||Ken Russell's famous quote
"If I hadn't told United Artists it was a film
about a homosexual who fell in love with a nymphomaniac
it might never have been financed".
Not simply a biography of Tchaikovsky, but also looking at the people
around Tchaikovsky, the music lovers though few of whom love the music. Tchaikovsky
cannot handle the contradictions in his life and
turns his haunted thoughts into music. The music
lovers drag Tchaikovsky down to their own fantasies.
The film is packed with images and
excitement, the life story providing a
common link. Music, gay forbidden love, a mother
dying of cholera, a sponsor who never wants to
meet Tchaikovsky and who suddenly ended the
sponsorship, critical failure and death by
cholera, just like his mother.
The working titles were The Lonely Heart (from a
Tchaikovsky song None but a Lonely Heart) and Opus 74 (the number of
the symphony Pathétique).
I saw the film when it came out in
Edinburgh. I saw it on Wednesday and before it
had moved on (Saturday) I had seen it another
three times. My introduction to Ken Russell.
Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson star. Kenneth Colley as
Modeste Tchaikovsky, Max Adrian as Rubinstein and Isabella Telezynska as
Madame von Meck are excellent. Childrens´ roles are
played by Russell's family. Costumes are by Shirley
The screenplay is by
Melvyn Bragg. Bragg later became an arts presenter and
sponsored a number of Russell documentaries. Photography is by
Douglas Slocombe (who later worked in the Raider of the
Lost Ark films) and the editor is Michael Bradsell.
The film cost £1.6M.
cholera scene with the mother dying is harrowing (and is
similar to the play Marat/Sade in which Glenda Jackson
Overture scene bursts with kitsch joy.
The premiere of the
first piano concerto and the critical backlash. The scene
benefits from Chamberlain actually playing the piano,
rather than requiring cutting from long shot to hands.
Although he plays in the visuals, the music is dubbed on (the actual
pianist was Rafael Orozco).
Drinking the glass of
water infected with cholera.
Tchaikovsky trying to
commit suicide by drowning but the river is too shallow.
scene with Glenda Jackson is pivotal. It was filmed with
music (Shostakovich's The Execution of Stepan Razin)
played to establish rhythm. The music does not appear in
the film. Tchaikovsky sees her naked body not as sexual
but as rotting flesh.
The unconsummated marriage, and the relationship
with his sister. Says Russell "the sister was the
ideal woman he could worship, and wouldn't have to have
sexual relations with" from Films and Filming July 1970.
sequence of Tchaikovsky conducting to the crowds
and eventually becoming his own statue has
references to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (right).