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beautiful but DULL
MartinHafer29 January 2006
I guess I just wasn't cut out to watch Visconti films. Previously I watched The Leopard and found it to be very ponderous and about twice as long as it should be. Now, with Death in Venice, I found the same overblown and dull atmosphere all over again. The sets are gorgeous and the costumes are first-rate BUT if the film itself is dull and desperately in need of editing, you'll lose most of the viewers. My bet is that all the positive reviews are from people with a much higher than normal tolerance for this sort of fare. But, the average person will be feeling suicidal after just a few minutes of this tedium. For example, like The Leopard (which I also found to be overlong and ponderous), there is a dinner sequence that looks as if they just started filming it from beginning to end even though NOTHING of consequence occurred. Yes, you could have shown Dirk Bogarde's becoming infatuated with the young man in 1 or 2 minutes--not by long shots of him staring across the room for a seeming eternity. DULL, DULL, DULL!!! Now before you completely dismiss my negative review, understand that I like long movies provided the plot justifies it and the pacing is maintained. Films like "Ben Hur", "Chariots of Fire" and "Gone With the Wind" are great films and deserve to have tremendous scope and last a lot longer than 90 minutes. Heck, Sergey Bondarchuk's "War and Peace" STILL is a wonderful film and it's over seven hours long!! At 131 minutes, Death in Venice, however, seemed to last even longer---even 90 minutes would have been too long! What matters is the pacing--not the running time.

UPDATE: Since seeing "Death in Venice", I have watched quite a few more Visconti films and realize I do like most of his films. Some are also slow paced and long (such as "Rocco and Hist Brothers") but are MUCH more interesting and entertaining than "Death in Venice".
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A natural masterpiece
bkoganbing19 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Lucchino Visconti and Dirk Bogarde achieved screen immortality with a partnership that only consisted of two films, The Damned and Death In Venice. But with these two I think the artists said all there was and couldn't do better.

This is such a delicate subject because what we're talking about is both stalking and possibly pedophilia. On this side of the pond yes, in Europe with lower ages of consent probably not. Bjorn Andressen's character is hanging on the legal line. Andressen himself was 16 when he made Death In Venice and looks like 12.

The thing that bowls me over about Death In Venice besides the performances is the great eye for detail that Visconti had in creating the Italian scene before World War I. The one Oscar nomination Death In Venice did receive is for Costume Design. It should have been given a few more.

Based on the character of Gustav Mahler whose music is used as the soundtrack, Dirk Bogarde plays a middle aged German composer who feels a sense of impending mortality as we all start to do reaching his age. He might have another masterpiece in him and beautiful surroundings might bring it out. Venice is for him the ideal beautiful spot. In America I feel that way about San Diego having been there just once.

But anything Bogarde might write is nothing compared to the beauty he sees on a beach when he spots young Tadzio played by Bjorn Andresen accompanied by mother Silvana Mangano who is on holiday. Even in a much looser society there are still conventions and Bogarde is struck dumb. He dare not even approach the kid. Andresen is a masterpiece created by his parents and God.

Even with disease and pestilence approaching Venice as the place for all its beauty has the most polluted water this side of Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Warned to get out Bogarde can't abandon sight of Andresen. The result is fatal for him.

Both when I was younger and even older there are certain people who have absolutely totally struck me mute with sight of their physical beauty. Some I've done something with, others for reasons of legality and convention I never did. There's a scene in Citizen Kane where an elderly Everett Sloane describes a young girl with a parasol whom he saw in passing on a crowded street and never saw again. That was his Tadzio moment.

I had something similar seeing a young man of about Tadzio's age in the late Seventies on Avenue K and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. I remember his wavy blond hair and absolutely stunning looks to this day even though we passed on the street and didn't exchange a word. I can truly identify with what Bogarde felt although I kept my hormones in better check than he did.

Poor Bogarde he should have left Venice and dedicated a concerto to Andresen. But his performance is in itself a kind of concerto and with a minimum of dialog and some incredible facial expressions. They don't call it expressionism for nothing.

And with the Stonewall Rebellion barely two years old this was quite a daring subject for Visconti and Bogarde, a pair of gay men to do for the cinema. Visconti never hid his sexual orientation, but Bogarde was a very private man by nature and that he was in a committed relationship for years was something no one then knew about. He was after all a British matinée idol from the Fifties who broke through and became a respected actor.

Death In Venice, book by Thomas Mann, filmed by Lucchino Visconti and brought wonderfully alive on the screen by Dirk Bogarde is still beautiful and evocative. Don't miss it if broadcast.
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Italian art-house
SnoopyStyle17 June 2017
Composer Gustave Aschenbach is sick with stress. He goes to a seaside resort only to obsess about a beautiful young boy who is on vacation with his family. The vacationers discover that a cholera outbreak in the nearby city of Venice has been kept from them.

This is good controversial Italian art-house. It's a tale of desire but not simply a sexual desire. The boy often looks angelic. His beauty is ethereal as well as sexual. Gustave's struggle is palpable in the sweat of his brow. This is not a film of plot. Director Luchino Visconti incorporates a lot of classical music in a study of this man. The demeanor of his pale sickly haunted face is a story in itself.
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Kirpianuscus23 March 2016
A mixture of Mann, Mahler and Visconti. seductive, cruel, delicate, gray, reflection of a special state of soil, bitter. one of films who transforms in flavor images. because its seduction's source is the science to impose a story using the image and the music as basic tools. a film of questions, taboos and illustration of its director themes. the cast, the love 's portraits, the need of artist to escape from yourself and to build the masterpiece are , one by one, keys for a fascinating fresco of death, desire, solitude and prison in the illusions. a film who must see. not for precise purpose. only as a landscape discovered from a window who is the best refuge for fears, anxiety and self definition. Dirk Bogarde does a splendid role. the fascination of director for his ladies transforms Death in Venice in a kind of iceberg. a film who could be an experience.
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Odd Coloration
gavin694217 September 2015
In this adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel, avant-garde composer Gustave Aschenbach (loosely based on Gustav Mahler) travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose after a period of artistic and personal stress. But he finds no peace there, for he soon develops a troubling attraction to an adolescent boy, Tadzio, on vacation with his family.

