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a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Two by Oscar Wilde

For some reason this week I've been wanting Oscar Wilde stories.

First I watched An Ideal Husband (1999) on Netflix.

While I generally enjoyed it, for some reason the Sir Robert (Jeremy Northam) and Lady Gertrude (Cate Blanchett) kept reminding me of Benedict (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) from Much Ado About Nothing.

The story concerns one man who is a husband with a secret from his wife, and another man who is unmarried but being pressured to settle down. There is everything you'd expect from a Wilde story: a commentary on the then contemporary society's values, a plot that has us root for morally flawed characters, and witty dialog. It also incorporates a few overt and subtle references to Wilde himself. I'm not sure if the original play has the characters attend a showing of The Importance of Being Earnest, but they do here, and the author makes a curtain call.

Four boutonnières out of five.

Second I watched Salomé (1923) which is perhaps the polar opposite. A silent film with frequent intertitles, some wordy, but no wordplay, and a story about absolutes. I watched got it (youtube-dl) from here: on Youtube

The costume design in this production is described as after the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations for the play: Aubrey Beardsley at wikimedia And while it is certainly not exactly like those, it is supremely stylized like Beardsley's work. Look to The 5000 Fingers of Dr T or Priscilla for similar extremes in costume design. Is that a wig of light bulbs? Were those women supposed to look like they were run over by a steamroller? Regardless, they are evocative and images to remember.

The visuals are the thing here, again with a mix of detailed and plain that goes with Beardsley. Besides the outré costumes, the makeup is extreme, although not out of bounds for the silent era. The setting is spare, clearly a soundstage, but with the minimum needed and nothing to distract. I understand there is a distinction made between props and set decoration in that props are things the actors handle. By that rule, this film has props but no set decoration. It also has exaggerated acting to match the outfits, and movement that is more dancing than acting.

The story is brief, the characters unlikeable, the ending well known, the soundtrack unnecessary. But, even at 72 minutes, it feels longer than needed.

Four to five out of seven veils.

An Ideal Husband at IMDB

Salomé at IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing at IMDB

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T at IMDB

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at IMDB

Final thought: thinking of Lady Windermere's Fan next