The Music Lovers
Writer-director Ken Russell is a classical music buff. He has filmed
portions of operas, has directed operas on stage, and made a series
of films about the lives of composers,
including Elgar, Mahler and Liszt. This particular film offers his take on Tchaikovsky
It would be a disservice to both Russell and Tchaikovsky to call
this a biopic, because it is not intended to be a historically
accurate recitation of verified facts. It is rather Russell's
speculation about how an elderly Tchaikovsky might have looked back on his life if
he were experiencing feverish dreams while listening to his own
music. Events and characters are distorted and exaggerated in the
way we tend to do when we recall distant memories, magnifying the
significance of those things which had the greatest emotional impact
on us, making the merely unpleasant seem grotesque and repulsive, and
the pleasant seem glittering.
As the story is told here, Tchaikovsky's psyche is ruled by his
inability to reconcile his homosexuality with the "decency" required
of him by 19th century Russian society. He marries an impoverished,
lusty, uneducated woman who adores him passionately, thus dooming
both of them to great unhappiness and frustration.
In order to "pitch" the commercial viability of a film about
classical music, Russell described the film to his backers as "the
story of a
homosexual married to a nymphomaniac," and the auteur did not fail to
deliver on the lurid possibilities of that premise. Don't expect
this film to be a measured, thoughtful treatment of the great
composer. It is at times surreal, over-the-top, farcical, and
debauched. Its pacing is manic, bordering on hysterical. Don't
expect to see the kind of languorous, one-camera tracking shots that
were popular in other 1970 films about serious topics. Ken Russell
was not trying to make stately films in the manner of
Bergman, Kubrick or Tarkovsky. He was more like Fellini on speed. In
2011 we are used to seeing films that consist of hundreds of
rapid-fire cuts, but Russell was a pioneer of this technique in
1970, to a point where it seemed that he packed far more scenes and
images into his films than any other director of his time. Even when he sticks
to a scene from start to finish without cutting back-and-forth to
some other times or places, Russell may incorporate dozens of
different camera angles into his presentation, using none of them
for more than a few seconds. When my ex-wife and I saw Russell's
"The Devils" in 1971, after having seen "The Music Lovers" a few
months earlier, she opined that Russell could have remade the
leisurely paced "2001: A Space Odyssey" as a one-minute commercial.
She wasn't exaggerating by that much.
Do I think that Ken Russell did a good job on this film? Absolutely.
Russell may or may not be your kind of guy, but the man had talent.
First of all, the music is tremendous. Andre Previn directed the
London Symphony Orchestra in creating the all-Tchaikovsky score for
this film. By the way, Dr. Kildare's face and hands were both in the
frame when he played the piano in this role, and some of the music
required complicated keyboarding. We are hearing a professional
pianist, Rafael Orozco, but Chamberlain had to learn the fingering.
I don't play the piano, so I'm not the guy to make the call, but I
found Chamberlain quite convincing.
The real success of the film is not the music itself because film
is, after all, a visual medium. What impresses me is that the
visuals provide a perfect accompaniment
to Tchaikovsky's compositions, always seeming to suit the
music, irrespective of whether the portrayed actions are based on
reality. The images are tender, pathetic, joyful, or frenetic when
the music calls for it. In creating the concept, Russell first tried to
condense Tchaikovsky's life into its essence, as the composer
himself might have encapsulated it in a dream state, then set the
most memorable images from that dream-life to the great genius's
music, attempting to show how certain events and/or moods in
Tchaikovsky's life might correspond to or have inspired his work.
If you take the film on its own terms, accepting Russell's sense of
humor as well as his historical distortions, you may find the film to be an
intense experience and an inspired, if occasionally trashy, piece of
Just don't take any of it too seriously, and don't expect it to be
consistently uplifting. Art is not always pretty,
and art is not life. Sometimes they're not even that similar.
And that can be a good thing.
The film posits that Tchaikovsky committed "suicide by cholera" when
he deliberately drank from a glass of unboiled water. That is a
unique hybrid of two common speculations about the composer's death.
Some say he committed suicide. Others say he contracted cholera,
not intentionally. There are other theories as well. Some say he was
poisoned, and the most radical of those claims argue that the poisoning was
ordered by the Czar himself.
While the film's version of the story is probably more than a little
nutty, there is no conclusive evidence that would lead us to accept
any one established explanation of Tchaikovsky's death.
It is a mystery that continues to baffle us to this day.
Glenda Jackson performed three scenes in various stages of undress,
including some rather explicit exposure on her frustrating
"honeymoon." Some of the naughtier frames are seen below:
This scene involves two actresses. Tchaikovsky mistakenly enters a
bathroom, sees a woman bathing, and flashes back to a scene in
his childhood when he saw his mother being treated for cholera by a
primitive bathing method. The woman playing his mother is named Consuela Chapman, but I could not identify the younger, prettier
woman who inspires the flashback.
Clips from L'Epervier
are found in Defoe's section below.
We have already seen low-quality clips of these scenes from
True Blood, s4e2. Here are the 720p
upgrades, with samples below each.
Scoop's note: just a few months ago Janina Gavankar wrote me and
asked me to remove her images from Cup of My Blood out of the back
issues and imagingartist.com. I did it right away, and didn't think
about it again until last week when I saw that she suddenly, at age
30, started doing nude scenes again, and doesn't look as good as she
did in 2005. Why would she want those spectacular images from 2005
deleted, only to substitute them with less impressive ones?