Nureyev in the part of Valentino
VALENTINO (1977) by Ken Russell
Nureyev's passion for the cinema began in his earliest childhood: he went to the cinema in Ufa to see every Soviet and foreign film screened; thus, it was that he discovered Rudolph Valentino's films. Two films illustrate Nureyev's forays into the cinema: "Valentino" by Ken Russell in 1977, and "Exposed" by James Toback in 1982. The role of Rudolph Valentino, the famous silent screen actor who started his career as a "taxi-dancer", was offered to him by Ken Russell. Robert Chartoff, the producer, appointed Russell director of the film which was based on a script devoted to the life of the 1920's star written by Mardek Martin.
Nureyev's Russian accent also had to be transformed into an Italian-American accent. Marcella Markham, his teacher, said: "The problem is that Nureyev has an excellent ear. He achieved the accent that I wanted him to have very quickly, but, being surrounded by English accents, he copied them without even thinking as soon as the shooting started!" Valentino was victim to many attacks from the press, and one day when journalist Rory O'Neill had attacked his virility, Valentino wanted to challenge him to a duel. But duelling was against the law, and so Valentino demanded that he be able to avenge his honour by fighting his opponent in a boxing ring. Nureyev took boxing lessons for this scene.
The film portrayed the famous actor's entire career, notably with scenes of the matador from "Blood and Sand", the tango from "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", the Sheik, and many more characters besides. The film also included numerous scenes of the life of the actor with Michelle Phillips as former dancer Natacha Rambova, his second wife, Leslie Caron as Alla Nazimova, the agent, and a galaxy of miscast actors: Leslie Caron, a dancer, could not dance. Michelle Phillips, a singer, could not sing, an English dancer, Anthony Dowell, played a Russian dancer, and a Russian star played the part of the "Latin lover". Nureyev gave more substance to the character than was invested by the initial script. Rudolf transformed Rudolph.
The film was not to meet with the success the producers hoped for, and Ken Russell was slated by the critics. Nor was Nureyev, the actor, despite his magnificent screen presence, able to succeed in convincing the audiences.