on 16 July 2011
This semi-factual biopic about Russian composer Tschaikovsky is admittedly over the top, but given Ken Russell's stylistic preferences and given the extreme drama of its subject matter, the telling of this story is actually fairly a-propos.
That said, there is probably no other director (except Kubrick, maybe) who can set classical music to images and make both exciting, virtuosistic and dramatically relevant. Other than the brilliant incipit, two sequences stand out: the first is young Tschaikovsky playing the premiere of his first piano concerto.Not only is the depiction of the piano and orchestra playing handled with dazzling verisimilitude (Richard Chamberlain appears to be actually playing the concerto, very believably and passionately in plain view -- hands, face, master shot and all!), but the visualization of the fantasies that go through various characters' minds while the music is playing are brilliantly synchronized with the music itself and very, very exciting and brilliant. The second sequence is an outdoor party with fireworks, a jolly milieu into which is injected a sinister, tragic event (Tschaikovsky's scorned ex male lover slandering him to his patroness and benefactor); Russell comments on the juxtaposition of these two events by actually mixing and intersecting two distinct Tchaikovsky compositions! Genius.
The transfer to DVD is good, the copy near-pristine, the contrast and colors good.
Ken Russell is never to everyone's taste, but if you like him even a little, and you haven't seen this film, it will be a great discovery. If you know him and love him, and if you like the film, you will love this DVD.
on 30 August 2008
This film has so much going for it that you should stop and think twice before dismissing my claim.
First of all it is a genuine Tragedy in the Aristotelian sense.
Secondly, it is the tragedy of a major musical genius who is also a popular 'romantic artist'.
Thirdly, he is treated by Russell as the representative Romantic Artist who tries but fails to live up to his ideals, or, to put it another way, it's about the distance between the life and the art. This has always been Russell's main theme as a filmaker but you need to have his films about Debussy, Rossetti, Isadora Duncan, Richard Strauss and Delius, all made for BBC television, to put alongside the more familiar feature films to see this pattern as a whole.
It also touches profoundly, especially at the climax, on the subject of shamanism and genius.
Fourthly, the expressionistic visual style of the film is an attempt to create a visual equivalent of Tchaikovsky's kind of Romantic music as an art form. In this it is nothing less than an experimental arthouse film - and a successful experiment at that.
What other film in the 'all time great' category has this sort of grand universality of subject matter including Art, genius, Tragedy, the Romantic Artist, failed ideals of the highest kind? None at all with the possible exception, stretching my categories a bit, of 'Les Enfants Du Paradis' or perhaps the Russian film of 'War And Peace'. Neither of them is British so I nominate this film as the best British feature film on the grounds of subject matter combined with its powerful treatment in what is an undoubtedly non-naturalistic and original way - sometimes even Expressionistic - stamped in every frame with the director's vision: I give points for this because it is more of a purely cinematic aesthetic than naturalism is.
I must admit, however, that to be fair, I should also give a very honourable mention to that other great film about Isadora Duncan called simply 'Isadora' directed by Karel Reisz and which starred Vanessa Redgrave in her finest performance. In many respects this should be considered along with 'The Music Lovers' as their style and intention is similar. It is much underrated, mainly I imagine because it isn't very well known.
We also need to have Russell's films about Wordsworth, Coleridge, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams and Martinu, all made for television, but for ITV this time, like the missing films still not released on DVD in this country on PAL, which I mentioned above.
Ken's mythic biopic of Tchaikovsky is a glorious affair; oppulent, crazed, intense, full of great music and fantastic performances; it treads a fine line between commercial cinema and the flat-out poetic as Richard Chamberlain pulls out the stops to give us a passionate performance (probably not too far from his own life) as the tortured artist struggling with his sexuality and desire to be 'normal' in the face of public opinion that could destroy him. Glenda Jackson (looking remarkably beautiful, save for the last act where she undergoes a massive transformation) offers fine support and goes completely Tonto as a Tchaikovsky's sexually frustrated wife. Chamberlain and Jackson spark together quite nicely.
The film looks amazing and this DVD edition (in widescreen, NOT 4:3 as stated on the back cover) offers up a pretty good print. Sadly it is lacking any extras or subtitles for the hard of hearing.
If looking for a 'serious' film on Tchaikovsky then - be warned - THIS IS NOT IT. Ken Russell wanted to create a mythical interpretation of the man. It was pretty much reviled upon release, but I think it ranks as one of Ken's best films - not THE best (that dubious honour goes to the beserk and beautiful 'Lisztomania') - but it's well worth checking out and the 2 hour running time simply zips by. It should have been boring, but in Ken's more than capable hands, it is a great british film.
on 28 June 2011
Firstly when you get this DVD & read the back cover & it says 4:3, don't worry, that's wrong- it's in the original 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print is lovely but there are sadly no extras (-not even the trailer-) hence one star less for that. A classic.
on 3 July 2011
Ken Russell's Tchaikovsky opus, while not quite given the release it deserves, is here available in the best version since the film caused such a hue and cry on it's original cinema release over 40 years ago.
