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In 1926 the tragic and untimely death of a silent screen actor caused female moviegoers to riot in the streets and in some cases to commit suicide - that actor was Rudolph Valentino. Ballroom dancer Valentino manipulated his good looks and animal-like grace into a Hollywood career. His smouldering love making, tinged with a touch of masterful cruelty, expressed a sexuality which was at once both shocking and sensual. Written by
Ken Russell plays a director in the film. In his autobiography he explains that the actor who was to play the director was too drunk to work and so Russell played the part himself. Later the actor--who was too drunk to work--filed a complaint and the actors union insisted the scene be re-shot with a "real" actor and union member. This would have been very expensive as the scene involved a battle sequence--but it turned out that Russell who had started as an actor years before he was a director still had an acting union membership--so he was able to pay up his past dues and the scene remained in the film. Russell went to in the later part of his career to play parts in various films for himself and for others. See more »
Even if you know very little about Rudolph Valentino (like myself), it's obvious after just a couple of minutes that this "autobiography" doesn't have to be taken all too seriously. The dark humor and colorful, operatic way in which director Ken Russell tells his story, make this film interesting to watch, although some parts were just a little over the top to my taste (like Leslie Caron's excessive entrance at the funeral home, the cult of fans gathering outside Valentino's mansion and the scene in which Valentino and his co-star "practise" their love scene).
Although the choice of Rudolf Nureyev to play Valentino was a gamble, I think he is surprisingly well-cast in the title role. In my opinion, the whole essence of the movie was to make it look like a silent movie, whether in grotesqueness of the scenes or in the overly dramatic dialogs. In that light, Nureyev's performance should not be judged as "bad acting". His exaggerated accent and equally strong body language are part of his performance, which is supported by the fact that Nureyev in real life didn't had that much of an Russian accent (anymore) by 1977. Whether his acting style - or for that matter the style of the entire movie - appeals to you, is therefore merely an issue of personal taste than of professional capability of the filmmakers.
As a homosexual (or more accurately bisexual), Nureyev certainly would have related to the hate directed at Valentino and as a world-famous ballet dancer, he would also have been able to relate to Valentino's fame, outrageous lifestyle, the parasitic way in which some people surrounded him and the pressure of being an idol. He created an impression that I found believable and endearing.
Someone in another IMDb user review stated that Nureyev is "not handsome", "short" and "not muscular at all". Of course personal opinions about beauty may differ, but REALLY... if Nureyev is not considered the embodiment of physical perfection, than who is? This man has been a sex icon from the moment he became famous and was adored worldwide not only for his wonderful dancing, but also for his beautiful sculpted body and astonishing charisma. He definitely shows these trademarks in this movie. All his love scenes (even with Michelle Phillips, who he apparently disliked) ooze an erotic feeling. But above all, he shows that his dancing skills exceed the classical ballet. The most captivating moments for anyone with a warm place in his heart for dance, are certainly the spectacular ballroom scenes: from the passionate tango with Vaslav Nijinsky (one of several comical references to ballet) to the stunning duets with his two on-screen wives.
There are chances that you have mixed feelings after having watched this film, but in my case this is mainly due to the script. The main characters stay a little flat in the narrative and the big leaps in between the events leading to Valentino's death sometimes make it hard for people not familiar with the historical background of Valentino to truly understand the implications of the story. The "why" behind the larger-than-life popularity of this iconic cinematic person thus stays a little obscure. However, the sadness over a talented life cut off too early, is a similarity between Valentino and Nureyev (who died in 1993 as a result of AIDS) which gives the entire film a melancholic shine.
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