Later in Beverly Hills, I told Pacino about the debate: “She said love, he said lust, and I didn’t know.”
“The passion is the eroticism of it and that’s what’s driving the love,” he says. “That’s what I think Bono meant.” Pacino quotes a line from the play: “‘Love only should one consider.’ That’s what Salome says.”
“So you feel that she felt love not lust?”
He avoids the binary choice. “She had this kind of feeling when she saw him. ‘Something’s happening to me.’ And she’s just a teenager, a virgin. ‘Something’s happening to me, I’m feeling things for the first time,’ because she’s living this life of decadence, in Herod’s court. And suddenly she sees [the Baptist’s] kind of raw spirit. And everything is happening to her and she starts to say ‘I love you’ and he says nasty things to her. And she says ‘I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! It’s your mouth that I desire. Kiss me on the mouth.’ It’s a form of temporary insanity she’s going through. It’s that passion: ‘You fill my veins with fire.’”
Finally, Pacino declares, “Of course it’s love.”
It won’t end the debate, but what better subject to debate about?
Pacino is still troubling himself over which film to release first—Salome or Wilde Salome. Or should it be both at the same time? But I had the feeling that he thinks they are finally done, finally ready. After keeping at it and keeping at it—cutting them and recutting them—the time has come, the zeitgeist is right. (After I left, his publicist Pat Kingsley told me that they were aiming for an October opening for both films, at last.)
Keeping at it: I think that may be the subtext of the great Frank Sinatra story he told me toward the end of our conversations. Pacino didn’t really know Sinatra and you might think there could have been some tension considering the depiction of the Sinatra character in Godfather. But after some misunderstandings they had dinner and Sinatra invited him to a concert at Carnegie Hall where he was performing. The drummer Buddy Rich was his opening act.
Buddy Rich? you might ask, the fringe Vegas rat-pack guy? That’s about all Pacino knew about him. “I thought oh, Buddy Rich the drummer. Well that’s interesting. We’re gonna have to get through this and then we’ll see Sinatra. Well, Buddy Rich starts drumming and pretty soon you think, is there more than one drum set up there? Is there also a piano and a violin and a cello? He’s sitting at this drum and it’s all coming out of his drumsticks. And pretty soon you’re mesmerized.
“And he keeps going and it’s like he’s got 60 sticks there and all this noise, all these sounds. And then he just starts reducing them, and reducing them, and pretty soon he’s just hitting the cowbell with two sticks. Then you see him hitting these wooden things and then suddenly he’s hitting his two wooden sticks together and then pretty soon he takes the sticks up and we’re all like this [miming being on the edge of his seat, leaning forward]. And he just separates the sticks. And only silence is playing.