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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest British feature film ever made? Quite possibly., 30 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Music Lovers [1970] [VHS] (VHS Tape)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Nov 2008 16:38:11 GMT
Paul Ess. says:
Often disregarded as merely a follow up to 'Women in Love', 'the Music Lovers' is clearly a superior film in every sense. I was lucky enough to videotape a widescreen version that Sky transmitted a while ago, and it's a different film to the saturated p/s vhs that you review. This tape is not without merit though, as is your nomination that 'the Music Lovers' is the greatest British film. I happen to disagree, but I can certainly see the validity of such a claim.
Those two South Bank Show Lakeland Poets films would make a brilliant dvd double-header, and 'the Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner' is one of my very favourite KR films - even though we had to suffer a forced matey chat between Ken and Melvyn Bragg at the beginning because the film obviously wasn't long enough.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Dec 2008 21:48:47 GMT
Basilides says:
What would you nominate Paul?

Posted on 15 Apr 2010 10:01:54 BDT
T. Davies says:
'bout time they released this on DVD. My VHS players were dumped a couple of years ago.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jul 2011 15:47:10 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jul 2011 21:04:57 BDT
Where can I get the Bruckner film? I've been trying for years to even see it!!!

Bob Blenheim

PS: And, by the way, does anyone know the status of "Dance of the Seven Veils"? I've been trying to see that one for the last 25 years!

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jul 2011 23:12:49 BDT
Basilides says:
It's on YouTube now I believe. I can't help with the Bruckner film I'm afraid except to say that I found it quite moving when I saw it regardless of how true it might have been to Bruckner's experience at the 'rest home' - but I do hope it was true.

Posted on 26 Jun 2014 04:52:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Jun 2014 04:53:11 BDT
Film Buff says:
Hi again, your enthusiastic review here gave me pause for thought! I have always liked the film, but had never really judged it as highly as you have (I have always taken Mahler as being Russell's best film on a composer, and possibly The Devils as his best film of all with Valentino running it a close second), but perhaps you are right. Certainly Russell's hysterical OTT approach fits Tchaikovsky like a glove - I won't forget the 1812 sequence in a hurry, that's for sure! But 'greatest British film'? I really need to see this again for me to assess your claim properly. For now though, here are my top 10 British feature films (or films made by a British director at any rate):

1. Vertigo
2. Psycho
3. Black Narcissus
4. Performance
5. Lawrence of Arabia
6. Eureka
7. Peeping Tom
8. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover
9. North by Northwest
10. The End of the Affair

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jun 2014 13:19:07 BDT
It's interesting your top two 'British feature films' are American, even obviously so -- unlike Hitch's 'British-type' films. And most would rate 'The Red Shoes' or even 'Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' above 'Black Narcissus' (but that is an excellent film). How about Ken Russell's 'Women in Love', or Joseph Losey's 'The Servant' (Critic Joyce Persico once called it the greatest film ever made, above 'Citizen Kane'), or Lean's 'Brief Encounter', or Ken Loach's 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley', or Olivier's 'Hamlet', or Carol Reed's 'The Third Man' (although I prefer his 'Fallen Idol'), or Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner', or Paul Greengrass' 'United 93'.... etc., etc., etc....?

Anyway, it's not easy to make a list like this, is it?

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2014 00:12:02 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jun 2014 22:20:08 BDT
Basilides says:
But none of the films mentioned satisfy my criteria except for 'Eureka'.