What strikes me about this film is the odd coloration. Some have said it makes the film look like a moving painting. I can see that, but I also think it looks muted. A step up from Technicolor, but a far cry from other methods. I wish I knew more about cinematography so I could express the thought more clearly.

There is a bit of a scandalous subplot, as it suggests pedophilia or something similar. Strange how many films (or books) have heroes (or protagonists) afflicted with this. What are we to make of them? Are they evil or just flawed? The cholera epidemic plays a major part in the story, and it is interesting that the film seems to be known less for that than the "romance" angle. Not many films have cholera in them, which seems odd considering its deadliness. Everyone in old movies seems to die from tuberculosis!
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Aschenbach may die, but Thomas Mann's greatness never will.
lee_eisenberg25 June 2005
Obviously, I can't give away the ending; the title does that. Gustav Von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a distraught German composer vacationing in Venice. In Venice, he catches sight of fourteen-year-old Tadzio and becomes obsessed with the boy, to the point where he stays in Venice, even as a plague is engulfing the city.

So is there a metaphor here? Some people believe that the story may have been portraying homosexuality, even if it didn't get discussed openly. That seems like a logical interpretation, but I have two others to accompany that. First, the plague. They talk about how the plague originated in India. Maybe this was an allusion to the fact that the colonization of the Third World was beginning to affect the developed world. Also, Thomas Mann's novel was published in 1911. World War I began three years later. Maybe Mann was suggesting that the world was reaching a point of no return. Anyway, those are just my interpretations. Regardless of what the story was specifically about, "Death in Venice" is a great movie, and I solidly recommend it.
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Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.
rmax30482320 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A Nobel Laureate, the German novelist Thomas Mann was always concerned about the relationship between the artist and the society he lived in. He was right to be worried. (He wound up in Los Angeles.)

Visconti's film and Mann's novel that it was based on are kind of autobiographical. It's the story of a German professor, played by Dirk Bogarde, who is a composer (author in the novel) with composer's block. It's the turn of the century and, like the 1800s he's played out. His friends advise him to take a trip and find some peace and quiet near the beach in Venice -- the one in Italy, not California. The hotel doesn't turn out to be so quiet.

There is, for instance, a sizable Polish family with half a dozen kids chattering away in the lounge and dining room. At first it seems to annoy Bogarde but then he notices a blond boy in his early teens and the kid is stunningly beautiful. Bogarde is attracted to him because an artist is always interested in innocent purity, in whatever form it takes. But his interest turns into something more than a distant admiration and he follows Tadzio around Venice, never speaking to him, let alone touching him.

Finally, sweating and ill, Bogarde has the hotel's barber give him a make over -- a hair cut and dye, make up, and lip rouge, "restoring what nature has taken away." A caricature of himself, Bogarde continues to follow Tadzio around, while a cholera epidemic sweeps Venice and nails Bogarde himself, who is captured by the "sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death", while reaching out to the boy on the now-empty strand.

The cholera doesn't come out of nowhere; there have been portents -- an early warning against eating fresh fruit, a man collapsing in a railway station, but nobody having to rush off to the toilet. When James Joyce is handing out gifts in "Finnegans Wake" he included "a collera morbous for Mann in the Cloack" as an homage, an enigmatic sequin reflecting how internationally famous "Death in Venice" had become.

It's a curious film with all sorts of correspondences. Mann's story was almost autobiographical. He himself was bisexual and Tadzio is closely based on a real Polish boy he met in Venice. Mann gave his main character, Aschenbach, the features of the composer Gustav Mahler, a good friend, whose musical excerpts form the only underscore for the movie. So Mahler is the source of Bogarde's mustache and pince-nez.

Visconti has said that the movie was a disaster at its first showing but a producer asked him enthusiastically who had written the melancholy score. "Gustav Mahler." "Great! Can we get him?" Bogarde himself was bisexual. And Tadzio, despite his being a male, is groomed like a pure young girl throughout, all eye shadow and rosy lips. The other boys have the short hair cuts of the period but Tadzio has a Farrah Fawcett do, so he looks like a figure that might be glimpsed in a Halloween parade in Polk Gulch.

Tadzio isn't unaware of Bogarde's interest. From the moment they first see one another in the hotel lounge, coy Tadzio returns Bogarde's rapt gaze with a secret smile. He flirts ostentatiously with the older man. He's later seen kissing a friend. What the hell is up? Have we run out of heterosexuals? Sometimes I think I'm the only straight man left in the universe, except for wearing pantyhose. They keep out the chill and aren't as uncomfortable as you might think.

Anyway, Bogarde makes a perfect Aschenbach, troubled, tragic, and ridiculous. He was really a fine actor. Tadzio is a pretty girl. We don't really see much of anyone else. Marisa Berenson isn't on screen nearly enough. We could have used more of her statuesque grace, and if she'd shed her hampering outer garments, the movie would have been ennobled. Wardrobe is superb. Every woman's bonnet has a wide brim and is topped with feathers, bouquets, amuse-bouches, and other stuff that looks like a mobile dropped from the ceiling of an art museum.

Venice, a city of gondolas and dreams, looks surprisingly cool, gray, and hazy. I suppose it's disappointing because Venice is in "Italy", which is supposed to be sunny in romantic stories. If it had been a few miles away in "Yugoslavia," the absence of sunshine would have been expected.
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Sensitive as well as thoughtful flick about a composer and his quest for beauty and splendor
ma-cortes3 April 2015
This is an adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel , avant-garde composer Gustave Aschenbach (Dick Bogarde) , loosely based on Gustav Mahler character , being well portrayed in this brooding as well as slow-moving classic movie . The celebrated story of a man obsessed with ideal beauty written by prestigious Thomas Mann is magnificently brought to the screen , concerning about desire , homosexuality , children lost , plagues and adult situations throughout .

Thought-provoking character studio of a reputed artist , his mishaps , digresses , loves his homosexuality and continuous search for beauty and perfection . this is the second part of Luchino Visconti's German Trilogy also including The damned (1969) and Ludwig (1972). It deals with Gustav Mahler lookalike whom Dick Bogarde is made up to resemblance . However , the film results to be overlong , it seems longer than its 130 minutes running time . Colorful as well as visually absorbing cinematography in Panavision by Pascualino de Santis . Impressive and immortal musical score by Mahler , in fact his Third and Fifth Symphonies were adapted as background music for the film ; being excellently conducted by orchestra director Fanco Mannino.

