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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2009
As some-one who is given to regularly reviewing the works of Ken Russell (against my better judgement I must say), a completely (often deliberately) misunderstood and unjustly derided film-maker; you eventually reach some kind of review-brick-wall; a point from which it's impossible to progress any further.

'Lisztomania' is Russell's MOST misunderstood and MOST unjustly derided motion picture. I'll bet much filthy lucre Russell laughed like a drain while he shot it. If ever a film, jam packed with fabulously garish and disrespectful visuals, was designed and clinically executed with the sole purpose of goading pompous, humourless, over-reverential critics - 'Lisztomania' is it.

Where else can you see a film where Richard Wagner grows a pair of vampire fangs; makes an Aryan monster (Thor - played by overblown organ-obsessive Rick Wakeman!); stages a thoroughly nightmarish 'Rape of the Rhine Maidens' - with the perpetrator sporting a Star of David tattoo (on his forehead!!); teaches innocent little kiddies anti-Semitic rock songs about 'Teutonic Godheads'; dies; then returns from the grave as a swastika emblazoned Frankenstein's monster with a Hitler moustache, firing an enormous guitar/machine gun at a space-ship full of his and Franz Liszt's ex-lovers, who are trying to bomb him ?

You can't... can you ?
Yes you can - and much, much more in 'Lisztomania'.
See Ringo Starr as the Pope: "Raped at gunpoint?....well it happens to the best of us my son".
Gasp at the brilliantly unfeasible nudity; reel at the disgraceful marrying of beautiful classical pieces to vulgar rock lyrics; fall on the floor and roll in the mud as Roger Daltrey's hair miraculously changes from 70's curly-perm to straight shoulder-length, half-way through the film - making a mockery of any attempt at continuity...
And I'm just scratching the surface.

'Lisztomania' is one of the most entertaining films ever made; it's also one of Russell's most autobiographical as well as the most historically accurate of all his biopics.
None of this matters a jot - I'm just trying to justify the pneumatically opinionated excess and comically distorted abandon with a fact or two; give the delirium some gravitas and worthiness...

Ken won't thank me - likewise those tediously boring classical music bods who will never realize that the art they so revere and cherish was of its time populist and reactionary - won't thank him.

'Lisztomania' is Ken Russell slowly raising a middle finger to the critic, to the elite and to the church among (many) others.
Unfortunately, when mega-conservative David Puttnam and his un-enlightened, un-prepossessing cohorts realized what Russell was doing with the money they were giving him - they didn't give him any more; and without the backing of Lord and Lady Muck at the BFI he never again achieved the kind of artistic success as he did in his insane 70's period.
He's made good films - but never really re-captured that desperate energy and dash he possessed in such abundance.

Those responsible should hang their heads in shame, as the limo drops them at yet another red carpet event celebrating 'the Bank Job', 'Four Weddings', 'Notting Hill' or whatever lumpen mush is passing for British movies these days.

They won't, but the fact that 'Lisztomania' exists at all, will serve to remind them that Britain could once turn out a real film and not merely a dispassionate formula.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 November 2014
Ken Russell made ‘Lisztomania’ (1975) straight after completing his rock opera ‘Tommy’. He wanted to make another biopic of a classical composer but one that would be appreciated by those who enjoyed ‘Tommy’.

I suppose the film with which we might compare Lisztomania is ‘Song without End’ (1960), starring Dirk Bogarde. This too follows closely events in Liszt’s life and is not too bad for its time, but is staid in comparison with Russell’s effort (but then God’s own creation is staid in comparison with what might have been Russell’s version.) Thus, within the first five seconds of ‘Lisztomania’ we have outrageous sets, naughty humour, a witty script, and fantastical ideas. These ideas continue throughout the film and glory in anachronism. It gets worse/better (depending on your point of view) as the film goes on, but it is all never less than entertaining.

Roger Daltrey is not an actor who indulges in nuance, but perhaps Russell’s conception of Liszt’s part does not require much depth. It is a romp after all (in more ways than one). Paul Nicholas plays Wagner, and there are cameos by Oliver Reed, Ringo Starr (as the pope), and Rick Wakeman. I particularly enjoyed one of the opening scenes where Chopin, Berlioz, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and Schumann are all at the same party.

I’ve described the film as a romp, but what audiences and critics at the time may have hissed at – the film’s all-too-frequent provocative absurdity (aka ‘bad taste’) – we can instead appreciate today as simply Russell’s humour. Admittedly, the anti-Wagner rhetoric is a bit over the top and grates after a while. I suppose we must be thankful that Russell never did a biopic of Wagner.

Watching this film, it helps to have a bit of an understanding of the historical times in which Liszt lived, such as the 1848 revolutions, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the symbolism of Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’, and the place in music history of Hans von Bulow. But this is not a rigid requirement: anyone who knows about voodoo dolls, vampires, and Frankenstein’s monster will appreciate the humour.

As an extra on my copy of the DVD, It is a boon to have Ken Russell’s own commentary; it was made in 2009 (he says he has just finished filming ‘Boudicca’). He states he has not seen ‘Lisztomania’ for about thirty years and thinks it was a good effort. He cites as chief influences in its making such widely divergent sources as Chaplin, Busby Berkeley, and ‘Battleship Potemkin’.

