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July 12, 2010

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Bret B.

As a lifelong fan of "Lisztomania", I have to take issue with the assertion of Ken Russell being on "autopilot" for this film. It's as conceptually and thematically dense as any other of his greatest works (such as "The Devils" or "The Music Lovers"), and requires of the viewer not only an intense background in 19th-century classical music history, but also of working knowledge of film history as well!

Yes, yes -- the thing is crass, overtly stoopid and as willfully bombastic as Russell ever got -- but it's got some killer setpieces, and is easily Russell's most ambitious work amongst a filmography crammed full of them.

Take the first huge party sequence right after the opening title card, where the audience is introduced to every single major music figure of the late 19th century, much in the same breakneck fashion as all the major characters are introduced at the beginning of "The Music Lovers" -- the audience has to keep up with the pace as names and context are hurled out, with both dialogue jokes and visual gags to boot!

Or how about the actually touching setpiece of Liszt's romantic flashback, where he and his wife are both encased in a double simultaneous homage to Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" and Welles' "Citizen Kane", all without dialogue, while one of Liszt's greatest pieces plays on the soundtrack, accompanied by new English-language lyrics by Daltrey that match the warm, sweet tone of the music? It's an insane, gratifying piece of whirlwind cinema -- and it's made all the more ballsy by Russell's take-no-prisoners "I couldn't care less if you were expecting "Tommy 2" or not, this one's for me!" point-of-view.

Again, there are as many minuses as there are plusses with "Lisztomania", and, yes, even Russell himself has slagged the film, but it is for sure not merely a shocking T&A show -- it's a shocking T&A show with a hell of a lot of nerve, smarts, and realized ambition.

The White Worm

Though this review is borderline negative, I only want to see the film all the more! Please don't forget to bring it when you come.

Kenzo (lastever)

That's really peculiar - I JUST watched this movie a couple of weeks ago, for my first time. I'd been curious since childhood, seeing my parents' copy of the vinyl soundtrack lying around. I found a laserdisc rip - I would've waited for the Anthology screening if I'd known!

Anyway, what everyone else said: There's plenty about this movie that's ridiculous, but it's an impressive accomplishment nonetheless and has some gems.

Kenzo (lastever)

In fact, I just rewatched yesterday the Chaplin-style scene Bret B. described above. And I agree, it's great to see some go all out and make just what he wants to make, even with an audience expecting Tommy again. That's an artist.

Vic

In an always being blanded out world I have no business dumping on Ken Russell. Sorry for even minor fleeting earlier distress.

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