Tues 3 Apr
Words: Chelsey Gillard
It’s not difficult to see why silent films have undergone something of a revival in recent times: the lavish sets, stunningly simple story lines and beautifully crafted costumes are unlike anything in modern cinema. Salomé is no exception, starring Russia born beauty and Hollywood superstar Alla Nazimova.
The screenplay is based upon the controversial play by Oscar Wilde which itself was loosely rooted in the Biblical story of Herod and his desire for his step-daughter – Salomé. This production was always haunted by controversy; Nazimova apparently demanded that only gay and bisexual actors were employed to honour Wilde and the highly stylised performances are erotic and melodramatic. Perhaps too much for the original 1920s audience, an initial flop, this classic has somehow managed to live on and has been given a new lease of life in Sound Affairs latest production.
In this all too rare showing of the beautiful, if somewhat camp film, Charlie Barber has provided an original score inspired by the sounds of early Arabic percussion ensembles. Arabic music is unusual in that it uses odd numbered units of 7, 13 or 19 beats. In his pre-show talk Barber made it clear that the two elements of this production were linked but separate, he had no desire to write ‘Mickey Mouse’ music that almost narrates the film with crashes, bangs and splashes. Instead, the music existed as a performance in itself, reflecting the mood and pacing of the film.
Around the film projection screen two alloy towers housed four highly talented percussionists who were beautifully lit from below, giving the musicians an eerie and dramatic look that echoed the film’s dark beauty. Adding to this, pre-recorded vocals emanated from behind the screen, seeming to come from the film itself. The text for the singers was taken from the psalms and sung in Hebrew and Latin, demonstrating just how much research has gone into this stunning score.
Sometimes it felt as though there was too much going on: the film itself was engaging, but the percussionists were so talented each demanded attention to watch them perform their skilled craft. The music has undoubtedly given the film new life but it would be an experience in itself to just watch and listen to the musicians.
Overall a really beautiful production that skilfully blends old and new.
Salomé is now on tour until 21st July. Info: www.soundaffairs.co.uk