"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness - And Wilderness is Paradise enow." _ The Rubaiyat Quatrain XI
Persian Poet, humanist philosopher, and mathematician Omar Khayyam
is probably the most famed of all Persian Poets in the West, ever since the
translation by Victorian-era writer Edward Fitzgerald of a series of Quatrains
known as the "Rubaiyaat". It is probably the best-selling book in the
entire history of English poetry. It exists in many editions and has Enjoyed
massive popularity throughout the 20th century, many people have carried it
around, taken it to war, kept it in the car, ordered it for reading on a
putative desert island. The memorable quatrains appeal to all classes and
conditions of men and women; they are still treasured by millions.
This translation profoundly influenced the West's perception (or misperception) of Persia ( today known as Iran ) in the turn of the century. In fact as unusual as it may seem one of the original manuscripts of the "Rubaiyaat" was carried aboard the "R.M.S. Titanic" and was to dissapear with the doomed Liner under the Sea never to resurface again ...
Khayyam (1048 - 4 Dec 1131) was Born in Nishapur, Iran the
provincial capital of Khurasan. Nishapur is located 115 kms. west of Mashhad,
Not much is known about his family but there is speculation that his father's
trade might have been "Tentmaker". Tentmaker is the literal translation
of Khayyám. Omar even pokes fun at his nickname in his writing:
"Khayyám, who stitched the tents of science, Has fallen in grief's furnace and been suddenly burned, The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life, And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!"
The sudden popularity of the famous Quatrains, sold for only One Pence as a pocket book, was such that it was not only restricted to the London Upper Class and Cultural educated circles, but became an international hit and strangely enough in the United States where Khayyam's poems became a symbol of wisdom and celebration of an epicurian life. The Persian Poets popularity was such that many started picking "Omar" as a surname for themselves or their siblings as was the case for example of General "Omar" Nelson Bradley (1893-1981) , known by his troops in World War II as "The Soldier's General" because of his care of and compassion for those soldiers under his comand, or Costume designer Omar Kiam for many Hollywood films of the 1930's.
Khayyams tribute to Wine was also often exageratedly used to
promote the virtues of alcoholic beverages. Thus Khayyam became not only a
popular figure but was also used as a formidable merchandizing vehicle, cited in
Ads promoting the sales of all sorts of items ranging from Persian or Middle Eastern
Rugs, Wine bottles, Vacuum Cleaners,
Porcelain figurines to even Restaurant names such as the famed Armenian
Mardikian's restaurant "Omar Khayyam" created in 1932 in Fresno, California.
A number of artists have also even tried to put his poetry into musical form such as in British Composer Hubert Bath's "Omar Khayyam: Four Eastern Impressions for Piano" .
But also in songs such as "Girl O' Mine" in a musical entitled "Omar Khayyam the Poet" of the mid 20's.
In 1931 a radio series of about Thirteen Episodes in a "Mystery and Adventure" gendre were broadcasted with a great deal of success on US national Radio called "Omar - Wizard of Persia"
It is therefore not a surprise that Hollywood very soon discovered the potentials of a film story on Khayyam's life and Times. The Oriental touch of Khayyam's poetry, his glorification of the Good Life and the Universal appeal of his poetry, made him an ideal role model for all movie goers thirsty to discover new Romantic Lovers and Adventurers.
At least Three silent films exist on Khayyam :
"A Lover's Oath" (1922; released 1925), "Omar the Tent Maker" (1922) and "Omar Khayyam" (1924).
"A Lover's Oath" (also released under the title : "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam") Directed by Ferdinand Pinney Earle. Edited by Milton Sills and starring Ramon Novarro as Ben Ali ,with co-stars Kathleen Key as Sherin, Edwin Stevens as Hassen Ben Sabbath, and Frederick Warde as Omar Khayyam.
"Omar the Tentmaker" directed by James Young and produced by Richard Walton Tully was one of the first attempts to adapt Khayyam's life story to the silver screen. It was adapted from the stage play by Tully with mixed results. It shows Omar (Guy Bates Post, who also played the role on stage) as a student in love with Shireen (Virginia Brown Faire), the daughter of his teacher. The couple marry in secret, but the Shah (Noah Beery) has heard of Shireen's beauty and carries her off to his native land. When she turns down his advances, she is imprisoned. Shireen gives birth while she is locked up and the Shah orders that both she and the baby girl be thrown off a cliff. They are saved, and the child is handed over to Omar, but Shireen is sold into slavery. It takes seventeen years for Omar and Shireen to be reunited. During that time, their daughter grows up (to be played by Patsy Ruth Miller), and falls in love with a Christian slave. Do not expect to learn much about Omar Khayyam nor his poems in this Art Deco style silent film, but it has the charm of its time.