This studied as well as slow motion picture was masterfully directed by Luchino Visconti . Visconti was a director and writer, considered to be one of the best Italian filmmakers . At the beginning his career he developed the movement of "Italian neo-realism" together with other directors such as Vittorio De Sica or Roberto Rossellini in the 1940s and 1950s such as ¨Bellissima¨ (1952) , ¨La Terra Trema¨(1948) , and ¨Ossessione¨ (1943) was based on James M. Cain's 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' . Luchino is especially known for Rocco and brothers (1960), "Il Gattopardo" or "The Leopard" (1963) , ¨The damned¨ (1969) , ¨Ludwig¨(1972) , "The Innocent" (1976) and , of course , this Death in Venice (1971). His sense of visual style was equally impressive in his film work, never better demonstrated than through his masterpiece Senso (1954).
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A grim meditation...
moonspinner5521 March 2008
Thomas Mann's highly-regarded book becomes a sparse, inexorable tale of woe, well-acted but all on one dour note. Dirk Bogarde gives a brave performance as an ailing composer, traveling through strife-ridden Italy in the early 1900s, who is helplessly drawn to a handsome youth vacationing in Venice with his family. There have been debates about the nature of Gustav Von Aschenbach's attraction to the boy (he sees in the young man his own faded youth, his neglected childhood, and so on), yet I was under the impression this was a pathetic, deluded infatuation, a homosexual flirtation. This resolution has also been acknowledged--almost reluctantly--with the critic in the N.Y. Times complaining the orientation of the film's subtext was "too homosexual" (!). It's a very sad, very slow meditation on the passing of time, filmed in washed-out color and in a consistently low key. An interesting film, but I didn't find much mystery in the central relationship-which-isn't, nor much art in the presentation. ** from ****
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Yawn . Yawn . Yawn
Theo Robertson4 October 2005
The opening of MORTE A VENEZIA resembles a Duran Duran music video with classical music and this is the highlight of the movie

" In terms of what Theo ? "

In terms of everything , but especially excitement . I doubt if there's ever been a more sluggish slower moving movie than this one . Yeah okay it's a European art house movie so I wasn't expecting Charles Bronson to massacre hordes of bad guys but even so I did expect some substance if not an actual plot

The film revolves around Professor Gustav Von Aschenbach visiting Venice . Gustav visits Venice and goes on a gondola , Gustav eats in an expensive restaurant , Gustav looks out of his hotel window and if it's excitement you want Gustav has a flashback

Bad enough if this was the entire movie but it gets worse because Gustav notices a pretty boy teenager . So you've got a middle aged academic lusting after some teenage boy he has seen , some old queen is becoming obsessed with a stranger . Great idea for a movie ? I don't think so either and thank gawd it remained a yawn fest instead of some sleazy precursor to gay porn

I notice a lot of people who praise this movie have tried to intellectualise it . I can only be monosyllabic and unpretentious in my view and say that the only subtext I could relate to was the physical and emotional disintegration of Gustav but it wasn't caused by the effete beauty of the teenage boy - It was caused by watching such a boring and ostentatious movie
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A man's furtive quest for idealized beauty of youth...
Doylenf7 January 2007
Art film lovers would probably rank this much higher on their scale of appreciation, but I found DEATH IN VENICE, while sumptuous to look at and listen to (the music of Gustav Mahler fills the soundtrack with his symphonic music), as beautiful and empty as a multi-colored seashell. It assails the senses with sensuous shots of Tadzio's youthful beauty as seen by DIRK BOGARDE, but fails to give us a narrative strong enough to sustain over two hours of story.

Furthermore, it moves at a snail's pace while exploring the beauty of the seashore in Venice, spending far too much time on close-ups of Bogarde as he sinks deeper and deeper into despair over never possessing the creature he so desires. SYLVANA MANGANO, the great Italian actress, is fine as the boy's mother and the fair-haired Italian boy himself (BJORN ANDRESEN) is merely seen and glimpsed from afar and remains an enigma until the very end.

Based supposedly on composer Gustav Mahler's personal life (although never actually proved), it's the kind of film that could fill art houses in the '80s with high approval from the pseudo-intellectuals who claimed to have read Thomas Mann's novel and approved of the film's tasteful rendering of a difficult and, at that time, taboo subject.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder--for some, this film is a masterpiece of its kind--for others, beware the tranquility of the whole piece. It may put you in a dreamlike trance.
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Research of sun
Vincentiu25 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Story of a strange love and a fall desire. Poem about beauty and his perfection, fear and touch.A slice of Visconti, Mahler and Mann. And an agonize Venice. Idon't know if it is a masterpiece, a poem or the reflection of a film director's world. It is, absolutely, a" memento mori". and a exploration of illusion. A old mirror of limits, signs and death's delicacy. A trip in an old space, nostalgic, cruel and splendid. "Death" is a Orfeu's trip copy in the immediate reality. And the essence is the music. A soft, sweet music, like honey or winter's fire. Like every regret and every sorrow. Like a refuge in deep solitude. Gustav is gay by accident. He is the Researcher of last form of God's presence. The Beauty, that beauty who gives life's sense, who is sin and virtue in same time, the gift of expectations and sufferings. He dies because he has right to hope, to believe in the reality of miracle and in his way. A victim? No way! Only Tadzio may give the freedom like an insignificant sacrifice. Who saw the sun can hope to live in same condition?
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A Surfeit of Overripe Beauty
JamesHitchcock17 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Thomas Mann's novella "Death in Venice", published in 1912, was one of the earliest mainstream literary works of to deal with the subject of homo-erotic desire. Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous German author, travels to Venice, where he meets and becomes obsessed with Tadzio, a beautiful teenage boy whose Polish family are staying in the same hotel. Aschenbach discovers that cholera has broken out in the city but that the authorities, fearful of losing income from tourism, are trying to keep the outbreak a secret. Despite this discovery, Aschenbach neither leaves the city nor warns his fellow-guests, as either course of action would mean his being separated from Tadzio, with whom he has fallen in love.

