A musical extravaganza based loosely on the lives of 19th-century Romantic composers Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Far from being dreamy artistes, these music men are both wildly ambitious and hungry for acclaim — Liszt frolics with European royalty, while Wagner campaigns for the unification of Germany. Continue reading
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko-Votinsk in 1840 and died in St. Petersburg of cholera in 1893. In between he composed some of the world’s loveliest, most romantic music, married unhappily, suffered terrible bouts of depression that were linked to both his genius and his homosexuality (which he hid and referred to in his writings only by means of a hieroglyphic), and was acclaimed at home and abroad.
Although such authentic genius defies rational interpretation, except, perhaps, by another genius, Ken Russell’s “The Music Lovers” sets out to do just that. At least, I assume that’s what the film set out to do. Because “The Music Lovers” plays rather loosely with some of the facts of Tchaikovsky’s life, it can be accepted only as the kind of interpretation that certifies the most baroque speculation. Continue reading
Based on a novel and a disowned script by the late Paddy Chayefsky, Russell’s noisily grandiose swipe at psychedelia embellishes what is no more than the cosily familiar story of the obsessive Scientist Who Goes Too Far and Unwittingly Unleashes, etc. Harvard clever-dick (played with almost unconvincing solemnity by Hurt) blows his sensory deprivation experiments (with a little help from his friends and hallucinogenic drugs), and starts to regress – spectacularly – until he looks in serious danger of being sucked down the cosmic lavatory pan into the big zilch.
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Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of seventeenth-century France, but need to destroy Father Grandier – the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial. Continue reading
Arrigo Boito’s Il Mefestefele was first performed in 1868 and his most known work. In Ken Russell’s modern interpretation presented by the Genoese Opera, it has Faust as an ageing hippy. He smokes marijuana and is tormented by his lost youth. Mephisto makes a bet with God that he can turn anyone to pagan life, even someone as innocent as Faust. From then on it is a battle of good against evil in a flamboyant, surreal display of primary colours, PVC costumes, nurses with swastikas, rocket trips, love and even characters dressed as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Ken Russell said because the devil is always with us is his reason for the contemporary setting. Written by Archie Moore Continue reading
Director Ken Russell made a number of biographical films of composers’ lives including The Music Lovers, (about Tchaikovsky) and Lisztomania. Russell embellished the other films with certain characteristic flourishes, which include a focus on the composers’ sexual obsessions, poetically telling anachronisms, and scenes which show Richard Wagner in a bad light. The story of Mahler is recounted in a much less complex and flamboyant manner and is a relatively reverent study of the life and work of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, here played by Robert Powell. The film tackles the touchy dilemma of Mahler’s Jewishness in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna. He converts to Christianity, which has no effect on his brilliant musical output but which eats away at his physical and mental well-being. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was a conductor and composer of the late Romantic era and specialized in huge symphonic works. Though his works were performed widely during his lifetime, they were less and less-often played until Leonard Bernstein’s active campaign on their behalf brought him renewed recognition as a composer of the first rank, every bit the peer of Brahms or Stravinsky. Continue reading