Friday, March 01, 2013

Lisztomania – review

Director: Ken Russell

Release date: 1975

Contains spoilers

I am a fan of Ken Russell’s films but they do vary in quality and even the better films can be… well, quite frankly, bizarre. In this case bizarre is an understatement though, of course, Russell’s work is no stranger to this page. We have looked at Gothic, Lair of the White Worm and, most bizarrely, his tale of vampiric breasts that appears on the film trapped ashes.

This is probably… no definitely… stranger than any of the above. Indeed, after watching it I have sat and struggled internally with just how I am meant to review it. As strange as it is, a lot of it is factual, just exaggerated, taken from a viewpoint and rather psychedelic. Lisztomania was an actual phenomena. Forget Beatlemania, exaggerated crowd reaction was first cornered by Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey, Vampirella & Dracula – the Dark Prince).

fighting the count
The film starts with a metronome and Liszt using the ticks to move his lips from breast to breast, those breasts belonging to Marie d'Agoult (Fiona Lewis, Dracula & the Fearless Vampire Killers). Liszt did indeed have an affair with Marie d'Agoult that led to her becoming his mistress (and mother of his children). At this point in time we see him and her accosted by her cuckolded husband, Count d'Agoult (John Justin, Schalcken the Painter & Supernatural: Dorabella). The duel (with an almost naked Liszt) ends with the lovers trapped in a piano… on a train line… with an approaching train… well it is Ken Russell.

Wagner bites Liszt
Having moved to a concert, in which we meet Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas), and see Lisztomania at full force, we follow through episodic moments Of Liszt’s life – some in flash back in the style of Charlie Chaplin and others hallucinatory, even one involving a fifteen foot phallus and a guillotine. Listz has abandoned d’Agoult for the Russian Princess Carolyn (Sara Kestelman), when we meet Wagner again. Wagner is now a left wing revolutionary and drugs Listz, taking opportunity to sprout fangs, bite Listz and steal music from Listz whilst sucking his blood. Listz knows nothing of this.

Roger Daltrey as Liszt
However, after the Pope (Ringo Starr, Son of Dracula & The Magic Christian) refuses Liszt and Princess Carolyn permission to marry (she is a divorcee) Liszt become an abbé but finds disapproval from the church… not because of his lustful ways but because his daughter, Cosima (Veronica Quilligan), has left her husband Hans (Andrew Reilly) for Wagner. Wagner is deemed as a prophet of evil by the church and Liszt must exorcise him.

Wagner youth
Having got to Wagner's castle, Liszt sees a bizarre ritual that features naked Aryan women raped by a red skinned beast that sports a Star of David on his forehead. This occurs before Aryan children all wearing costumes with a W on them. Wagner then appears, with blonde wig and guitar, and sings about making them the master race. The music he uses was that he stole from Liszt. This, of course, references Wagner’s alleged anti-Semitism and fascist leanings.

Wagner's creation
Liszt enters the room after the ritual and Wagner shows him his experiment. He is making a ‘superman’ – a Thor like creature (Rick Wakeman) - but the creature is less than a success. Having made Wagner a bloody mary with holy water, Listz admits that he is to exorcise Wagner. The holy water has no effect – though Wagner enters vampire form again – and Liszt realises that his music is the weapon he must use. The death of Wagner is not the end though, as Cosima intends to resurrect him (in the form of a Frankensteinian Adolf Hitler).

Wagner's fangs
Phew… and I’ve left out much of the strangeness!!! Is it good… no… and yet it was compelling. Daltrey was probably the best I have ever seen him – probably because all he had to do was play a rock star. It was also fascinating to see how much of the psychedelic soup was actually based on historic events. Of course Wagner is a vampire, hence the review. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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