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The compelling and bizarre story of Tchaikovsky's life and music. In Ken Russell's own words: "It's the story of the marriage between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac." Written by
Jon Dakss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers" might be the one of, if not the best film ever made on the subject of classical music. I emphasize this, because as a historical biography it could be described as merely sensational.
Russell portrays Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) as a closet homosexual who is haunted by the past and present. In order to obtain social acceptance, he marries a sexually ravenous young woman (Glenda Jackson). Their marriage, of course, proves to be disastrous, and Peter flees from his wife, isolating himself in the countryside to compose music for Madame Von Meck (Isabella Telezynska), a rich aristocrat and widow. But Tchaikovsky's past comes back to haunt him several times before the film's manic and grotesque conclusion.
Russell has constructed images that are beautiful and disgusting (often in the same scene) and the film is a perfect accompaniment to the inspiration and ambiance felt in the composer's music.
The best scenes involve the seamless meld between sound and image. A concert at the beginning of the film beautifully transposes images of audience members listening to Tchaikovsky's latest piece, with the fantasies that the music inspires in them. Numerous fantasy sequences throughout the film teeter on the edge of insanity, highlighting the composer's feelings and fears.
Which brings us to the film's astonishing and loony climax: an excessive montage set to the "War of 1812 Overture" that must rival any other sequence in the history of film for its inappropriateness. The piece is no doubt Tchaikovsky's most well known work, which brought him wealth and fame. But Russell presents his transition from composer to "star" entirely in fantasy. I could try to describe this sequence for you, but it would be futile. It must be seen to be believed. Let's just say that the climatic cannons from the "Overture" are put to violent and hilarious use.
The components of the film come together perfectly. Everyone seems to have been in their element while filming. The cinematography by Douglas Slocombe is absolutely beautiful, and proves to be the best feature of the film. This is possibly the best "looking" Russell film. Glenda Jackson's performance as the nymphomaniac wife is perfectly in tune with Russell's histrionic presentation. And though Richard Chamberlain does not fair as well, he shows some emotional depth that has hardly been seen in his other work.
Russell's pyrotechnic camera-work is so breathtaking that it is a wonder why the man cannot find work these days. "The Music Lovers" is an exercise in the pure joy of film-making and the emotions it can invoke within us. Perhaps Russell's career slipped through his fingers in the late 1970's (along with his budget), but this film, like Tchaikovsky's greatest compositions, is a work of genius.
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