Salome’s Last Dance (1988) is a Ken Russell film that popped up on my Pinterest feed for some reason and I realized I kind of had to watch it. Trystan did give it a cursory review for last year’s Snark Week, but since we’ve never shied away from doing retakes of films from time to time, I figured I would wade in, see if it really was all that awful, and then decide if I should have just stuck a fork in my eye instead.
Well, friends, I don’t know what to tell you other than … I kind of enjoyed this film. Yes, it was weird. Wait, it wasn’t just weird, it was KEN RUSSELL WEIRD, but I was still hooked. The premise is pretty simple: Oscar Wilde and his boyfriend, Bosey, stop into a brothel on Guy Fawkes Night, 1892, to get up to whatever shenanigans they were into, when Bosey surprises Oscar by detouring down the stairs to where the staff is preparing a surprise for Oscar. So Oscar trots up the stairs and is informed by the brothel owner that he and his employees have been working on a staging of Oscar’s newest play, Salome, and he should make himself comfortable. We watch the show mostly from Wilde’s perspective as the audience, but at a certain point, the play and its actors take over and Wilde disappears (literally, into a back room with one of the actors).
Glenda Jackson is, of course, the entire reason I actually wanted to sit through the film, but she was almost instantly eclipsed by the gleefully scene-chewy Imogen Millais-Scott, who played Salome.
Reviews for the film 35 years ago also singled Millais-Scott out to heap praise on her performance (even while generally panning the film and taking well-earned pot shots at Russell), noting that she had more or less lost her vision right after being cast in the film due to an illness, and the fact that her eyes always appear a little unfocused actually made her performance even more surreal and captivating. She also looks like she’s about 12, which is every bit as unnerving considering the role she’s playing as you think it is. Rest assured, however, the actress was 19 when she was cast … not that it’s still not creepy, but at least it’s intentionally creepy without being, you know, illegal.
For whatever reason, Imogen Millais-Scott never went on to act in another film (her only other noteworthy film was an adaptation of Little Dorrit in 1987, according to IMDB). She’s turned out to be every bit of an enigma as the title character — eventually, The Guardian profiled her some 20 years ago for a cover story on how Imogen donated her daughter’s organs after she was tragically killed in a traffic accident and her subsequent friendship with the woman who received those organs, but there hasn’t been really any other mention of her since then that I can dig up. She appears to have retired from acting after Salome’s Last Dance and moved on with her life in another direction.
Another one-and-done member of this production was costume designer Michael Arrals, whose designs are campy and glitzy and utterly perfect for the campy, glitzy subject matter. They’re nowhere near historically accurate, but they dazzle and provoke the imagination in all the right ways. Although, a word of warning: there will be A LOT OF BOOBS (and one strategically placed peen). It is, after all, a brothel.
You can watch this in the States if you want to pay $3.99 to Amazon for the privilege of streaming it, which, I dunno … Maybe you do! You never know!
Have you seen Salome’s Last Dance (1988)? Tell us about it in the comments!