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Foreign Films > Death In Venice (Luchino Visconti)

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments My Cinementor and I have just finished our Visconti phase and are (next Friday) moving on to Bergman's Trilogy: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, WINTER LIGHT, and THE SILENCE. My friend is an avid Mahler aficionado (who owns the out-of-print DVD Ken Russell film MAHLER, which is bugfuck crazy, needs a re-release, Now!) and was able to provide insight into the specific compositions. Of course, I highly recommend for all!

DEATH IN VENICE (Luchino Visconti, 1971, Italy) Gustav walks the cloistered streets of Venice amid a Cholera epidemic; like any great Artist, he searches for Beauty’s sublime Form in a world cursed with mortality, while Death stalks its prey. Director Luchino Visconti focuses our attention on Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous composer who exiles himself to the past, to the anachronistic city of Venice whose very foundation, like his, sinks deeper and deeper into dark troubled waters. We are allowed only brief insight into Gustav’s past through flashback and mise-en-scene: a wife, the death of his child, a gay lover, and a career he seems to have purposely castigated. Visconti uses Mahler’s music as the protagonist’s creation and it works to profound effect: the score is like a funeral shroud, the raging and fear against the dying of the light, and this creates a smothering tension that infuses the narrative with an contagious friction between our brief desire to live and the cold infinite void. It is Beauty with a capital B that Gustav searches for: not carnal lust to quench his dying body, a momentary fleshly delight, it is inspiration to breathe, to accept his own demise and possibly compose one last great symphony. Visconti’s film is Beauty itself, each shot perfectly framed and each languid camera movement resplendently capturing Gustav’s perceptions. He becomes enamored with a young man, who represents his own salvation, both professionally and spiritually, an objet d’art that stirs the senses: in a world that smells of shit, where children needlessly die, there still exists a sublime grace. But he feels the tomb immure his heart, slowly stealing his breath, and in an unsettling scene a barber dyes his hair and paints his face white, applies rouge to his lips, makeup for a walking corpse. Finally, as Gustav gazes upon Tadzio, he dies as we all must…alone. (A)

message 2: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10498 comments thanks for the review, alex! - i haven't seen this since the early 80's. it's time to see it again - thanks for shaking the tree on this one. somehow i missed it when pfa hosted the visconti retro here last year.

the bergman trilogy you're going to delve into next is really something. i like all of those films, but the silence is really something special - it stands out as highly original even for bergman - there really isn't anything else like it.

message 3: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments Hi Kate, I haven't seen this on the big screen but the muted colors and soundtrack are problematic on the lousy Warner DVD; this needs remastered by Criterion! I think the urgency of death in the film is brought about by Mahler's score and the gradual descent into decay, culminating in the death-mask: I make the allusion of Venice and Gustav sinking together. I haven't read the book but it will go on my Must Read list, thanks for your insight:)

The 4 gig (not even duel layered!) DVD is not remastered and is full of "digital artifacts" that show up as white specks. This tells me that it has a low bitrate and colors, sound, image resolution are well below sub-par. That's why Blu-ray (at 50 freakin' gigs!) can finally duplicate the exact image and sound as celluloid originals! Someday, Visconti's films will be released properly and it will be a new cinematic experience.

Now I'm hungry for pizza!

message 4: by Jean (new)

Jean Liota (gardenlady56) | 30 comments Another great film I hadn't thought about in ages. This list is really filling up my Netflix queue.

message 5: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 10498 comments yeah, stick with alex and you'll be a three movies at a time client on Netflix before you know it.

message 6: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 469 comments I thought I would like this movie.

Didnt do a thing for me.
I thought the kid was annoying. One of those people who walk around life as God's pet project, oblivious to the world.
I had no sympathy for Gustav at all.
I would rather recommend Ken Russell's "Mahler"

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