24 February 2003 | gareth-28
Innovative and acclaimed in certain quarters, now sadly lost
One of the earliest cinematic adaptations of any of Oscar Wilde's work, this production of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' was directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold, who later became noted for his RSFSR theatre and his highly inventive theatrical productions of the mid-1920s. Meyerhold staged works by Ernst Toller, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Emile Verhaeren and a host of others after the October Revolution, but his pre-Soviet work included two films based on texts by leading Decadent/fin-de-siecle authors.
'The Picture of Dorian Gray' had a female actress playing the lead role, to emphasise the androgynous appearance targeted by Wilde's Gray, and Meyerhold himself played his friend, Lord Henry. Russian film did not reach either a popular or critical audience before the group of directors influenced by Lev Kuleshov (Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovzhenko and a host of others) began to produce their brilliant montages during the NEP period. Consequently, the works of Meyerhold, Evgenii Bauer, the early Protazanov and others was ignored in the West, and many of these films, including Meyerhold's 'Dorian Gray', were lost.
Consequently, we can only imagine what this film was like, based on the few stills in circulation. Meyerhold frequently made use of modern art trends, in particular Constructivism, German Expressionism and Cubism (employing the likes of Aleksandr Rodchenko and Aleksandra Exter to design sets), and it is likely that he did so with this picture. Indeed, one critic has claimed that if 'Dorian Gray' had been seen in the West before Wiene's Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari, then it might have won similar acclaim and exerted a much higher level of influence.
As it stands, the film was not noted until it was too late, and now it, like Meyerhold's film of Stanislaw Przybyszewski's novel 'The Strong Man', no longer exists. However, Meyerhold's theoretical works on theatre have survived, despite the director's execution under order of Stalin in 1939-40 (due to his refusal to toe the Party line during the 1928-32 Cultural Revolution), and they are probably the most useful tools for anyone wishing to inform themselves about the works of this great director.