Mann was himself bisexual, and the story is based upon his own experiences while visiting Venice the previous year, when he had also been fascinated by a handsome young Polish boy. The depiction of Aschenbach also draws upon Mann's memories of the composer Gustav Mahler, whom he had known and who had died in 1910; he shares the same first name and Mann's description of his physical appearance would also have fitted Mahler. This may be the reason why, for the purposes of this film, Luchino Visconti made Aschenbach a composer rather than an author and made use of Mahler's music; the famous Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony is passed off as a composition by Aschenbach. Visconti made other changes to the story to strengthen the identification with Mahler. In the book Aschenbach is a childless widower whose wife died many years earlier and who has never remarried. In the film Aschenbach's wife is shown in flashbacks and although she does not accompany him to Venice there is no indication that she has died. (Mahler's wife Alma did not predecease him- indeed, she survived him by more than fifty years). They are, however, shown mourning the death of a young daughter, just as Gustav and Alma Mahler lost a daughter some three years before his death.

I first saw this film in the late seventies, a few years after it was made, when I was a teenager studying Mann's book for my German A-Levels. I remember being impressed by it at the time, but then I was a very impressionable young man and probably thought that any art-house film based on a work of classical literature, shot against the background of a famously beautiful city with plenty of classical music on the soundtrack must be a great classic of the cinema, especially if (a) it deals with a controversial subject and (b) nothing much happens except long conversations about Art and the Meaning of Life.

Since then my admiration for Mann's novella, a book with a well-deserved reputation as one of the major works of twentieth-century German literature, has grown, whereas my regard for Visconti's film has decreased. Mine is not the normal complaint of the "loved the book, hated the film" brigade, namely that the film-makers have altered the story too radically. Apart from the few changes to Aschenbach's circumstances mentioned above, and the omission of the opening scenes set in Munich, Visconti has kept fairly faithfully to Mann's plot. There are, however, some works of literature which do not lend themselves to a cinematic treatment, and "Death in Venice" seems to be one of them.

There are some good things about the film. The photography of Venice is certainly beautiful, reminiscent of some of Turner's paintings of the city and rivalling that in "Don't Look Now", another film from the early seventies set in the same location. Dirk Bogarde was normally a talented actor and the young Björn Andrésen, with his prettier-than-any-girl beauty, certainly looks the part as Tadzio. (Andrésen, who is heterosexual, became something of a gay icon following this role, causing him some embarrassment). The Adagietto is certainly a beautiful piece of music, although I sometimes wonder if its association with this film has done Mahler's long-term reputation any good, leading people to associate him with decadence and morbidity.

The problem with the film is that its good looks are all on the surface. Mann's novella contains little in the way of action and not much in the way of dialogue; the two main characters, Aschenbach and Tadzio, never exchange a single word. Its significance lies beneath the surface, on the psychological and philosophical levels. On the personal level it is a character-study of a man who has striven to live an ascetic life, governed by discipline, restraint and reason, but who finds his world- view shattered by the sudden realisation of his own powerful sexual desires for a boy. On the philosophical level it is an examination of two contrasting attitudes to life, the Apollonian life of reason and the Dionysian life of passion, a concept derived from Mann's study of the philosopher Nietzsche.

Visconti, who was an intelligent man, doubtless understood the complexities of Mann's work, but it is these very complexities which make it difficult to adapt for the screen. The contrast between Apollonianism and Dionysianism is not a naturally cinematic subject, and the complicated inner life of an intellectual writer or musician, unaccompanied by some dramatic outward action, is equally difficult to dramatise. Visconti is never able to find a substitute for Mann's ideas. The lengthy debates between Aschenbach and a fellow-composer about musical aesthetics do not add much interest; they simply help to make a lengthy and tedious film even more so. The film may be beautiful, but it is also dull and long-winded, and in such a context its beauty becomes something excessively rich and cloying. In Mann's story Aschenbach dies after eating an overripe strawberry, and this becomes an appropriate image for an overblown film in which Dirk Bogarde appears to die of a surfeit of overripe beauty. Too much Venice, and too much Mahler, can be bad for your health. 5/10
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A new vocabulary of film
paul2001sw-117 October 2005
'Death in Venice' is arguably Thomas Mann's masterwork, the tale of a man's obsession, part pure and partly paedophillic, with a beautiful young boy. But the story proceeds purely through mood-shifts, there's little in the way of events or dialogue, and so it's interesting to see how Luchino Visconti has turned it into a movie: indeed, the way he has done so draws to one's attention how similar the majority of movies are. For denied (by the nature of his story) access to the conventional tools of film-making, Visconti instead builds a sequence of images and sounds, lavish collages in which the subtlest detail, the direction of a glance of the tone of the sky, speaks volumes. In some ways watching this film, with its backdrop of a Turneresque Venice, is really quite like visiting a gallery. Dirk Bogarde is good in the lead role, not quite as I expected the character, but it's still a fine performance; while Visconti adds the faintest trace of a back-story, inserted in intermittent flashback scenes, to provide a hint of variety to punctuate the foreground tale. But overall, the film is remarkably consistent, not just with the plot, but also with the mood and purpose of the book, a feat that actually requires considerable innovation and vision given how unaccommodating to conventional script-writing the original story is.

I have one criticism: whereas the novella is short but perfectly formed, the film is not so brief, and perhaps could have been shorter. And one final comment: having seen this film, it strikes me how similar it is to another Venice-set movie (dating from just a couple of years later): Nic Roeg's own masterpiece, 'Don't Look Now'.
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A Slow-Moving, Repetitious Exploration of Limited Themes
atlasmb19 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I don't usually write reviews with spoilers, but it is nearly impossible to discuss this film without revealing some of its major plot points, especially since there are so few of them.

"Death in Venice" is based upon a Thomas Mann novel. It is said Mann was inspired when he heard of Gustav Mahler's death. Mann was gay and Mahler was presumed by many to be gay, despite his marriage and offspring. So, Mann created the story about Gustav Aschenbach, borrowing elements from Mahler's life and his own.

Aschenbach is, like Mahler, a creator--specifically a writer. While in Venice, he is consumed by two things: his concern about his own health and his fascination with a fourteen-year-old boy. His focus on the boy becomes an obsession and that obsession takes up ninety percent of the film.

