“I Want You in My Movie!”: Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome: Intro

Oscar Wilde was 37 when he wrote Salome in 1891, the same year he met Bosie–Lord Alfred Douglas–the handsome 21 year old son of the Marquis of Queensberry, whose rules on boxing are still in effect today.  Wilde wrote the biblical play of King Herod of Judea, living in the time of Christ, married to his dead brother’s wife Herodias, with an eye for her teenage daughter Salome in French. The Bible has Herod asking Salome to dance for him, and in return she asks for the head of John the Baptist, whom Herod has been holding captive.  Wilde looked to Maeterlinck, to Flaubert, to J.K. Huysmans, Walter Pater and Jules Laforgue for inspiration and came up with his story of obsession, greed, desire and destruction. Sarah Bernhardt considered playing Salome until the British censors refused to allow it to appear on an English stage because of an archaic law that prohibited biblical characters to be publicly staged. Wilde, who was married and had two children, allowed his young lover Bosie to translate the play into English. But Bosie botched the translation and Wilde had to do it himself.  The play was published with Aubrey Beardsley’s controversial illustrations (“They are fantastic, grotesque, unintelligible…and repulsive,” wrote The Times of London in 1894) but Wilde never lived to see it produced. There was a production put on in France in the late 1890’s while Wilde suffered in an English jail, put there after two public trials on charges of “gross indecency”—his affair with Bosie causing a public scandal.  Salome was not appreciated when Wilde wrote it—it was met with contempt and abuse–but after he died at the turn of the century at the age of forty-six it began to gain popularity, especially in Germany and Russia. Eventually it would become his second most produced play, after The Importance of Being Earnest. Richard Strauss turned it into an opera. Films were made of it. Pacino first saw it done by Steven Berkoff in London and it struck a chord similar to how he responded to Shakespeare, O’Neill, Brecht, and Mamet. It was the way the words rolled off the actors’ tongues that so intrigued him. It made him want to knowmore about Oscar Wilde. Who was this outrageous dandy who glorified the aesthetic and decadent movements of late 19th-Century Europe?  Who understood the nature of fame on a deeper level than Andy Warhol, had a sense of style greater than Coco Chanel, a rapier wit more profound than Robin Williams, and a flamboyance and appreciation of his own genius that served as forerunner to Truman Capote and Muhammad Ali.  How did the droll, caustic observer of such social satires as Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance and The Picture of Dorian Gray come to write a play like Salome, a poem like “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” and an essay like De Profundis? And why did he allow himself to fall from such prominence and acclaim to become a social pariah, bankrupt and imprisoned, to die a lonely, sad death at such an early age?

Comments are closed.

Designed by Host Pond