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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
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.
"Music Lovers" has long been labored over as another of Ken Russell extravagant excess baggages. Seeing it again has made me realize that the film is rather brilliant--not in cinema style but in conception. From the very start it seems to capture the schizoid world of Tsaichovsky and the social milleau he was forced to grip with. The point of view shots and the subsequent dream sequences in the early portion of the film capture this in brilliant colors and sharp editing. As the musician falls into his double life the scnes build to the scarring climax. Performances are excellent. The film may not be totally accurate, but who cares?
I've always enjoyed watching this movie, so much because the music alone stands out for its exhilarating beauty. ( Possible Spoilers! ) Though not historically accurate, it captures the psychological emotions and passions, especially during the seven minute portion when the composer is playing the piano and imagining what the complete second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 "visually" represents to himself, and what Antonina's amorous delusions would of wished it meant! In totality, the performance of this concerto and the visual interactions between Tchaikovsky, Sasha, Antonina, Madame von Meck, and the others in the concert hall are extremely intense concerning one of Russia's most famous composers. The director Ken Russell does an excellent job at directing his actors and actresses to portray the required emotional intensity, though somewhat comical over exaggerated script of the story based on the book, "Beloved Friend" The Story of Tchaikovsky and Nadejda von Meck. But, even so the excellent acting by the leading and supporting actors and actresses move this film into its "pathetique" or tragic climax. The acting by the wonderful actress Glenda Jackson is superb in her interpretation of the unbalanced Antonina Milyukova. Her performance is an effective counterbalance to Richard Chamberlain's extraordinarily complicated portrayal of Peter Tchaikovsky with all of his emotional energies concentrated on his musical compositions and his private personal torments controlling his "fate" of never having what society would deem a "normal" life! So much said that this excellent movie is a tribute to a composer genius, especially on the anniversary ( 6th November 1893 ) of the one-hundred-eleventh year of his unfortunate mysterious death by his own hands. My rating for this movie is a 3 out of 4.
Although this film is difficult to follow at times (and, reportedly,
historically inaccurate, too; I wouldn't know), there are still several
reasons to see it:
1) Glenda Jackson's outstanding performance (you won't believe that the actress we see at the final stages of the film is the same one who played Tchaikovsky's wife early on, but it is - her transformation is amazing).
2) Some truly impressive sequences; be sure to watch this movie on tape, so you can rewind it and watch them again.
3) Tchaikovsky's music, of course.
4) Lush sets and costumes.
Ken Russell is a very unpredictable director; just when you think the film is about to start boring you, he'll give you a wonderful moment out of nowhere.
One of Richard Chamberlain's most memorable and fringe roles. Glenda Jackson is brilliant. The romance, passion, melodrama, and ultimate tragic fate of the main characters are all intensely portrayed with rich cinematography and the most lavish sets Russell ever used. The film carries that subtle yet omnipresent surreality which is a trademark of Russell's films, and which some find so annoying, and others so seductive and heightening of the experience. A truly wonderful but sad film.
As startling and entertaining a piece of cinema The Music Lovers is, on
the whole it will disappoint those who (not unreasonably) may be
expecting an accurate (if typically melodramatic) biopic.
Rife with inaccuracies, The Music Lovers however occasionally elicits tantalising moments of truth which will be familiar to those who might have studied the great man and his music. The moment of madness during the composition of the violin concerto, Tchaikovsk'y mixing fact and fiction during the composition of Eugene Onegin; (resulting in his disastrous marriage), the brief glimpse of his benefactress during a stay at her apartments, the failed suicide attempt etc etc. However, these fascinating glimpses into well documented occurrences are undeveloped, and in their place we are left with a pastiche either of overly romanticised or histrionic scenes of theatrical fantasy.
The real strength here lies in the actor's performances, even Richard Chaimberlain's stuffy and occasionally irritating performance has its moments and Glenda Jackson is wonderful as the vulnerable, unloved wife. The cinematography too is wonderful, evocative and colourful - perfectly in tune with the music of Tchaikovsk'y which also is used to great effect.
If you can take Ken Russel's notorious penchant for the ridiculous (and at times, distasteful) and are not expecting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then The Music Lovers is worth watching if only for its being so gloriously over the top!
"The Music Lovers" captures the Ken Russell style at its best. It's a full blown expression of his romanticized, shocking, exaggerated biographies, previously seen in black and white, low-budget BBC productions (more adequately financed here thanks to the success of "Women In Love"). Russell's excessive style contrasts the supreme beauty of Tchaikovsky's music with the turbulent, tormented, messy life from which it arose. The visual flights of fancy succeed in conveying the musical transcendence. Performances go way over the top, but the treatment calls for it. Richard Chamberlain bravely goes where few actors would in 1970. Glenda Jackson is absolutely fearless. She'll do whatever it takes, from writhing around nude to shaving her head. There's no denying the film is a deliberate assault on the senses, but thoughtful viewers will leave with much to contemplate and digest. I should not omit the fact that it's highly entertaining as well.
quite possibly one of the greatest films of ALL time.also the most under rated and misunderstood bios ever made. never has a film so flawlessly combined music and image to create the telling of a mans life through his excessively romantic music combined with equally excessive visuals.its highly operatic in its telling and to some over the top. how anyone can say that after listening to the mans music is beyond me.in short this is without doubt my favorite film ever made.
This film is one of Ken Russell's best dramatic romps. He dashes through late 19th Century Russian history without a care to whether it is all in the correct place or not. But that doesn't matter. It's your typical Russell film: Overstated dramatic acting, madness, mental institutions, frilly frocks and women with low-cut dresses and big boobs. As this film recounts the life of 19th Century Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Russell manages to capture a feeling this is essentially Russian. You could almost swear that the story was straight out of a Checkov play, it has that Russian warmth to it. Far more interesting than a long, drawn-out serious biography, The Music Lovers is fun and entertaining in a dramatic way, worth watching. However, keep to the encyclopaedia if you want a proper history of Tchaikovsky's life.
I recently bought this (rare) video. It was great watching this film
again, I originally saw it in the cinema when it first came out. I
think this film ranks amongst the very best ever made.
What I found particularly fascinating, and I have not seen many other comments about this, is the totally convincing way Richard Chamberlain plays the Piano Concerto in the early part of the film and continues to play like as professional pianist. Did he train to play the piano for this part, in the same way as Robert DeNiro became a boxer in 'Raging Bull' or was he just a naturally gifted pianist?
Glenda Jackson and the other main characters are just fantastic in this film. My only criticism is the 1812 sequence near the end of the film, which really doesn't really seem to come off. Also the ending sequence, when Tchaikovsky dies of cholera, seems to be completely rushed. I think the ending could have been more drawn out.
Overall I think this film was one of the best !
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