Wednesday, 22 May 2019

House of Alla

"We must always judge an art by its best examples, not by its worst, not even its second best."

From an essay by her biographer Martin Turnbull:
[Alla] Nazimova took charge of every aspect of her career, much in the same way as Fairbanks, Pickford, Chaplin, and Griffith did in 1919 when they formed United Artists.

Her first independent feature was a film of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1922), released through United Artists. Although it was a critical hit, it was far from a commercial success. However, Nazimova had tasted independence and wanted more of it, and set her sights on making what she wanted to be her greatest achievement: a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1923).

Inspired by the artwork of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, Nazimova and [Natacha] Rambova [a friend of Nazimova and future wife of Rudolph Valentino] set about making a version of Salomé such as 1920s filmgoers had never seen. Even by today’s standards, the film’s art direction reached for the outer limits of avant-garde.

Nothing on screen is designed to suggest first century Roman Empire. Instead, Nazimova sought to recast Wilde’s one-act play in a world where the ruling aesthetic is Art Nouveau meets searing minimalism meets Hollywood decadence. This is a world where wigs come fitted with glowing baubles, actors wear stockings patterned in palm-sized fish scales, and king’s yes-men don headdresses that resemble giant, glittering conches.

Although it had its supporters — in its review, Photoplay Magazine said, “A hothouse orchid of decadent passion... You have your warning: this is bizarre stuff” - it’s not hard to see why movie-goers barely knew what to make of this astonishing spectacle. After all, this was 1923, and people wanted The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney, Zaza with Gloria Swanson, and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

In Salomé what they got was a 42-year-old lead actress playing a teenager sporting cinema’s first micro-mini skirt as she performed a dance of the seven veils accompanied by chorus girls decked out in two-foot shoulder pads.

The world wasn’t ready for Nazimova’s inspired vision for Salomé and the film flopped badly. Consequently, Nazimova lost the ton of money she sunk into the film. She made a couple more movies, but was unable to recover financially, and left the movie industry in 1925, returning to the theatre until the 1940s when she experienced a minor career second wind before her premature death in 1945.

However, when seen through 21st century eyes, Salomé is a phantasmagoria of striking images, unbridled sensuality, and fearless storytelling. It also leaves the viewer with the lingering sense that if Alla Nazimova had the good fortune to come along a hundred years later than she did, she’d have found a world with its arms thrust wide open to embrace the groundbreaking artist that she was.

Alla Nazimova (born Marem-Ides Leventon, 22nd May 1879 – 13th July 1945)

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful

“Why don't I just step out and slip into something more spectacular?”

“I had to dare a little bit. Who am I kidding - I had to dare a lot. Dont wear one ring, wear five or six. People ask how I can play with all those rings, and I reply, Very well, thank you.”

“I don't give concerts, I put on a show.”

“Nobody will believe in you unless you believe in yourself.”

Darlings! We have a centenary to celebrate - and a very important one indeed, to those of us who are aficionados of, and do not struggle to find a definition of, CAMP.

The living embodiment of "the lie that tells the truth", Mr Władziu Valentino Liberace was born/crafted/fabricated one hundred years ago in the backwoods of Wisconsin to an unassuming Italian-Polish family. His talent as a pianist was clear as a child, but these skills were far eclipsed by the time young Lee discovered the dressing-up box!

And the rest, of course, is history...

The ultimate "WTF" moment

Despite the charade of his denial of his sexuality, the man created his own legend and fortune out of sequins, marabou and oleaginous charm. He worked hard to earn his nickname "Mr Showmanship". For decades he flicked a diamond-encrusted finger at critics, self-proclaimed "moral guardians" and the media - and for all that and more, we salute him...

Nobody did it better.

The Liberace Foundation website.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Yes - but is it CAMP?

And so, the annual fundraiser fashion parade that is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) Gala chose as its theme Camp: Notes on Fashion this year?! This deserves closer examination, methinks...

Is a cynical attempt by anodyne individuals to appear "over-the-top" really camp? Is a parade of privileged people wearing unaffordable-to-the-masses designer-label clothing really camp?

Some of the outfits certainly fitted the bill of "inversion of taste", to which Miss Susan Sontag referred in her Notes on Camp [which was the "set text" for the Gala's participants] - Michael Urie's 1920s-style half-and-half drag pastiche being one such example: was Janelle Monae's surrealist number:

However this "inversion" - as argued by Katrin Horn in her book Women, Camp, and Popular Culture: Serious Excess - was historically conducted with a more meaningful intent:
"At its core, camp is defined as a parodic device that uses irony, exaggeration, theatricality, incongruity and humour to question the pretext's status as 'original' or 'natural'...[it is] the inversion of taste in favour of the neglected, the other, the marginalised. From this playful shift in aesthetic judgements camp derives its broader potential 'as a way of making cultural, social and sexual critique under the guise of harmless humour'...the inversion of insider and outsider by way of recoding 'who's in on the joke'."
So was there actually a "joke" to be "in on" demonstrated at the Met?

I suppose one could point to theatre owner Jordan Roth arriving on the catwalk as...a theatre:

...or "gangsta-rapper" Cardi B - who made her name with records about deprived urban street life and gang fights - wearing a frock that apparently took more than 2,000 hours to create and needed a team of five men to lift the train:

It would appear, however, that it was another of Ms Sontag's definitions of camp - “the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience” - which proved the most widely popular of themes, as ably demonstrated by Mr Billy Porter:

...and RuPaul:

One of the main tenets, however, that truly "defines" camp - if any such "definition" were so readily agreed upon - is irony. Thus, in its truest sense, if anything summed up the most camp occurrence of the entire occasion it was not Gaga showing-off with a triple-layer frock and an entourage of performers, it was not rich heterosexual males thinking they could get away with looking a "bit sissy" for an evening, nor was it the cavalcade of voluptuous and vacuous starlets squeezing themselves into lurid-yet-flattering frou-frou gowns.

No! The campest moment was Dame Joan Collins, turning up as herself portraying her most famous [and ultimately most camp] on-screen character Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan...

Now that, laydeez'n'genlmen, is how it is done.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Erected poles

Hip hip hooray!
The first of May
Outdoor sex begins today.

Happy May Day!

From Streetswing dance site:
Originally the Maypole represented a phallic symbol or a Pagan symbol of Fertility celebrating sexuality and life to the 'Horned God' which was decorated mostly with flowers and wild garlands (still used by wiccans and witchcraft). The Horned God image is similar to the Greek/Roman Pan, he is a symbol of fertility and the life for the forest, including the hunt, which supplied ancients with their livelihood. Later moving away from Pagan worship it was revived, changed and became Roman in origin, who used it in some ceremonies connected with the worship of Maia, the mother of Mercury, and the presiding goddess of that month. For many centuries it was the chief dance of rustic England. The ancient Britons erected Maypoles even before Claudius and the Roman invasion (AD 43) and adorned them with flowers.

I think I prefer Beltane, myself.