Director Visconti--also a gay man--decided to make Aschenbach a composer. He also used some Mahler symphonies as background music.

The other ten percent of the film are mundane happenings and Aschenbach's internal dialogue, with flashbacks that include philosophical discussions about art. (Does art arise from the intellect or the senses?) But these are minor, undeveloped diversions from the film's main themes.

The cinematography is sometimes evocative of the works of William Turner or, more often, of Renoir. But the camera work often undermines the images, especially when Visconti repeatedly uses zoom to beat the viewer over the head with the obvious.

The pace of the film is leisurely. That can be explained, in part, by the fact that the film takes place in the world of the leisure class. Aschenbach is living among those who are restrained and mannered. Starched collars and stiff behavior are the norm. But the languorous tempo only serves to accentuate the fact that this is a film in which very little actually happens.

In the end, this film is not very entertaining. And its main themes have been explored much more effectively in other films.
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Love It Or Hate It But Try To Watch More Than Once Even If Hating It
Rodrigo_Amaro25 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Definitely one of the most difficult, artistic, powerful and discussed films ever made "Death in Venice" had an almost impossible mission: Put blood on the veins of a story in which almost nothing happens and yet have a statement to made. If you consider that's quite difficult to read the book (I abandoned after 10 pages thinking that Thomas Mann took too long to told the story only pointing views on art and similar things which I felt very close to other book of his called "Tonio Kroeger" a very good book) you're gonna think that this cannot be filmed. Luchino Visconti tried, conquered and made an important film. But I must say this film entered in my list of one the most hated movies I ever watched and it only got out of it this year after 6 years of my first view.

By the time I watched I didn't care much for it, I was expecting a more developed story, a few more movements than it doesn't have and at the end I didn't get it all. A few years later, and much more older, finally I found "Death in Venice" an more complete film than it was years ago and thanks to the brilliant and unique performance of Dirk Bogarde I think I went further on my notions of perception of what's the story and what's the point of it. Still has some doubts about the excessive use of artistic licenses used by the screenplay and some never answered questions but still is a great movie.

Bogarde plays Gustav Von Aschenbach a famous composer that travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose after a period of artistic and personal stress that includes the death of his son. His heart is weak, his emotional state is a completely mess, and he's desperate to achieve something great with his music. To make his travel worst (perhaps better depending on your view) he meets a beautiful young boy named Tadzio (Björn Andrésen, good actor with a magnetic presence almost without saying any lines) a teenage boy traveling with his parents. Gustav can't stop looking at Tadzio and vice-versa but the meaning between the look they gave to each other is very different.

Alternating with the trip to Venice Visconti shows us some flashbacks of Gustav's life while he was married; the conversations about the notion of art and real beauty with his friend Alfred (Mark Burns), and Gustav's breakdown which led him to Venice. Pay attention very closely to the conversations between Alfred and Gustav about beauty, and what a real artist is. These moments always get something to say about what Gustav is doing in Venice searching for Tadzio in all places even knowing that there's a epidemic of Cholera coming to town.

I don't know if the movie follows the book exactly but I think some notions of the main character were drastically changed. For instance people always say that Gustav is a cloistered homosexual, but in the film if you really pay attention Gustav is a little bit far of it, he was married with a women, and his supposed sexual interest in Tadzio comes from his thoughts about pure beauty, something that really makes him feel complete (along with his music) and that's what he really sees in Tadzio. Of course, there's the enigmatic and provocative look that Tadzio got in his eyes: "You must never smile like that. You must never smile like that at anyone." says Gustav to himself in one scene (best quote of the movie). Before you start to think that he's a pedophiliac, calm down and see Gustav's trying some approaches but doing noting except look and think about the boy. The book is one focus (Gustav's point of view) and so does the movie. If it wasn't we would be able to know what Tadzio had on his mind with such gestures.

Be patient and try to watch more than once because this is one of those films when you don't get the general idea by watching one time. It grows with you and the more you see, more the vision of what you think this story is it changes. Dirk Bogarde has the performance of a lifetime here and I can't imagine another actor playing Gustav. His last and moving scene is the most impacting and powerful scenes ever filmed: his character sitting in the chair, dying of the cholera, looking for the last time Tadzio running in the beach. Very well photographed. Gustav Mahler's music are well played in a good synchronized scenes. One of the forgotten films at the Academy Awards of 1972 it was nominated for best costumes (it lost for "Nicholas and Alexandra"). The costume designs are beautifully made and it is a key part for the film; notice the first time Gustav sees Tadzio dressed in white with some blue lines on the shirt, almost like if he was an angel to Gustav. What a vision! 9/10
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slow-moving art-house feature
didi-52 May 2004
I guess this film is one of those which totally splits its audience into those who love it and those who hate it, with no real middle ground.

The story is drawn out so much that the film moves along very slowly, using a lot of music (Mahler) and flashbacks, and other tricks to draw you in. It could so easily have been a disaster, it could have caused its audience to laugh - that it worked so well is mainly because of Dirk Bogarde, in one of his best performances as the traumatised composer Gustav von Aschenbach, whose infatuation with the young tourist Tadzio (Björn Andresen) causes his destruction. Silvana Mangano also appears as Tadzio's mother, and is pretty good. The boy himself is a blank canvas on to which Gustav projects his broken emotions, believing what he wants to see.

Venice itself is less of a thing of beauty than a thing of danger within this framework, as a typhoid epidemic causes residents to leave and those who remain to stand on the edge of death. It is a film of great power which repays attention.
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Sickeningly beautiful
Dr_Coulardeau15 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It all starts at the end with death entering the beach on the signal, call, invitation to lift yourself up towards the horizon and get through the door, the promise of some beauty that will never die and you have always looked for and had never been able to really find because you looked for it in pure patterns, motifs and other figures that were abstract in music and that rejected all emotions, sensations, passions, feelings. In other words the heart.

