Music Lovers

Film-maker Ken Russell (Photograph: David Montgomery/Getty Images)

Film-maker Ken Russell (Photograph: David Montgomery/Getty Images)

Ken Russell died almost exactly a year ago this weekend.  It’s reported online November 28th and 29th 2011 (although I don’t know exactly which day he passed away).

I’m watching The Music Lovers, wondering if the film’s critical reception at the time of its release – essentially dismissive of its fantasy elements –has been revised more recently.  The critiques I see cited online are uniformly negative.  The film was released at a time when there were still limits to what you could show on screen.

Does it matter that this is not what really happened to Tschaikowsky?  It’s not a documentary.  Why does it have to be factual, especially in telling a life story that’s still largely a matter of speculation….?

The outlandish, sometimes surreal & nightmarish, larger than life actions shown in the film usually match the overwrought compositions that are quoted

  • 1st piano concerto
  • 4th, 5th and 6th Symphonies
  • Manfred Symphony
  • Eugene Onegin
  • Romeo and Juliet Overture
  • The 1812 Overture
  • Swan Lake
  • The Nutcracker

In its way The Music Lovers is the precise opposite of what I’ve been thinking about the past couple of weeks.  There’s Lydia Perović’s novel Incidental Music which I’ve written about recently.  The music at her book launch—duets and solos by soprano & mezzo—are a natural lead-in to the novel, in their reminder of the impossible relationships in opera, between women and men played by women.  In today’s High Definition Met broadcast we saw a perfect example of this, in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.  In The Music Lovers we have the opposite sort of impossible relationship. While it’s superficially right –man with woman—Peter Tchaikowsky was a homosexual man (at least in this version of his life story), and we see his wife Antonina go mad in response.

It may not be what really happened, but it’s a fascinating tale, told boldly with excellent performances.  I think it’s an amazing film if for no other reason than the powerful images in the last five minutes, and lots more besides.   So many years later it doesn’t seem outlandish at all.  Perhaps history has caught up with Russell.   

I miss Ken Russell, his courage, his imagination, his balls.  What an amazing artist.  Wild flamboyance lives on in the Tim Burtons & Terry Gilliams of this world (plus a few others).  Speaking of music lovers, Russell always showed a wonderful sensitivity to the music he used in his films.

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1 Response to Music Lovers

  1. I loved this absolutely raving mad film. (I think Nina would be a mad nymphomaniac independent of Tchaik’s exploits, but I have to see it again, it’s been a while.)

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