Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 7:30pm
Kenneth Anger's Puce Moment + Alla Nazimova's Salomé
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Puce Moment, Kenneth Anger, 1949, 16mm, 6 mins
Salomé, Alla Nazimova, 1923, 16mm, 37 mins
Shot in Kenneth Anger’s native Hollywood when the filmmaker was 21 years old, Puce Moment was born out of his fantasies of silent-era glamour, and was originally intended for a never-realized feature entitled Puce Women, in which a different starlet would successively correspond to a different moment in a single day (Anger once noted that "the morning woman would evoke Clara Bow, and the noon woman would be like Barbara La Marr..."). Yet the film functions magnificently on its own as an evocative fragment; in it, a young actress played by Yvonne Marquis rises in the morning, poses at her mirror as she applies perfume, and finally steps out from her mansion, led by a regal pack of Russian wolfhounds. Marquis’s many resplendent gowns, seen shimmying in the film’s opening shots, belonged to Anger’s grandmother, who had been a studio wardrobe mistress in the 1920s. Originally set to a passage from a Puccini opera, Puce Moment was revived by Anger in the 1960s with a new psychedelic-folk soundtrack by musician Jonathan Halper. This late addition of backwards-masked guitars perfectly complements Curtis Harrington’s uncanny cinematography—Harrington shot Marquis at ultra-slow speed to best capture the rich colors of her boudoir, then sped the footage up in printing, resulting in a stuttering motion reminiscent of the kinetic idiosyncrasies of hand-cranked pictures. But Puce Moment transcends mere nostalgia, offering a kind of alternative history instead, one in which the visionary program of primeval Hollywood never ceased, feeding into the experimental filmmaking of the 1940s, then finding insurgent form with the efflorescence of underground cinema in the 1960s.
Puce Moment’s interiors were captured at the home of actor-occultist-aesthete Samson De Brier (aka Arthur Jasmine), which was host to private salons for the eccentric personalities of bohemian Los Angeles. Later, De Brier appeared as the central character in Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), but his most notable screen role was in the legendary Salomé. The latter film was produced by one of Metro Pictures’s biggest stars, Alla Nazimova, who also played the film’s teenaged protagonist (though she was 41 at the time). Notorious for decadent parties held at the Sunset Boulevard estate she christened “The Garden of Alla,” Nazimova transformed Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play into a flamboyant pantomime, unabashedly avant despite its Hollywood provenance. According to Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, she “employed only homosexual actors as an ‘homage’ to Wilde,” engaged her sapphic lover Natacha Rambova to design the film’s Aubrey Beardsley-inspired sets and costumes, and listed British actor Charles Bryant—Nazimova’s husband and beard—as director. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Salomé didn’t play well in Peoria; it was a financial disaster, effectively ending Nazimova’s career. Decades later, it returned as a cult object in the 1960s, feeding the countercultural fascination for all things camp. Like many early films, it circulated in a variety of edits. The version screening tonight, typical of the kind widely seen at the moment of its revival, is a 1000-foot reduction print produced by Griggs-Moviedrome, one of the handful of private distributors who kept silent cinema in circulation before film preservation efforts took full force.
Today, Salomé endures as a queer lodestone. Presenting the film in Berlin a few years ago, drag icon Vaginal Davis described it as “iliac hysteria bordering into the high holy realm of unadulterated histrionics.” Or, as Anger himself declared, it’s “Nancy-Prancy-Pansy-Piffle and just too queer for words.”
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.