At the end of his life Gustav Aschenbach discovers that a teenager, hardly more than fifteen is the beauty he has looked for all along, and he finally finds when he accepts his senses, his eyes, and his sudden attraction and emotion in front of it, of him, of Tadzio. And the blatant and blinding beauty of this youth dances in his mind, becomes a whirlwind and a hurricane in his soul. He has fallen in love with that young man, well under age for sure, and he will close his life with that gesture towards the pure sky. He will try to imitate Tadzio's gesture and he will die transmitting his insane project to this Tadzio who knew the old man was trying to get in touch with him but he was too young, and had too many relatives around him to try to contact that mysterious encounter in spite of his curiosity.

That's the most insane desire an older man has: to be able to transcend death and transfer all that he has not done, he has not been able to do to that younger man he has never spoken to and yet has become an idol, an angel, a god even, definitely the one who will carry the old man's future to that future the old man will never know. That feeling is disjointed, some critics will say. And it is, for anyone who considers the normal humdrum banal world of everyday to be the proper way of assembling the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. But if you look back in passion and in love, maybe in anger too, you find out it is the way you assemble the pawns on the chessboard just before dying that is the proper way, the best way to live in this world, and yet the older man is dying.

Everything in the film is of course transforming Venice into a trap for the older man, the composer and conductor, and yet an escape way for Tadzio, the teenager who has opened the older man's consciousness to what he had ignored, ,or refused to consider, all his life. And that is pure justice: the younger one must be able to escape the death of the older one but the younger one is then, entrusted with continuing the older one's dreams, transcending their limits, transmuting their fears into light and heat, into bliss and ecstacy, the acme of spirituality, the spearhead of discovery and inventiveness.

Yet the epidemic spreading in Venice is turned into a very heavy and stifling atmosphere that reminds us of some kind of medieval vision of some plague, black or bubonic, who cares. And yet the film also has a hefty and even cruel sense of humor with the four street musicians singing for the hotel guests and yet provoking them as the foreigners they are who do not understand Italian, and that's better for them because we can imagine from the body language of the main musician the obscenity of the discourse.

Some flashbacks enable us to understand the context of this old man, his happy marriage and fatherhood, and the burial of his daughter when she was still young, the debate with his main friend about music and purity, the refusal of evil in man and hence of any sentiment that would make the music too concrete and material to still be music. At the same time the hammering of Beethoven's "Für Elise" when visiting what can only be a shady house and the same piece being played by Tadzio one day. Tadzio playing brings back the recollection of this event from the past back and it soils the boy in a way since he is associated with a shady lady with whom yet the old man had no contact at all, except her playing the music and her taking off some of her garments.

This is probably the real dilemma of the character: he always knew beauty was in the intensity of his desires and feelings, but he always refused to yield, well not quite always after all since he was married and had a daughter. But that was made pure by the sacrament behind the relationship and the procreative instinct. But was it only that or did it become that after the death of the daughter? You will not be able to answer that question. So we are back to the final scene which is the whole story we want to remember in two gestures, in some mute and silent body language that enables the older man to finally talk to Tadzio by imitating his gesture. And yet he will be carried away disgracefully by two hotel servants with the few last tourists who have not yet left significantly stepping back from him.

Death always has the last word and yet love may be able to have the next word, but the impossible connection with Tadzio makes this next word very problematic.

A beautiful very sad and yet humane film with the phenomenal music of Gustav Mahler in the background surging from time to time to the foreground.

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Falls Short of the Intention Behind Its Technique
jzappa12 September 2008
One of my favorite films of all time is Sonatine, a film at a standstill in time with its characters. It is a gangster film, but the vast majority of the movie is a bunch of them in the countryside waiting directionlessly and killing time. Or how about another one of my favorite movies, There Will Be Blood? It is two and a half hours long, allows no clarity in its characters, of which there are really only three, and has little dialogue with an abundant use of dissonant music, set in a dry, arid region of the male-dominated, radically religious Texas of the early 1900s. Another that may even surpass both of these is a Romanian picture called 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which is entirely constructed of scenes done in single stationary takes of indefinite extent, often fixated on a motionless, speechless character for the duration of a scene, and the movie has no music at all.

What I am demonstrating is that I am by no means averse to slow movies. Death In Venice, then again, has all the length and banality of the aforementioned movies but none of the dramatic engagement.

Dirk Bogarde plays a failed composer who voyages to Venice for health reasons. There, he grows to be infatuated with an pubescent Polish boy who is staying with his family at the same hotel. Playing the role of Bogarde's music in the film is the music of Gustav Mahler. Mahler may well be understood as a fitting musician to bring into play on account of his unease with death, which he harnessed to his compositions. Flashback scenes include Bogarde and a musician friend debating the tarnished temperament of his music.

While Bogarde makes an attempt to achieve serenity, the remainder of Venice is spellbound by a cholera outbreak, and the city authorities do not notify the tourists of the epidemic for fear that they will lose their business. As Bogarde and the other guests make outings into the city center it finally strikes them that something is gravely amiss. Bogarde resolves to depart, although in a flash of compulsion opts to stay. But, he himself is dying. Nevertheless he is revitalized by the presence of the young boy, though they never actually converse. Maybe it is that I have never quite understood the sort of story that hinges upon superficial obsession like the beauty of a youthful Adonis, who in this case frankly looks uncannily like a girl in many scenes. I admire its attempt at portraying humanity in a completely nonjudgmental manner, and by that I am mostly giving kudos to Thomas Mann's original work since it is the basis for this film, but the film version at least gives no considerable reason why one should feel the intended urge for Bogarde to confront the boy. Or is that even the intention?

