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Mahler (1974)

Composer Gustav Mahler's life, told in a series of flashbacks as he and his wife discuss their failing marriage during a train journey.

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Won 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Lee Montague ...
Miriam Karlin ...
Aunt Rosa
Rosalie Crutchley ...
Gary Rich ...
Young Mahler
...
Max
Angela Down ...
...
...
Nick
...
Otto Mahler
Dana Gillespie ...
...
Doctor Roth
...
Arnold Yarrow ...
Grandfather
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Storyline

Both trifles and structure are tossed out the door by director Ken Russell in this film. Here, historical content matters not so much as metaphors, feelings, emotions, and interpretations, and pay close attention, as every word and frame is intended to be important. The film takes place on a single train ride, in which the sickly composer Gustav Mahler and his wife, Alma, confront the reasons behind their faltered marriage and dying love. Each word seems to evoke memories of past, and so the audience witnesses events of Mahler's life that explain somewhat his present state. Included are his turbulent and dysfunctional family life as a child, his discovery of solace in the "natural" world, his brother's suicide, his [unwanted] conversion from Judiasm to Catholicism, his rocky marriage and the death of their young child. The movie weaves in and out of dreams, flashbacks, thoughts and reality as Russell poetically describes the man behind the music. Written by Jonathan Dakss <dakss@columbia.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Biography | Drama | Music

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »
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Details

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Release Date:

February 1975 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Малер  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Cameo: [Oliver Reed] a train conductor blowing a whistle as Mahler's train is about to pull out of the station. See more »

Goofs

When Mahler's train leaves St. Pölten, a sign is visible identifying the town as "Saint Pölten". Yet, the German long script for the town is "Sankt Pölten". See more »

Quotes

Anna von Mildenburg: Your song was charming, Alma, even if it was a little naïve, a little childlike.
Gustav Mahler: Critics are always accusing me of being naïve. Don't associate naïvete with children, though. They don't even know what it means. Heaven lies all around us in our infancy. To enter that world, we must see with the eyes of children and hear with the ears of children.
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Connections

Spoofs Death in Venice (1971) See more »

Soundtracks

Alma's Song
Word by William Blake
Music by Dana Gillespie
Sung by Carol Mudie
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User Reviews

 
Russell's Best Film
3 February 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I disagree with viewers who have claimed that this movie is over-the-top and excessive, as some other Ken Russell movies. It is true that the British director cultivated shock, gore and excessive cinematography that often resembled heavy LSD hallucinations or a Bosch paintings. But he felt he was only ahead of his time in the late 60's and throughout the 70's. Prime examples of this are his Tommy, Lisztomania and The Devils. But "Mahler" is actually his most tame and restrained. I found the film genuinely moving and haunting. It's slow-paced, quite talky and very very musical in nature. Robert Powell stars as the anguished composer Gustav Mahler, Georgina Hale as his wife Alma and Antonia Ellis as the dark and seductive Cosima Wagner. The film is partially historic partially psychological and partially dream-like. It is true that Mahler, who was born Jewish, converted to Catholicism simply for the sake of landing a prestigious job as conductor of the Vienna State Opera. His relationship with Cosima Wagner, Richard Wagner's widowed wife, did in fact have something detrimental about it. In the film, it's hinted they are lovers and that Cosima has managed to isolate him from his wife and children. With the music of Mahler and Wagner in the soundtrack, and fine performances by the lead stars, this is indeed Ken Russell's most psychological works of drama. Essentially, it's about the downfall of a man who has compromised his ethics and sacrificed his religion for the sake of money and fame.

Robert Powell, Antonia Ellis and Georgina Hale carry most of the movie. Alma, who was largely considered a big name in feminist history and a brilliant woman in her own right, felt eclipsed by the genius of Mahler. Their marriage was never happy and ended in divorce. Cosima Wagner was notoriously Anti-Semitic, in fact, it is said she was far more so than her husband Richard Wagner. Antonia Ellis does do a very over-the-top performance, at one point in a dream sequence even dressing up as a Nazi dominatrix in the quite hilarious silent film parody in which Mahler is converted into Catholicism. There is even a funny song to the strains of Wagner's Ride of The Valkyries. This and the Death Fantasy in which Mahler imagines he is being buried alive and Alma is dancing over his grave and carrying out numerous affairs are the only Russell elements that fall into excess. But most of the film is quite haunting and lovely to look at. Highly recommended as a Russell film to watch without judgment of his other works.


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