HOLD EVERYTHING–how have I not mentioned this yet?! Recently it was announced that fragments of Theda Bara’s Salome (1918)–one of her most lamented lost films after Cleopatra—have been found! That’s right, there’s new footage of the legendary Theda Bara to enjoy, and from one of her lavish costume dramas, too!
Theda, early sex symbol and current silent era icon, appeared in around 40 films but only a few of them survive. Many of her biggest hits have vanished and are represented only by tantalizing stills of the actress in elaborate beaded costumes and fancy headdresses. And one of the most intriguing hits is the William Fox production Salome (1918). I won’t make you wait–here’s the footage below. The clips are brief and have Spanish intertitles, and they capture some wonderful Theda moments:
Wow!! A few things strike me right away: Theda’s acting is certainly theatrical, but she pulls it off (the director probably wanted an operatic feel); man, those expressive eyes; and she definitely has charisma. In the shots where she’s sitting among a group of people, my eye goes to her right away and wants to stay there.
A couple people have been kind enough to translate the title cards. Here they are:
“Benjamin, the last scion of the patriarch”
“You must suppress Prince David!”
“Be wise… Jews worship David! Did you forget by chance that the idol of the people is the rival of the king?”
“Tomorrow, at dawn, when you take the bath in the pool”
“The arrogant figure of the Prophet did not leave the lascivious mind of Salome for a moment.”
“An all-powerful, unique, just and eternal God who, in his love for mortals, sends us his only begotten son to redeem the world!”
To say this is a great find, even in its choppy state, is an understatement. Theda Bara films are some of the most sought-after lost films on the planet, along with lost works by F.W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch and London After Midnight. Getting to see her in action one of her blockbusters, even for just a minute and half, is a dream come true for many silent film lovers. Especially since all of us have seen tons of stills from Salome!
So I guess these fragments were identified at the Filmoteca Española in March 2020, but restoration work had to be delayed thanks to the covid restrictions. Initially, they weren’t sure if the small, scratchy 35mm roll of nitrate really contained the Theda version of Salome or if it was something else. But sure enough, the Theda version it was!
As you can see, it’s a strange bundle of fragments, complete with a bunch of title cards (which doesn’t always happen). It took awhile to figure out how it wound up unnoticed in the archive. Bizarrely, an archivist had reported on the footage in the 1990s, but his report had flown under everyone’s radar because…I don’t know.
At any rate, the Salome fragments are now safe and sound and not flying under the radar, and researchers at the Filmoteca were able to find out a bit about their provenance:
“To conclude and summarize all the data obtained, the final result of the investigation was as follows: the film was released in Spain in 1921 and a fragment ended in hands of the heirs of Ramón de Baños, who in 1986 sold it, along with other material, to the Spanish Film Library. The fragment was grouped in a tin titled ‘Unidentified Miscellaneous III,’ which was processed by M. Ibáñez and later by M. Love. It was the latter who managed to identify the material as Salomé between the end 1995 and early 1996. At some later point this fragment was separated from the rest of ‘Diversos III’ and was awarded its own container. It was recorded in the database and Ibáñez made the report of the film in 2003. After its transfer to the nitrate deposits in 2007, it was revised in 2013 and it was not until a few days before the confinement of 2020 that Salomé was rediscovered and, this time, recognized for the importance that this work deserves.”
Here’s a few more stills, because I can’t resist:
Oh the fabric grapes on that one dress…!
As much as I’d love for the entire film to turn up, finds like this are always tremendous. If you’ve heard about this find already, let us rejoice together. And if you haven’t, I’m glad I got to break the news to you! Happy repeated viewings!