I don't want to wish my life away, but I'd have loved to have seen the hullabaloo: a fried homosexual married to a deranged nymphomaniac!! Those oh-so-earnest arts programmes - which inspired so many infinitely more entertaining Monty Python sketches - aghast at the treatment of one of orchestral music's guiding lights, yet pragmatically defending the artist's right to free expression and establishment non-intervention......
Looking back at 'the Music Lovers' today, the only real shock comes in the realisation that behind all the grotesquerie and frenzied headiness, there's actually a damned good film going on ~ and one that really shouldn't be taken so seriously.
Richard Chamberlain is great as potty old Peter and Glenda Jackson his equal as his driven-loopy-by-sexual-frustration (and we've all been there !) gold-digging spouse.
The rest of the well-capable cast is from Russell's own personel stock: Aris, Gable, Telezynska, Faulds, Colley, Armitage, Claire, with a special mention to Max Adrian - always magnificent for Russell - as Tchaikovsky's critical professor and one of the earliest cultural exponents of tough love.
It's pretty well known that Russell only managed to secure finance for the picture after promising the keepers of the UA purses that he would completely sensationalise the story - and this he did...
The British film industry was split three ways in the early seventies: Hammer horror was merrily stripping off in the wake of the relaxation in censorship; the bawdy Carry On films were also taking advantage, the euphemisms more lavatorial than ever; and the 'worthy' 'art' film: Loache's 'Kes' and Anderson's 'If' being recent - and brutal - examples, were operating embryonically effectively, but still very much in the margins.
Russell combines all three, as usual with not much subtelty - and even less restraint. He lashes his spunky creativity to every frame; exaggerating and mocking each genre until the droll mutation is irresistibly defined.
'The Music Lovers' is hilarious, ugly, cruel, angry, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. It's the kind of film that needed to be made in the UK in 1970, delivering a hefty swift one to the cobblers of all that had cinematically preceded it in the previous purple satin decade (even, to some extent, Russell's own work).
It isn't, by any leap, a hasty follow up to the collectively inferior 'Women in Love' ~ it's its own bellicose beast. A veritable black box of hysterical despair and lewd, clever, rip-roaring black humour.
How factual it all is is open to debate (and debate, and debate...), this is obviously Tchaikovsky's story as Russell sees it - and, as has been observed elsewhere - it is a strange truth he sometimes sees. No-one should care. To paraphrase from another vulture of controversy hovering around at the time: 'The Music Lovers' is a 'man sized crast.' Who is bothered if he never actually met Madam von Meck, his adoring patron; or the men in white coats didn't come for his cuckoo missus til AFTER his death ? Not this reviewer for chips.
Enjoy it in 'Scope for the first time, too; a film this size thrives on Panavision like the cholera bacteria thrives in fecal waste water. Yet even in it's eye-pleasing vastness, 'The Music Lovers' paints tiny cameos. Russell - like David Lynch - should be forced to film everything he does at 2:35...including his tv work. Great visualists (cinematicians I call them) have nothing to fear from the empty corners.
Another reviewer claims 'The Music Lovers' to be the greatest British film ever made, and this may well be so. The proclamation seems wild, yet I can't think of many UK productions more important or so thunderously enjoyable.
What the Puttnam/Forbes axis would make of that I really can't say, but I'd kill to be in the studio audience of that Idle-presented, profoundly reverential tv show, when they, Russell and Melvyn Bragg ('The Music Lovers' excellent scriptwriter) thrash it all out.
on 19 July 2011
First, about the disk itself: it's a single layer, anamorphic DVD (even though the box and data says it's 4:3). The print is very good quality, the transfer is well done, but there are no extras or commentary.
This is one of my absolute favorite Ken Russell films, but if you're not interested in classical music and/or Tchaikovsky, it's probably not for you. The film is Ken Russell being his indulgent self, but I felt he somehow gets away with the excessive bits. The performances are first-rate, the music is of course wonderful, and there is a lot of production value. For all of its many historical inaccuracies, it's equally amazing how accurate so much of it really is, if not in specific incident, certainly in spirit. No need for me to recap the content, you can find that in other reviews or on other websites. But if you're interested in the facts about Tchaikovsky, I recommend you get your hands on a series of lectures by Robert Greenberg in "The Great Courses" series called Tchaikovsky, His Life and Music. It serves as an excellent companion piece to this film.
on 24 November 2012
I saw "The Music Lovers ," many years ago in the " Odeon , Haymarket " now unfortunately closed, and I'm familiar with Ken's work having seen most of his films, & I have in my collect a VHS tape of the "The Music Lovers," now a little worn which is why I've purchased the disc. But in this film and Ken's touch of brilliance as a defining moment of cinema comes in a few moments when "Tchaikovsky" attempts suicide. Distressed with trying to write his first opera and his marriage "Tchaikovsky," tries to commit suicide in a canal that only comes up to his knees, as he's standing in the water there appears walking her dog a woman, as if she's just stepped out of a "Tissot," painting,and the look on her face and Richard Chamberlain's, you really must look for this moment for yourselves, it's just one of those bitter life defining moments.
on 15 August 2011
Good transfer in proper anamorphic widescreen format (ignore the incorrect sleeve info that states 4:3). As a vanilla disc it is fine - although subtitles would have been preferred as I am slightly hard of hearing. No extras whatsover. However as the film is rarely broadcast on terrestial these days this is the only way to see it. Certainly overpriced as it is - but it will have cult status amongst the Russell aficianados.
Also interesting to see it's certificate is now reduced to a '15' - originally '18' on vhs. Some quite disturbing content in parts - particularly concerning Tchaikovsky's frustrated wife (Glenda Jackson) and her descent into madness. The madhouse scenes are very unsettling. Russell is the master in his choreography of music to a series of vignettes suggested by the narrative of the subject concerned. Don't expect a straightlaced take in Russell's bio's, rather a series of set-piece pyrotechnics. Russell certainly has a feeling for Tchaikovsky's music, and the 1st Piano Concerto is suitably edited and spliced around a variety of suggestive visual imagery. Also loved the music to the film's intro - accompanying a boisterous series of winter festivities. Took me ages to find out what this music was - for anyone interested - the scherzo burlesque from Suite No 2. in C, Op.53. Loved those Russian accordians!
Wow! All the dramatics of Amadeus - and then some! That was Mozart, this is Tchaikovsky.
To say Mr Russell had a vivid imagination is an underestimation and a half. Forthright film critic Mark Kermode constantly reminded us that the (now) late, Ken Russell was Britain's (or England's, I can't remember which) finest, living director. Mark Kermode often divides opinion, especially mine and so I assumed that he was wrong.
The Music Lovers will knock the woolly old dears off their perches - classical music being so pure and saintly and all that. BUT, it was the rock'n'roll of its day; its blood, sinew and its sex. People didn't always listen to it dressed to the nines in some chaste church or hall. People orgasmed (or would have, if they'd had a record player), argued and got drunk to it. Their protagonists were the rock stars of their time.
So, why not have exploding heads to the crescendo of the 1812 climax? Would Tchaikovsky seriously have expected us to want to fall asleep instead? Richard Chamberlaine never puts a foot wrong and I'm so glad that Alan Bates turned the role down. Chamberlaine is both elegant and troubled and cuts a dash that Bates cannot. Glenda Jackson as his fiery nymphomaniac wife is, as always superb. Her intent, to net a trophy husband is never off her radar and the film follows this theme.
The period feel is always believable and feels authentic.
Boring moments? No - I was entertained, blown away and exhilarated, often all at the same time. The sound quality (at least on my DVD) was amazing, the Andre Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra score having a wide stereo and dramatic range. The way Russell montages the increasingly frantic hand-held camera with the music is breathtaking. To get both Previn and the LSO as well as Melvyn Bragg's script shows the obvious cinematic clout that Russell had back then. These were all big-hitters in 1970. The years leading to his death, however, Russell couldn't get funding to make anything other than home movies.
Hopefully, there'll now be a surge in interest in the films of Ken's and this should be at or near the top of the list that you should try out.
Ken Russell continues the work evident in early work based around such composers as Elgar- and that he would continue with 1974's Mahler. Here he applies his own philopshies and wonderful style towards the life of Tchaikovsky- working again with Melvyn Bragg and making a film far more interesting than such films on composers as Immortal Beloved, Amadeus and the abysmal Shine. People get really up in arms if people don't stick to the facts with biopics- but what are the facts here? - people will always have alternate recollections of the same events (see Reds) and what is wrong with interpreting/re-reading a life symbolically (there should be a tragedy somewhere, where we see Beethoven pretend to listen to his own works being performed and cannot- while this could be seen as a statement of fact, it could also be seen that someone who has created something cannot experience it for themselves, which is an ironic symbol- here speculation is applied- of course this is not a documentary!)- Andre Previn's music is excellent, and the lead performances are very good- particularly Glenda Jackson- who approaches the role with great erotic abandon. Look at this film, it's no masterpiece like Women in Love or The Devils, but it is far greater than touchy critics like Roger Ebert or whoever writes Halliwell's Film Guide suggest. At worst, it is hugely ambitious- not something that can be applied to contemporary British cinema...