Russell tells us that he wanted to do a satirical film with tongue very much firmly in cheek. And yet he keeps close to actual events in Liszt’s life, presenting him as the world’s first pop star. We also learn that it is most definitely Roger Daltrey playing the piano, and that Liszt’s music was partly reworked for the film by Rick Wakeman (who appears as Frankenstein’s monster).

‘Lisztomania’, then follows in the Russell tradition of grand and amazing takes on the lives of the great composers as seen in ‘The Music Lovers’ and ‘Mahler’. It is therefore in stark contrast to his more subtle and sympathetic treatments of the likes of Delius and Elgar. But that is not to deny ‘Lisztomania’ its own rare moments of restraint, and it’s always a pleasure to spend an hour or two in Russell’s erudite if wayward company.
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on 27 March 2004
...It hardly matters. The fact is that Lisztomania remains Ken Russell's most vociferously castigated film, and that's saying something. If anything Lisztomania proves merely that critics watch films with their eyes and not with their ears. "Bad taste" "outrageous" "camp" and "over the top" are adjectives frequently found in conjunction with reviews of Russell films. Perhaps we'd all prefer to sit down for the latest didactic lesson in wife-beating from Ken Loach, to show us the true extent of British film-making innovation and genius. Why oh why as a race are we so anally retentive about revisionism? Why does any mention of Lisztomania still result in a resounding cacophony of sphincters closing so spontaneously, that it drowns out old Ken's attempts to marry his own, ahem, "ecletic" visual interpretation of the passion and energy of what might have been going through Liszt the man's mind to his aural compositions? On second thoughts perhaps we'd all better go and remind ourselves how serious and solemn cinema must unreserverdly be at all times with a screening of The Passion of Christ. But wait! for yet I hear the ring of the holy cash registers of the local multiplex...
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on 15 August 2011
Disappointed that this is a non-anamorphic letterbox presentation. Also print transfer is so-so - nothing to write home about. At least Ken provided a commentary - although even here the great Ken is very underpar - as a lot of these commentaries tend to be.

Ken Russell is very neglected in the DVD format for some reason. Lisztomania reminded me of the Rocky Horror Picture Show - although it is a companion piece to Tommy. I'd suggest this isn't one of Ken's best, but worthy of a viewing for the uninitiated. Much prefer the Music Lovers and Mahler.
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on 19 August 2013
This is what Russell is often feted for: total OTT, gratuitous and bawdy film making. But he's good at this style, giving it merit and insight into an historical situation. I didn't realise that "Lisztomania" was a 19thC term for the disproportionate adoration of Franz. It goes beyond merely taking liberties with the persistent use of Nazi associations with Wagner (which also gets tedious), and certainly not one of his best films. Watch "The Devils" which truly explores mania (religious and political) in the city of Loudon.
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on 9 August 2009
As another reviewer noted, this is Russell at (perhaps) his most excessive. It is interesting that this falls before Altered States, Gothic, Lair of the White Worm, The Rainbow, and Whore in creation, but after The Devils and Tommy (and others including Mahler) -- I believe if nothing it else it shows how remarkably creative Russell is, and how in some ways his worst can outdo some current movies out there. Still, if you love Russell this is worth seeing, and certainly is similar in style to Tommy (I think he brought over some glitter crosses from Tommy in fact). Paul Nicholas is fun as Wagner, and the female actresses are all refreshingly interesting.

The DVD itself has some image quality issues, perhaps based on the source material, at times seemingly fuzzy -- I would love to see this in some sort of Blu Ray collection along with Mahler and Valentino and other less well seen movies, with a view to better resolution. The soundtrack is crisp and healthy on my Sony Bravia, and the speaking parts come through with no noteable dropout.

Overall worth seeing. Not Russell's best, by far, but certainly entertaining.
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on 20 June 2009
Ken Russell at his ludicrous, overblown, messy best. Ken may be a bit rich for a lot of peoples' blood, but if you fancy more, I'd recommend his Valentino, Tommy, and The Boyfriend. Although Sandy Wilson's Boyfriend was written as an Art Deco souffle, Ken's version is an all-you-can-eat meat feast in comparison. But where else would you find the thespian giant Glenda Jackson playing alongside Cockney sparrow Barbara Windsor? Ken's a twisted genius.
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on 2 March 2013
LIstzomania is not in print here in the us and the laserdisc is an incomplete mess. The region 2 DVD played fine on my code free player and the picture, although not anamorphic,, still blows away the ld. The sound is stereo and it would have been nice if the score would have been spruced up to quad, like tommy was. But it's quite fine in stereo,

Having not seen it in its entirety since its theatrical release in the 1970s, I must admit this is Russell at his worst and best. He perverts things to his pleasure and it's full of excess which Russell fans should cherish.
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on 1 February 2013
LisztOmania is one of Ken Russell's wonderful out of control 70s extravaganzas. If you are into Russell you know what's here. My concern here is that the film has been severally matted for the letterboxing making watching it on a modern widescreen television a bit disconcerting. While this may have been necessary back in the era of VHS tape on any modern television or computer monitor it is a distraction and an impediment to viewing.
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on 28 December 2012
It's a Ken Russell film, so expect surrealism, the Nazis, Ringo as the Pope, Daltry and a superb soundtrack by Rick Wakeman. Do not watch if you're easily offended, are expecting a serious musical biopic or have a weak stomach. For anyone else, it's worth a watch, particularly if you like surrealism, Russell, or Wakeman.
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