the rampantly heterosexual sort. While less than 80 minutes in length, Bene’s Salomè seems as epic as Schroeter’s Eika Katappa (1969), albeit with the claustrophobia of Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972) aka The Death of Maria Malibran. A phantasmagoric oftentimes nasty neon nightmare from the soiled soul of a ‘true believer unbeliever,’ Salomè is merry metaphysical misanthropy in its most audience-agitating form and thus a work one will never forgot as the antidote to not only a lifetime of Hollywood brainwashing, but also static and soulless far-left European arthouse films of the 1960s/1970s, especially those by the likes of banal blowhard Godard and Jean-Marie Straub. 

-Ty E

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