Not much can be said either of Bryan Foy's "Omar Khayham" based on his
screenplay starring Phil Dunham which basically follows the same plot as the one
Films where Khayyam or his poetry are mentioned :
Vidor 's "Duel in the
Sun" (1946) a dramatic love story set in the American West with
Jones and Gregory
Omar Khayyam is quoted towards the end of the film by Gregory Pecks character "Chavez" who tries to confort his daughter Pearl:
"One thing is certain, and the rest is lies: The flower that once has bloomed, forever dies."
_ The Rubaiyat Quatrain LXIII.
In Adrian Lyne's ( "Fatal
Attraction" , "9
1/2 Weeks" ) "Unfaithful"(2002),
Diane Lane is a wayward wife and Richard Gere is her suspicious husband. Connie
(Lane) leaves her suburban home on an errand, venturing into Manhattan during a
wicked windstorm. On a trash-strewn Soho street, she literally runs into Paul
Martel (Olivier Martinez), a handsome young Frenchman carrying a huge stack of
books. Connie has a bad scrape on her knee, and is unable to get a cab, so Paul
invites her up to his apartment. Paul is quietly flirtatious as he gives Connie
some ice and a bandage for her knee. Connie phones home and explains to her son,
Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan), that she's running late. Before she leaves, Paul
gives her a book of Persian poetry, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
However the film for which Khayyam is certainly best remembered for is the one with the Hollywood Star of the 1950's Cornel Wilde.
When Frank Freeman Jr., son of the longtime head of Paramount Pictures, reads the novel written by Manuel Kamroff's novel "The Life, the Loves and the Adventures of Omar Khayyam" he is more than thrilled, and suggests screen writer Barry Lyndon to work on it immediately. In order to insure the utmost authenticity a research staff assembles more than 300 books on 11th Century Persia's history, politics and art. The result is a mammoth screenplay of 1, 500, 000 words which will serve as the backbone of a multi-million film with the most popular stars of the Time : Cornel Wilde, Debra Paget, John Derek, Michael Rennie and Raymond Massey.
Filmed in Vista Vision technicolor the film depicts the Life of
Omar who appears as a Soldier, Poet and Scientist. The exacting task of
designing Medieval Persian Costumes went to Ralph Jester, who already worked for
most of Cecile B.
DeMille's films such cas the "Ten
Commandments" (1956) , or "Samson
and Delilah" (1949).
The Movie's Legend has it that on the set, the actors had asked Jester to sew invisible pockets into the flowing robes so that they could carry, between takes lunch, money and cigarettes, car Keys, hankerchiefs and other modern necessities...
It is therefore with amidst great amount of Publicity and
Merchandizing (including Poetry contests to win free tickets) that Paramount
Life, Loves and Adventures of Omar Khayyam" directed by William
Dieterle, in the movie theaters in 1957.
"Eleventh Century Persia is beset with enemies . The Mighty Byzantine army threatens its border. At Court a band of fanatical murderers, The Assassins, plot to set up their own Shah. Eyeing the throne is also Prince Ahmud (Perry Lopez), vindicative, jealous offspring of the Shah's first Wife, Zarada (Margaret Hayes). Ahmud, hates handsom Prince Malik (John Derek), courageous son of the Shah and rightful heir to the throne.
Amid this scene of intrigue and treachury is Omar Khayyam (Cornel Wilde), adventurer, poet, astronomer and man of action. The shah ( Raymond Massey) appoints Omar as counselor to the court, a move which pleases the Shah's chief Minister Nizam (, who needs Omar's wisdom for guidance. Nizam, Omar and the wealthy and fawning Hasani( Michael Rennie) are former schoolmates, intensly loyal to eachother. Knowing that Omar's beloved the beautiful Sharaine (Debra Paget ) is to become the Shah's fourth wife, Hasani brings Omar a pretty slave girl (Joan Taylor). The latter promises to be Omar's faithful servant, hoping to win his heart.
The Byzantines thrust themselves across the border. Prince Malik earns the honor to go into battle with the Shah. By following Omar's scientific calculations, the Shah routs out the enemy with a surprise counterattack.
