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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
A major piece of advertising art (a shot of Nureyev embracing Michelle Phillips) had to be retouched in mid-campaign after someone noticed he was wearing a trendy Seventies tank watch that didn't exist in the Twenties - a mistake clumsily corrected by airbrushing out the chunk of his wrist bearing anachronistic timepiece. See more »
In the typical Ken Russell style,this film is definitely not an accurate,impartial,factual, Valentino biography,rather a very subjective and very artistic interpretation of how the director sees,feels,asserts Valentino's personality. Acting left me with mixed emotions-Rudolph(another famous,infamous,worshiped,controversial,fascinating,extravagant and much to soon dead Rudolph)Nurejew acts in a very uneven way,his part of Valentino being a strange combination of embarrassing flaws and very brilliant,highly artistic bits. At worst,Nurejew does not resemble Valentino's physical appearance(that's why the Franco Nero version,in spite of being artistically less accomplished,delivers a more credible Valentino,Franco Nero being a real Italian with real Italian accent),his accent is obviously Russian,some scenes are badly acted. On the other hand,Nurejew is credible as Valentino the dancer(the tango scene is superb,he dances even better than Pacino in the timeless scene from Scent of a Woman)and,being a homosexual,Valentino's supposed homosexuality(or homo-erotic tendencies),a much talked about but very uncertain supposition,is hinted without a clear yes or no through his acting. The story is told in a disrupted,Citizen Kane style:after Kane's death everyone who knew him tells his own story about how they knew the late;in this film,people gathered at Valentino's funeral recall several episodes from his life,each story representing a stage,a period in the meteoric rise from the penniless immigrant to the world's most famous and highest paid actor.But,like in Dorian Gray,the myth will eventually destroy its creator(in Velvet Goldmine,the luxurious rise and fall of a rock-star,will also remind of Oscar Wilde's timeless story). Everything in this movie is so roaring twenties:the elegant Rolls-Royces and other vintage cars,the lavish mansions(n.b. Falcon Lair wasn't even so opulent as depicted in the film,while the Garden of Allah,Nazimova's residence,is clearly a replica,because the real building was torn down in 1959),Valentino seems alive(and almost ready to burst into laughter)in his open coffin-even the way his body is displayed before the funeral looks chilling,theatrical and tastelessly glamorous:his very formal suit,his makeup,the flowers,the jewels,the fancy decorations,the marble hall,his opulently dressed and far too histrionic mourners(in a sharp contrast to that,the film closes showing the same dead body in an austere,bleak,utterly simple morgue,covered only by a blanket. The opening scene is impressive:the hysteric crowds bursting into the room where Valentino's body lies reminds-without going that far-of the unleashed masses in Day of the Locust-everyone seems to bitterly struggle to grab a piece of a holy relic. It is also interesting how the director puts into the film Valentino's poems or his famous boxing match,always at the verge between reality and legend;I particularly like the(most likely fictional) scene where a crowd of female admirers is loudly reciting Valentino's poem You in the garden of his villa-You is my favorite both among Valentino's poems and one of my favorite poems in general-,another highly poetic scene is when Natacha,his second wife is parallel seducing him and initiating him in the poetry of Omar Khayyam(actually,in spite of the quite revealing nude scenes together that show quite a lot of flesh,not only Nurejew was homosexual,but also he couldn't stand on-screen partner Michelle Phillips,the feeling being mutual,on the other hand the chemistry between the two of them and the magic of the flawless scenes together indicate how well this film is done to create such perfect illusion). In fact,you are left guessing,if-to quote Fitzgerald(another '20 legend,with meteoric&controversial rise&fall)he for real or just a character from his novels-everything isn't just an endless charade around masculine and feminine(in the jazz age both sexuality and fashion were ambiguous,androgynous,excessive,libertine,eccentric),around art and dazzling imagery. Undoutebly highly artistic(more than an inventory of luxurious settings without deeper meanings),not completely flawless yet all in all above average,this film is highly recommendable to every roaring twenties' nostalgic.
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