The camera abruptly tightens on negligible commotion during the setting, seeking to highlight the kismet of a visually attractive moment. For instance, the camera will keep hold of and insistently stay on a flying bird, a unit of men marching or a slow-moving cloud. This is altogether amalgamated with the clear scarcity of dialogue. I'm not asserting that it is inherently ineffective to make a film wherein the actors must emote without the assistance of speaking, because Ingmar Bergman proved many times the extent of that technique's effectiveness. Luchino Visconti, however, whose other films are surely vastly superior, falls short of avow his film's foundation.
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" That smile. You must never smile like that at anyone but me "
thinker169124 January 2009
Thomas Mann's controversial novel is the basis for the film "A Death in Venice. " Although in the book, the hero is an author, in the film the director Luchino Visconti who also wrote the screenplay, transforms him into a Composer. As such, the Author/Composer, Gustav Von Aschebach (Dirk Bogarde) on the verge of mental exhaustion is a burned-out artisan. After a long and successful career now seeks the peace and tranquility of a less hectic life. He decides to go on vacation to Venice where he hopes to rejuvenate his dwindling ambition. However, while staying at the picturesque seaside resort, he captures the attention of a beautiful young teenage boy, Tadzio (Björn Andrésen) who eyes him with curious interest and is immediately smitten by him. Although Gustav is captivated by the wondrous youth, he nevertheless must find some private time away from the boy's governess (Nora Ricci), while having to cope with a invading plague which seems to have infested the city. The movie dialog, like the novel remains subtle as are the few brief encounters between the boy and the artist. In the end. the audience unlike the book is hampered with innuendos and imaginative flights of fancy. Their affair is never given wing, substance or opportunity and were it not for the brief resolution in the book, the film allows only the possibility of 'what if.' Nevertheless, one can sympathize with the hero and wish him a moment's peace to obtain that which is forbidden, elusive but definitely criticized by prying eyes. Great story and a Bogarde Classic. ****
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Your eyes will ache...
JasparLamarCrabb4 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the great short movies made into a rather long and stodgy film. Luchino Visconti takes Mann's slender novel and turns the story into into something it is not...a baroque, snail paced horror film. Dirk Bogarde, looking ghoulish in white-face, gives a very stiff almost robotic performances as Aschenbach. Surely the great Visconti had visions of grand opera planned for this, but DEATH IN VENICE just lumbers on and on and on. While lovely to look at, the movie ranks as one of the toughest to watch. With the beautiful Marisa Berenson.
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A Film Of Musical And Visual Merit
Lechuguilla12 August 2008
Famed Italian Director Luchino Visconti takes viewers back to the year 1911 in Venice, Italy, the setting for a story about an aging composer named Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) who settles into an elegant hotel at a seaside resort, to recuperate from mental trauma. Here, he becomes fixated on a teenage boy who is at the resort with his family.

What is striking about this film is the relative unimportance of the plot. Yes, there is a story, but one wherein not much happens. The film is basically a study of Aschenbach's temperament and perceptions. Thematically, Aschenbach, as well as the boy, and even the city of Venice all symbolize various concepts and their interrelationships that include morality, art, beauty, perfection, death, and the passage of time.

To some extent one's reaction to this film will depend on what one thinks of Aschenbach. I would describe him as stiff and proper, formal, intellectual, unassertive, ambivalent, highbrow, and quietly tormented. To me, he seemed cold and remote. I could not identify with him or with his various internal conflicts.

Given minimal (maybe I should say subtle) plot points, the film's pace is extremely slow, with very, very long camera "takes". I don't have a problem with that, since it accurately reflects the leisurely pace of life in that historic era. But, with not much happening in a film whose runtime is over two hours, the film seems like a test of viewer endurance. The basic problem is a plot structure wherein the setup is way, way too long.

If the script is anemic, the non-script elements are excellent. Color cinematography is terrific. Some scenes are so well framed that they resemble picture postcards. There's lots of camera panning from left to right, as we observe secondary characters, all of whom are part of the Bourgeois class, chitchat, eat, or stroll along the beach, and generally idle away their time. Costumes are highly stylized, and convey a Victorian look and feel. Women's hats are flamboyant, colorful, and big. The film's production design is lush. Background music is beautiful and at times mournful. Sound effects seem slightly amplified, to give the impression of an everyday, you-are-there feel. Dirk Bogarde gives a fine performance. He acts largely by means of facial expressions, hand gestures, and mannerisms, while saying very little.

All of which is to say that the film's atmosphere overwhelms the story. The film's tone, conveyed through its music and photography, starts off quiet and reflective, and then gradually morphs into depression and sadness.

Inevitably, a listless, sluggish plot lessens the film's entertainment value. However, the non-script components render "Morte a Venezia" a stylized film of artistic merit, especially in the unification of music and visuals.
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Björn Andrésen; The Most Beautiful Boy In The World
yusufpiskin3 March 2021
Visconti's version of the Thomas Mann novel is a meditation on the purity of art and how it corrupts the impure heart. Hebrew scripture tells us that "no one can look on the face of God and live." Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), in the novel a famous author, is transcribed by the Italian director into a contemporary renowned composer whose work has evolved beyond popularity into a higher realm, an atmosphere where pure art alone can flourish. He is is tortured by a friend in philosophic debate, suffers the death of his small daughter, misunderstood by once adoring audiences, and in a state of near physical and mental collapse. Since Bogarde is made up to resemble the Austro-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler, and that man's music (3rd and 5th Symphonies) form the bulk of the soundtrack, that link is unavoidable in assessing the film, especially since the movie is now regarded as a minor classic.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it involves von Aschenbach's homoerotic fascination with a young Polish boy of classic beauty (Björn Andrèsen) that he spots while vacationing alone for his health (he has a bad heart) in Venice. There he sees the lad while dining, seated at a small table for one, the first night of his stay at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the resort island of Lido. The composer begins to observe the lad surreptitiously; the youth stands out because of his refined appearance, and because he is the only male in the group which includes the boy's aristocratic mother (Silvana Mangano), a cluster of sisters of lesser age, and another adult female (Nora Ricci), possibly an aunt or a governess.

Concurrently the tourist season is underway... but the annual scirocco is lingering and the city is gripped by an incursion of Asian cholera. Here the director begins his little game of linking von Aschenbach's hidden desire to public manifestations of the epidemic: first a man collapses unexpectedly in a public area; then he spots a city worker splashing a white disinfectant along the base of buildings and a bridge; and most tellingly, he can't seem to get clear or honest answers about what's going on in the city from the hotel manager, or people he questions on the street.

When he hears the mother call the boy Tadzio, he clamps onto that name as a link to his "obscure object of desire"... almost as if knowledge of the name implies some sort of relationship with him. In a odd scene, the man exchanges a glance with the boy on a hotel elevator, which he then assumes is the cause of looks and subdued laughter that passes among the other youths in the elevator with them. Ashamed and embarrassed, von Aschenbach decides to the leave the city, but when he is unexpectedly separated from his baggage, he changes his mind and decides to stay in Venice until his trunk is returned. The faint smile that passes over his face at this moment, gives the game away. His fascination has become an obsession; he begins to take every opportunity to be where he knows Tadzio will be and finally he becomes a stalker... so much so that the adults take notice and begin to make efforts to gather the boy close to them when they see the intense man in a white suit lurking about.

