Dropping the Masks

The 1997 movie Wilde opens with a shot of Oscar Wilde (played by Stephen Fry) being lowered by bucket into a Colorado silver mine, where he recites his poetry and chats with shirtless, sweaty miners, who are obviously thrilled at a visit from such a renowned visitor.  I thought it was at least half Hollywood fantasy until I came across the same anecdote in The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde by Joseph Pearce, who writes, “At Leadville in Colorado he was lowered in a bucket into a silver mine” where “he spent most of the night deep in the heart of the earth, talking to the miners, before being brought down the mountain by a special train at half past four in the morning.”

If nothing else, the episode illustrates, intentionally or not, the importance of literature in society in the days before television, when everyone hungered for it, regardless of class or background.  After its promising opening, unfortunately, the movie degenerates more or less into one sexual romp after another, with no real examination of Wilde’s literary importance.  And even the opening foreshadows what is to come, with Wilde casting an occasional keen glance at the young, wiry miners.  That the movie takes this tack comes as no surprise, since it is based on Richard Ellmann’s salacious Oscar Wilde, considered by many to be the standard biography.

The Unmasking of Oscar...

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