Through the slave girl, Omar has discovered the Assassin's seemingly invincible fortress. Strangely enough, he is welcomed by the Assassins and is shocked to discover that Hassani is their leader. Conveying the impression that the Assassins are winning him over their side, Omar covertly surveys the rock-hewn structure for means of destroying it.
Learning that the Shah and Malik have been wounded and half their forces wiped out, Prince Ahmud, who is in t league with the Assassins, rides with his army to cut off what is left of the Shah's forces.
Omar seeks out the Shah and prevails upon him to muster his remaining soldiers and attack the Assassins stronghold. Through Omar's knowledge of chemistry and geology, the forteress is destroyed and the Assassins defeated. The Shah dies of his wounds. Ahmud's and Malik's forces join in battle during which Ahmud is killed. Malik ascends the throne and Omar and Sharain find happiness together."
Although details of Khayyam's life are unknown, this movie invents
one for him that include his real achievements - inventing a new calendar and of
course penning poems. Thus the film provides us with a splendid cinematic
introduction to Persia's greatest poet.
Khayyam appears as a compassionate and noble figure whose
extraordinary literary talent and all-encompassing intellect displayed no
natural boundary. Khayyam is admirably portrayed as a fascinating personality.
The casting of the movie is exceptional and we are treated to fine supporting
performances by distinguished actors of the time such as as Michael Rennie as
Hassan Sabbah ( Hassani ) and Sebastian Cabot as Nizam al-Mulk (Nizam) among
Somehow Hollywood seems to have only retained Khayyam's metaphorical celebration of wine by making Cornel Wilde play an often-drunk Omar Khayyam who longs for his sweetheart who the Shah ( Raymond Massey) keeps in his harem as his third wife. Omar Khayyam works in the Shah's court as a mathematician who is drawing up a new calendar.
The movie also attempts to explore key historical issues
surrounding the life and times of Khayyam. We learn about the Byzantine Roman
Empire's war with Persia involving an alliance composed of Bulgars, Greeks,
Franks and Lombards. We also confront a number of other historical and
scientific issues in this film that are portrayed with an interesting admixture
of detail and insight that seems to be unusual for such Hollywood productions.
On the Actors of the 1957 film:
Cornel Wilde is "Omar Khayyam" Poet, Drinker and Adventurer. He
was one of Hollywoods leading men in the 40's and 50's in such films as "Forever
Cecile B. DeMilles "The Greatest Show on Earth" with co-star Charlton Heston. and appeared as Alladin in Alfred E. Green's 1945 film "One Thousand and One Nights" .
Debra Paget is "Shirine" was one of Elvis Presley's sweethearts and a
co-star in "Love
me Tender" . She often appeared in Adventure films in the mid and
John Derek is Malik ( Malik Shah). Better known as Bo-Derek's husband and director, he nevertheless made memorable appearances in such films as Cécile B. DeMilles "The Ten Commandements" 1956 and three years prior to the film on "Omar Khayyam" he took on the role of another "Persian hero" Hadji Baba in "The Adventures of Hadji Baba" (1954) directed by Don Weis.
Raymond Massey is the Shah ( Alp Arslan ) and is no other than one of the lady killers in the famous "Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)" with Cary Grant. He also appeared as President Roosevelt in the successful tv series The "Winds of War" starring Robert Mitchum and Ali MacGraw , and many who used to follow the series "Bankeh Karlaid" (Persian title) a Dynasy or Dallas type tv vehical of the late Sixties will probably remember the Old Patriarch who played along with George Hamilton.
On the Music Score:
The music score of this film "The Life Loves and adventures of Omar
Khayyam" (1957) was composed by Victor Young
with Lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, with "The Loves of Omar
Khayyam", "Take My Heart", and "Tell My Love"
performed by Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, who also features in the film as Karina.
Khayyam and the Rubaiyats On-Line :
Khayyam is immensely cited worldwide on many websites dedicated to poetry, science or mathematics, here a just a few of my findings :
Khayyam the mathematician
and his Geometric
Solution of the Cubic
Beautiful Website on Khayyam The Persian Poet.
Stanzas or verses of four lines The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam appears here in one of the suggested translations by Edward J. Fitzgerald.
Check out imdb the name "Omar" which also established itself in Hollywood circles since the 1930's.
About the author:
Darius Kadivar was born to an Iranian father and French mother,and lives and works currently in France as a multimedia documentalist. Interested in movies and particularily historic Epics made by Hollywood's Golden Age in the 50's and 60's. He has contributed a number of articles on movies for various Online magazines.
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