I'm sure the affair is linked in Aschenbach's mind to a search for classic beauty, but he's clearly not being honest with himself. That much is given away when he visits the hotel barber to get his hair dyed black, and he takes to wearing powder, rouge, and eyeliner in an attempt to look younger. But it's a clown's face, and instead he looks ridiculous.

Too late we begin to notice signs that he has contracted the disease even to the point where one day, as he is trailing the family through some backstreets there is an apotheosis: Venice has grown dark and smoky, piles of contaminated refuse are burning in the public squares -- it's a vision of Gehenna. And as the boy and his family disappear over an arched bridge, von Aschenbach collapses against a wall, without the strength to stand or proceed because of a raging fever.

And what are we to make of the final scene, which is romantic, horrifying, and pathetic all at the same time? The composer has made it to the beach at the hotel and taken up station in his familiar beach chair. He sees Tadzio, alone now - finally separated from his family - a local youth wrestles with the boy and roughs him up in a familiar manner but Tadzio pulls away and wades slowly out into the shallow sea. Von Ashenbach is agitated and tries to rise but he hasn't the strength. The morning light is behind the youth so that he is only a silhouette with classic form, one hand resting on his hip, posed like the statue of a Greek god. Suddenly he raise his arm and points to the horizon. The gesture is ambiguous... we don't know what to make of it. At that moment his elder admirer collapses in death...

Regardless of your interpretation, "Death in Venice" is mesmerizing... slow-paced and foreboding, but eminently watchable. It's like a fever dream, or a cautionary fable. But Bagarde's performance, with only a minimum of significant dialog, is a tour de force! And Andrèsen, while too young to be a skilled actor, is directed by Visconti to be an ambiguous ideal... either the highest manisfestation of art, or the forbidden fruit that robs the partaker of Eden.
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Death while watching Death in Venice
rooprect27 April 2007
This is the only movie that ever put me to sleep. And I've watched some real snoozers before.

Just to let you know that I'm not some typical Hollywood speed freak (which is the immediate, predictable assumption made about anyone who calls a film "boring"), I want you to know that my favourite films include "Werckmeister Harmoniak" (which features an 8-minute scene of a boy eating soup), "Dong" (which features an equally long scene of a girl mopping the floor) and "Fitzcarraldo" (which features interminable scenes of Klaus Kinski's face). In other words, I have nothing against slow movies...when they have something to say.

This, on the other hand, is quite obviously a mediocre director's self-indulgent attempt to act like the big boys. It has all the length and banality of the artistic masterpieces but none of the art. In addition, it is extremely juvenile in presentation--the way my homemade movies were when I was 16.

For example, there's a scene where the lead character is getting dressed. He pauses at the mirror, picks up a photo and kisses it. The camera feels the need to zoom in on this action abruptly as if it say "LOOK! HE'S KISSING A PICTURE! WHO'S PICTURE IS IT? HMMM?" Several minutes later he picks up a different photo and kisses it. Again, the camera jerks us into tightframe as if to say "LOOK ANOTHER ONE! SEE? WHO IS IT THIS TIME?" This is just one example of the director's juvenile and heavy-handed approach to what should have been a subtle film. Other examples include cameras abruptly zooming in on trivial background action, as if trying to emphasize the serendipity of an interesting moment. For example, the camera will latch on to & relentlessly follow a bird in flight, a brigade of men marching or a passing cloud. It makes me feel as if the director has a severe case of ADHD and cannot focus on one thought without flying off to whatever incongruous and distracting spectacles catch his eye.

The camera movements are rather clumsy and awkward, which is OK if that's the director's gimmick (à la Lars Von Trier) but not if it is unintentional. This is a film whose story, setting and music call for equally elegant and graceful camera motion; yet we get something akin to a African nature documentary instead.

All of this lumped with the obvious lack of dialogue and acting adds up to boredom. The director fails to assert his theme. And a themeless movie is nothing but a MTV video without the music. Don't be suckered by the bloated rating from IMDb's pseudo Euro-intellectuals. These are the same people who think Godard is a great director. Werner Herzog (a genuinely talented filmmaker) called Godard "intellectual counterfeit money". I'm sure he would have said the same about the obscure loon who directed this waste of film. If you want to see some true artistic films, check out the list I've posted in my profile page--or as I like to call it "Artsy movies that don't suck wind".

I give "Death in Venice" 2 stars, only because I reserve the 1-star badge of shame for movies that have live animal killings.
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Mahler is apt.
Spleen25 June 2001
His music, especially what we hear of it here, is very slow. From around the time of Bach's death composers had been working out ways of making music progress at a slower and slower pace: over a century later, Wagner and then Mahler wrote pieces that are about as slow as it is possible for music to get. -Of course, one can cheat by writing a 4/4 march and then specifying a tempo of, say, semiquaver = 1, but that tempo wouldn't be the correct tempo. Wagner and Mahler wrote music that is PROPERLY played at a snail's pace. Given that the slowness in no sense sounds too slow "snail's pace" is the wrong expression. A critic wrote of a famous Wagner conductor, "He doesn't beat time, he beats eternity." For all I know this was meant as a compliment.

I get the feeling that around the early 1970s directors worked out how to make the slowest possible films: there's "Death in Venice", and there's "Solyaris". I much prefer the former. For one thing, "Solyaris" steps over the line, or some line, and becomes soporific; "Death in Venice" is gripping from beginning to end. Not much happens, but it all happens in the right sequence, at the right pace, with photography you can get lost in

Another way of cheating with music, by the way, is to write something that doesn't really have a tempo at all. Such music sounds slow, but is really just unmusical, just as many films feel slow because they lack rhythm and form. "Death in Venice" isn't one of them. Beautiful in every respect, it will remind you of the timelessness and contextlessness of quality. You need no theoretical knowledge to respond to Visconti's mastery, as you do to respond to a lesser director's incompetence. It's a great work.
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