“I am what the public demands of me,” says the stylishly-clad figure silhouetted against the flickering images on the screen behind her. Only to lament moments later, “People don’t know who I am.” 100 years have passed since the heyday of Alla Nazimova, but the legendary stage and silent film star should be better remembered. “The Garden of Alla,” continuing through July 23 at Theatre West in Los Angeles (across the street from Universal CityWalk) is a vivid, well-crafted one-woman show that illustrates why.

Romy Nordlinger does double duty as performer and playwright, commanding attention as much with her carefully chosen words as with her delivery and physicality. Her impressions of the star’s nurturing mother and cigar-chomping producer Lee Shubert, who called her his “Russian doll,” are particularly strong. Along the way we also meet one-time co-star Rudolph Valentino and famed actor-director Stanislavski, who advises her to “love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

We learn almost as much about Nazimova’s love life as her career, including her “lavender marriage” to director Charles Bryant, who piloted her best known films in name only when in fact she directed them herself. Recalling her fabled Hollywood residence, The Garden of Alla (“where the party never ended”), she dishes on everyone from Johnny Weissmuller to Tallulah Bankhead, dropping perhaps a few too many big names.

She interrupts film clips yelling “Cut!” and delivers a postmortem, bemoaning the sad demise of her once-glorious estate, now but a pile of rubble. It’s a solo show conceit that often falls on its face but works fine here, with Nazimova directing the story of her life and telling it as she sees it from beyond the grave. Nordlinger and her production team (director Lorca Peress, video designer Adam Jesse Burns) make outstanding use of images and film clips (TheatreWest.org).

Speaking of silent films and hyperactive sex lives, the rarely seen French drama “Casanova” (1927) has been gloriously restored and released in a deluxe Blu-ray/DVD edition available from Flicker Alley (flickeralley.com). Alexander Volkoff’s film is radically different from “Fellini’s Casanova” (itself seldom shown these days), as one might expect. It may not be quite as eye-popping as the latter but make no mistake, it’s a flamboyant affair nonetheless.

Ivan Mosjoukine gives us an exceptional portrait of Casanova, and Fritz Lang regular Rudolf Klein-Rogge turns up in the supporting cast. Gunther A. Buchwald contributes a new orchestral score, as well as interview about his efforts; bonus materials further include a souvenir booklet and an image gallery with original promo materials.  

Sex also rears its salacious head (see a theme here?) in “Marquis de Sade’s Justine” (1969), recently issued in a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray set available from Blue Underground (blue-underground.com). As lavish as “Casanova” and as bizarre as anything Fellini ever perpetrated, if not as classy, this Jess Franco-directed film boasts a cast including Klaus Kinski as de Sade, Mercedes McCambridge, and Jack Palance.

Romy Nordlinger (Photo by David Wayne Fox).

Author: Jordan Young