Rose in mouth

2009 February 14

Mouth Rose by alyssathiele, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  alyssathiele

The tango cliché of dancing with a rose in the mouth is quite fascinating. It is everywhere, and everybody doing argentine tango wants absolutely nothing to do with it. But where does it come from?

I have often seen it associated with the silent movie star Rudolph Valentino, and suggested that it first appeared in the movie Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). So being curious, I had to check this out. Which was not so easy, as the Four Horsemen was not easily obtainable on DVD. Until I one day found out it was published as a bonus disc on the Valentino documentary The Great Lover (The documentary turned out to be quite interesting as well, leading to more Valentino movies for me).

The most famous scene from The Four Horsemen is when the young hero in the film dances tango in a bar in La Boca. This scene is quite interesting, and while not exactly correct, the tango in this scene is much better than what people usually associate with Hollywood tango in general and with Valentino’s tango in particular. Just don’t try those sacadas with spores on…   But no rose in mouth.

There is also a scene from Paris, where our hero dances tango in a much more sober fashion. And a scene involving a rose, but nobody ever puts it into anyone’s mouth.

So where does the rose and the Hollywood cliché then come from? It is certainly established in the Hollywood comedy Some Like it Hot (1959), and Tom Lehrer sings about it in his song Masochism Tango. Both of these also suffer from a severe mix-up with flamenco, featuring castanets, which to my knowledge has never been used in Argentine tango. Possibly the flamenco tangos have something to do with the mix up, or perhaps the rule that Argentines had to perform in gaucho costumes in Paris in the early 20th century.

Enter another Valentino movie. Featuring flamenco, a whip, a bullfighter, and a rose in the mouth. The movie is Blood And Sand (1924), and Valentino plays the matador, the bullfighter. It features a scene where a woman puts a rose in her mouth after doing a flamenco. So this cliché probably stems from there.

Who first mixed the two together I have no idea, but I can’t say I think it is fair to blame it all on Valentino.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2009 February 14
    Caroline permalink

    Yeah, some non-tango friends are teasing me by picturing me with a rose in the mouth and a dress with a slit high on the hip …

  2. 2009 February 15

    Ah the collective consciousness. Such a murky mixed up place.

  3. 2011 November 26
    tango is sexy permalink

    the rose should be between your teeth not lips

  4. 2015 October 31

    I’m watching the movie “Algiers” (1938) with Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer. It starts out in the Casbah and in the first few minutes, one sees a young man with a rose in his mouth (at 4:42). The voice over at that point says “Maltese,” which may or may not be accurate.

    Anyway, I remembered reading in Sax Rohmer’s “Bimbashi Baruk of Egypt” in Lebanon or Syria: “…a boy who carries a rose in his mouth…” “He is an aldtee (musician and singer)….” Great stories by Rohmer and available to read for free on the net.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. SUICIDE No. 34: Tango and Rose « Daily Suicides
  2. Tango Film Club | Simba tango
  3. Valentino | Simba tango

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS