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Good, but marred by poor sound
on 4 May 2004
This was the film that set the seal on Dirk Bogarde's transformation from capable, good-looking juvenile lead to genuinely fine actor. There had been signs of it before - in ACCIDENT, for example - but this was the real thing. The celebrated final scene proves it.
However... the film - taken as a film, rather than Dirk Bogarde's coming-of-age - has many flaws. It is slow. This need not be a problem, but it's ponderous too, which is. The cinematography is excellent - except for several intensely irritating examples of over-use of the zoom lens, which make it look at times like Uncle Fred playing with his new camcorder.
Then there are many clumsily didactic scenes where Gustav and his friend discuss Art, with a very capital A. Show, don't tell, Luchino!
Let's not dwell too much on the forest of radio and TV aerials which appears behind von Aschenbach's head around 1 hour into the film or Tadzio's oh-so-carefully-blow-waved hair. These anachronisms aren't too disturbing in the context of the film when taken as a whole.
Just remember the excellence of Bogarde's performance and the decayed beauty of Venice under scirocco skies, and enjoy the film on that basis.
Techicals - visuals on this enhanced-for-widescreen DVD are fine. The colour is good, though muted, and free from intrusive defects. I wish I could say the same for the sound. Considering the importance of the soundtrack to the overall impact of the film - von Aschenbach is a composer, not a writer, in this version of the story - the state of the audio is an absolute disgrace. The dialogue is fine, but the music track is in mono (for a film made in 1971?) and suffers from a distinct speed variation throughout. It sounds like an off-centre record. The dreadful sound quality came close to ruining the final scene for this viewer. Universal, get your finger out and find the original soundtrack and remaster it properly. It's unacceptable in its present condition.