Oscar Wilde (Nickolas Grace) walks into a friend's brothel, is congratulated on the success of Lady Windermere's Fan, announces his "disgustingly creative" mojo. If only Ken Russell could say the same -- given the ideal opportunity to create a Testament d'Orphée of his own, the auteur instead hides behind phony beards and phony daring, operating the special-effects backstage. Wilde settles in the upstairs boudoir, where a performance of his banned Biblical spoof is being arranged by the crew; a scarlet couch with tiger rug accommodates the audience, blue curtains are lifted to offer a mise-en-scène of Babylonic tackiness, borrowed from Fellini Satyricon. The first movement has Lord Douglas (Douglas Hodge) painted and in a cage, dildoed by amazons in full dominatrix regalia; the owner (Stratford Johns) plays Herod, a slumming diva (Glenda Jackson) the slumming Queen, assorted odalisques, centurions and dwarves crowd the stage. Salome (Imogen Millais-Scott) is spotted first as a mousy chambermaid, then as a mini-skirted, petulant minx with spiky headgear and motorized hips, the Evil Maria from Metropolis circa 1892. "I will kiss your mouth, John the Baptist" is her snarky incantation, the prisoner spits on her face and she ecstatically licks the fluid -- Wilde, meanwhile, is missing the drama, distracted by a golden Adonis. Russell scores Salome's climatic writhing to "Peer Gynt," a colossal failure of imagination nearly redeemed by the single frame he inserts as the seventh veil is dropped, turning a scrawny pussy into a flapping wang and back. Why just offer Russell the sleaze crown, when Jesus Franco and Tinto Brass go further and quicker without breaking into a sweat? "Sex is the theater of the poor," but censorship at last intervenes after illusion and reality are brought together via a ramming spear; a strenuously failed sendup, yet strangely moving as a home-movie, made with family and friends camped around the fire of mock-lewdness. Of all of Russell's gloating fantasies, the most touching (and deluded) one has to be that Wilde would actually stay all the way through his spectacle, moved to tears by the end, no less.
--- Fernando F. Croce