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Ken Russell Mahler title

It is a wholly brilliant matching of music and image, giving back to Mahler's music as much as it builds on it. It's one of the most densely layered works Russell ever made" (Ken Hanke in Mountain Xpress, 21 Apr 2015 click here)

Ken Russell's Mahler from 1974.  With two flops he needed a commercial success, so returned to classical composers.  The film is about  sacrifice and creativity- Mahler has to sacrifice his religion and convert to Christianity, Alma his wife sacrifices her musical career.  A train journey provides a rite of passage, starting with a dream sequence which is Russell at his best and most visual- "music always told stories to Mahler" (Peter Franklin, The  Life of Mahler chapter 3).

Ken Russell Mahler    Ken Russell Mahler


Ken Russell Mahler

Ken Russell Mahler

Waking Mahler says to Alma "You were part of a dream" / "A pebble I suppose" / No, you were a living creature struggling to be born" / "At last you've noticed".  Early indication of Alma's state of mind.

Roberft Powell as Mahler

As the train journey continues Mahler remembers episodes from his life, and on the train itself he confronts jubilant crowds (success), the gutter press (sensationalism), his wife's lovers (infidelity), and the doctor (mortality).

Ken Russell Mahler Georgina Hale  Robert Powell in Ken Russell's Mahler

A beautiful film mixing true emotion, the death of Mahler's children, with dancing Nazis.

Ken Russell Mahler  Ken Russell Mahler

The memories of Mahler's childhood are bring out the brutality of Mahler's father, with the adult tormented by his childhood trauma.  The episode is good but could be shortened, with the Jewish scenes a bit too kosher.

Mahler has to convert from Judaism to Christianity to keep working.  The scene from his childhood learning to swim presages the later baptism of Christianity.

Ken Russell Mahler


The film cost just over 150,000 pounds and was shot in seven weeks.  The American version was shortened by 30 minutes, mainly by removing the Cosima Wagner sequence.

"a film conductor Klaus Tennstedt said was "the best film ever made about music." I'm not about to argue with him. Mahler is from the richest period of Russell's career when he was at the height of power. It is a wholly brilliant matching of music and image, giving back to Mahler's music as much as it builds on it. It's one of the most densely layered works Russell ever made" (Ken Hanke in Mountain Xpress, 21 Apr 2015 click here).


Ken Russell - Mahler - credit

Ken Russell Mahler   Ken Russell |Mahler

Robert Powell plays Mahler and Georgina Hale his overshadowed wife Alma who literally buries her creativity.  Her performance is possibly the best she has done.

Ken Russell Mahler Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed appears in a cameo role as the railway guard- in the book Hellraiser author Robert Sellers states Reed was given three bottles of Dom Perignon for the role.

Dana Gillespie the singer (she recorded Bowie's Andy Warhol before Bowie did) plays Mahler's mistress, and she wrote the composition Alma's Song used in the film though she is miming to Carol Mudie,

Photography is by Dick Bush.

Best Image

Ken Russell Mahler   Ken Russell Mahler

The hut by the lake bursting into flames which starts the film.  Mahler's idyll has ended.

Mahler hut

One of Mahler's actual huts (which has been renovated)- "a small wood structure he had built for the summer of 1894".  It is on the shore of the Attersee in Austria (photo and description from Peter Franklin's The Life of Mahler, chapter 4, 1997).

I asked Ken about the hut burnt in the film, and it was specially built for Ken.

Apocalypse Now!

Apocalypse Now!

Coppola pays homage in the opening of Apocalypse Now! (images from the DVD of the film).

Best Scene

Ken Russell Mahler Alma Mahler 

Alma Mahler walking down the stairs in a black veil like the shadow of death.



Ken Russell Mahler

Ken Russell includes a homage to Death in Venice.  At times Powell also seems to be influenced by Dirk Bogarde with the similarities going beyond the direct homage.

The domestic sequences of Mahler as a child are similar to those in Savage Messiah.

There is a long train ride. Various nuns.  A crucifixion with Nazis etc. Russell kitsch at its best.
The scenery is around Russell's former home in the lakes.
Mahler makes fun of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto just as in The Music Lovers.


Other films released in the same year include The Godfather 2 (sublime), Pasolini's Arabian Nights, Polanski's Chinatown and Brian de Palma's cult Phantom of the Paradise.

The Godfather part 2    Pasolini Arabian Nights    Phantom of the Paradise

More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore


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