Mary Poppins Returns
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All Critics (16)
| Top Critics (7)
| Fresh (8)
| Rotten (8)
| DVD (1)
No matter how miserable his actual life, the classical composer tends to suffer in a new way on film.
Although Tchaikovsky died of cholera, for which a hot bath was prescribed, the implication of "The Music Lovers" is that he was simply boiled to death, which is what the movie does to his genius.
Vulgar, excessive, melodramatic and self-indulgent: Tchaikovsky's music is indeed all of these things, yet gloriously so, and the same goes for Ken Russell at his freewheeling best.
Whole stretches of images seem pushed and pulled along before our eyes by projected desires and anxieties.
Totally irresponsible as a film about, or inspired by, or parallel to, or bearing a vague resemblance to, Tchaikovsky, his life and times. It is not, however, a complete failure.
The result is a motion picture that is frequently dramatically and visually stunning but more often tedious and grotesque.
Don't bother seeing this; just buy a few albums of music by Tchaikovsky and let it go at that.
Chamberlain gives a surprisingly good performance.
Ken Russell's biopic of the legendary composer is distorted and excessive, but it's worth seeing.
It's unashamedly vulgar and, if you switch off critical filters, enormous fun.
The picture all too readily settles for the prototype of Russell's anguished-artist aberrations, with the crassness of his formative BBC biopics magnified into gargantuan flailing.
Russell did something with this biopic about a composer that no one had done to this degree (and rarely at all): He let the music shape and drive the film itself.
Two quotes, two different films from 1971, the same critic: Alexander Walker, late of the London Evening Standard. 1) "I think it's a great film; I think it's one of the most important films ever made in this country." 2) "It looked like the masturbation fantasies of a Roman Catholic boyhood." The films in question? Respectively, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell's The Devils. Now, as far as the quotes go, I completely disagree with the first and broadly concur with the second, with the proviso that "masturbation fantasies" need not inherently be devoid of artistic merit, as Walker implies. What on Earth has this to do with The Music Lovers? Don't worry, I'm getting to it...
What I believe these quotes demonstrate very well is the critical snobbery and hypocrisy which dogged Ken Russell throughout his career. If you watch Dance of the Seven Veils, the biopic of Richard Strauss which brought Russell's dazzling tenure at the BBC to a controversial close in 1970, you will not fail to notice a reference to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I would argue is that, with A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick returned the compliment. With its army of grotesques, its leering, hallucinatory camerawork, the overarching campness of the whole production and - most tellingly - with its ultraviolence set to classical music, A Clockwork Orange resembles nothing so much as Ken Russell-lite. I simply cannot believe that Russell's work had no direct influence on Kubrick's movie - I will even stick my neck out and say that Russell in his prime would have made a better fist of it - so for Alexander Walker to dismiss Russell's oeuvre as garbage and embrace its progeny as a masterpiece is film criticism at its most maddeningly disingenuous.
While The Music Lovers, Russell's biography of Tchaikovsky, certainly does not represent this director at the height of his powers, it's nowhere near as terrible as the detractors would have you believe. The film contains flashes of brilliance, some stunning visual coups and, amidst all the vulgarity and excess, one or two lovely quiet moments. My favourite scene is probably the one in which Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain), his wife Nina (Glenda Jackson) and his jilted lover, the Count Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable), watch a performance of Swan Lake and the Count wistfully summarises the plot of the ballet for the benefit of his oblivious rival. For the best of Russell on the big screen, check out Women in Love, The Devils, The Boy Friend, Savage Messiah and Mahler. God Bless you, Ken, for dragging British cinema out of the Kitchen Sink.
Florid and excessive which is standard for Russell's films. The music of course is brilliant.
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