Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 193: Mahler (1974) - Rank 4/5


This lesser-seen film happens to be the second in Ken Russell's "Composer Trilogy" and as such, it ranks between its two companions in the domain of visual style and excellent storytelling. "The Music Lovers" still ranks as Ken Russell's best work, with a brilliant script and a solid performance as Tchaikovsky. While it lacks some of the visual panache Russell became infamous for, its still a gorgeous film. "Lisztomania," the final in the trilogy, is filled with mind bending imagery (think "Tommy" on acid), but any trace of a coherent plot is lost, making the film tedious and convoluted. "Mahler" dances the fine line between both worlds.

Russell's depiction of Gustav Mahler, considered by many to be the last, great German composer, is a loving one. Any notion of a linear story is thrown out the window as the primary focus shifts to a train ride with Mahler, his wife and his former competitor in the world of romance. Mahler suffers a heart attack and most of the film is told through the composer's reflection on the events in his life that not only shaped him as a man, but as a man who rose above the banality of playing others' works. Each reverie is accompanied by the symphony that was inspired by the moment, making it as much of a musical tribute as a drama.

Russell regular Robert Powell excels as the tormented composer, depicting the strange existence of a man who cannot express his emotions, even to his beloved wife, in a verbal way; those thoughts and ideas can only be conveyed through music. There are a number of surreal, yet beautiful, "dream sequences" - ranging from his wife's slow emergnece from a cocoon to the Nazi fueled nightmare Mahler suffers at the fear of death. While it would be easy for these moments to become mere tangents within the film and nothing more, Russell expertly blends them in with the story, adding his own sense of style with superior direction.

Watch the Trailer

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