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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 Here, historical content matters not so much as metaphors, feelings, emotions, and interpretations, and pay close attention, as every word and frame is intended to be important.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 <email@example.com>
Ken Russell was inspired to make his film about composer Gustav Mahler after greatly disliking Death in Venice (1971). In a segment of his autobiography about Mahler (1974), Russell said that he thought that the other "so-called Mahler film", Death in Venice, was rubbish. "People think it's about Mahler, all because his music is part of the soundtrack! The director, Luchino Visconti, never said it was about him, though." So he mocked the film in his movie. He had a satirical moment when Mahler looks out of the train and sees his dying lookalike. See more »
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 »
Mahler is an interesting case. Whereas Ken Russell's films are either just over the top (his theatrical films), or maybe even too subtle (his television work), Mahler is both. Its closest companion may be always the simple but exquisite Song of Summer, but there is that usual kitsch and excess you can find without a magnifier from Lisztomania and other Russell classics.
What I'm trying to say is that if you find Russell's television work too tame, and The Devils and Tommy are just too much, Mahler might be your film. It's not Russell's best, but in this film he found a balance which is rare to him. It may be a slow and long film, but in the end game is wonderfully rich and profound in explaining the essence of artistry and creativity. And much like Michael Powell did to ballet dance in The Red Shoes, Russell doesn't just explain his subject matter in Mahler: he brings it alive. It's like the romantic Gustav Mahler himself made this film.
And, of course, there is the music! Much recommended to everybody.
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