What I am putting on the table is that the CONTENT of a film is more important than what I shall call for convenience the 'quality of its fabrication'. But of course the 'quality of fabrication' in the film with serious or important enough content must be up to the expected standard too.
Obviously I am leaving aside the sort of content that has moral priority such as serious (anti-)war films, or films about the poor and downtrodden etc, or films about political, financial, business corruption etc.
What my criteria are based on is ARCHETYPAL CONTENT which for the purpose of my argument I'll roughly define as the serious subject matter that will still be with us when all the obvious evils and imperfections of the world have been solved, or much reduced in severity, by progress or enlightenment. What we are left with then let's say, for the purpose of my argument, is the essential condition of the species in an advanced state of complex nOtionally humanistic civilization (such as we already have in some countries) with the natural distribution of human temperament, ability, sexuality, and I suppose a degree of criminality.
This archetypal content, if strong enough, can appear in the context of a war film (in the case of a story such as Tolstoy's 'War and Peace') or in a film about the poor and downtrodden (in the case of a story such as Hugo's 'Notre Dame'). In such a case the film would still qualify for what I have in mind . But, as I say, the archetypal content has to be very strong and leave one with a strong sense of the Sublime.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2014 00:41:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jun 2014 01:14:52 BDT
Film Buff says:
Note that my criteria for 'British film' means 'directed by a British director' and my list reflects that. I think you don't have to read much to realize that there are only three top British directors whose names appear in the pantheon of the greats. These are Hitchcock, Powell/Pressburger and Chaplin. I don't like Chaplin so much (I find his humour too calculated), but Gold Rush and Modern Times would probably appear in my top 20. With Hitchcock does anyone really think his British films are better than his later American work? Granted The Lady Vanishes, Blackmail and The 39 Steps are classy works, but none of them come close to the three I have selected. I could easily add Notorious and Shadow of a Doubt as well. With Powell/Pressburger I am aware The Red Shoes and Blimp (and also A Matter of Life and Death) are regarded by many as superior, but I select Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom for their radical ingenuity - something missing from almost all other British films. The former is probably the most erotic British film ever made and packs an extraordinary punch - more so than in anything else from Powell. Peeping Tom is still grossly under-rated and is a much better film on voyeurism (and the nature of the film director) than even Rear Window. In fact set beside Hitch's great work Peeping Tom seems avant garde.

Like Hitchcock, do we really think Lean's early British work is better than his later American-financed epics? You could make a case for the 2 Dickens films, but not Brief Encounter - a film which makes me cringe whenever I see it because it is SO dated. Lawrence of Arabia is (along with The Leopard and 2001) the greatest wide-screen work ever made.

For modern British film (which carried on the cinematic modernism started with the French New Wave in the 60s) I'd go for Nic Roeg over Ken Russell any day of the week. Performance is a work of extraordinary originality while Eureka is another forgotten masterpiece, a metaphysical investigation which rivals 2001 in its scope. I had to include a Greenaway film because he is the only one out there now still 'kicking against the pricks' as it were. The Cook, the Thief... is an astonishing anti-materialist, anti-Thatcher, anti-yuppie culture rant which really works. I include The End of the Affair because for me it's the most touching love story out there. OK, the director is Irish (and so strictly speaking shouldn't be on my list) and OK, I love the Greene book, so I am biased, but the film is flawless.

As for your suggestions: Blade Runner is a modern Metropolis - all style and no substance. This film is loved to death by many, but fails to reach me - possibly the most over-rated film ever made. I like Women in Love, but as Basilides says The Music Lovers is even more daring and I think Mahler and The Devils are better still. The Wind that Shakes the Barley would appear in my top 20 as would Land and Freedom, and I am also with you on The Servant (Bogarde's finest performance) and The Third Man. Olivier's Hamlet has surely been eclipsed by foreign Shakespeare adaptations (Welles' Othello, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (aka MacBeth) and Ran (aka King Lear), and even the McClelland Richard III I'd say is better. Paul Greengrass? An excellent action director, but he's not in the class we're talking about I'm afraid.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2014 00:59:31 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jun 2014 06:29:31 BDT
Film Buff says:
Hi Basilides! We were obviously typing our responses at the same time. You are talking about I think films which are of strongly metaphysical content - which address the basic eternal truths of human existence. We've already had this conversation over Eureka, but how about the following 13 for fitting your set of criteria? By the way, they are all among my absolute favorites as well.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
2. Mirror (1974, Andrei Tarkovsky)
3. Dekalog (1988, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
4. Ikiru (1952, Akira Kurosawa)
5. A Man Escaped (1956, Robert Bresson)
6. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
7. Au hasard Balthazar (1966, Robert Bresson)
8. Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)
9. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Bela Tarr)
10. There Will Be Blood (2007, P. T. Anderson)
11. The Turin Horse (2011, Bela Tarr)
12. The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)
13. Eureka (1982, Nic Roeg)

I feel all of these are concerned with 'archetypal content' (at least in my definition of the term!) and most definitely tap into the sublime.
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