• Lisztomania

    Released by:
    Warner Archive
    Released on: September 6, 2011.

    Director: Ken Russell

    Cast: Roger Daltry, Sara Kestelman, Paul Nicholas

    Year: 1975

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    The Movie:

    Directed by the late, great Ken Russell, 1975’s Lisztomania is a bizarre take on the life of pianist Franz Liszt, played in the film by none other than Roger Daltrey, the frontman for The Who. With that said, it’s not much of a biography, like The Music Lovers, nor is it quite a full fledged rock opera, like Tommy. Lisztomania is something else entirely, but what cannot be denied is that it is indisputably Russell’s film, his stamp is all over it.

    The film presents Liszt’s life through a series of bizarre set pieces which begins when the composer is caught screwing around in bed with Marie d'Agoult (Fiona Lewis) by her husband who is understandably not in the least bit impressed. Her husband, a count, challenges Liszt to a duel but Marie pleads for their lives and so instead he has the two of them sealed inside the body of a piano which is, in turn, put in the middle of an active rail line.

    From here, we jump around throughout Liszt’s life and learn of his dealings with Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas), Chopin, Strauss and many of his other contemporaries. As Wagner quickly grows upset with Liszt’s tendency to show off (the film definitely portrays him as a rock star, making Daltrey the right choice for the film), their relationship sours but in its place blooms a romance with a Russian princess named Carolyn (Sara Kestelman). From here, their relationship sours as Liszt tours constantly and indulges in all of those things that rock stars tend to indulge in while on the road. The he has sired begin to grow up and form their own opinions of their father. Eventually Carolyn pushes him and they get married by the Pope (Ringo Starr) but things with Wagner have gotten even more bizarre, what with his odd little plays made up of demonic looking Jewish men raping innocent women and his tendency to wear a Superman costume and all… this probably won’t end well – and then there’s the little matter of his daughter, Cosima (Veronica Quilligan).

    As farcical as anything Russell ever directed, Lisztomania is an exercise in excess but damn if it isn’t ridiculously entertaining. The movie is visually over the top, as many of the director’s films were apt to be, but stunning to look at and it doesn’t shy away from some cringe inducing humor, the type that some may find offensive – again, a quality often associated with Russell’s work. Throughout all of this, though, there is a playfulness that goes a long way towards making it as interesting and occasionally brilliant as it is. Sex and violence frequently collide but do so in such a way as to compliment the satirical aspect of the film rather than to detract from it.

    Roger Daltrey makes an interesting leading man here. Though he might initially come off as too campy for the part, once the movie starts to pick up and we’re firmly entrenched in the bizarre world that Russell has created here, we realize he’s actually very good in the part. So too is Fiona Lewis as is Sara Kestelman. The cast prove apt enough to handle the drastic shifts in tone and even genre that Russell throws at the audience, and all involved handle even the more explicit side of the production without flinching. Although the film is very much a product of the mid-seventies, it’s amazing that it wound up a major studio production in the first place. Despite an obviously decent budget, it’s so far removed from what most would consider mainstream these days that it’s hard to imagine it even being made at all – but let’s all be thankful that it was, and that this film, which really is like no other, is finally out on DVD.


    Lisztomania looks pretty good in this 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There’s some minor print damage here and there in the form of the occasional speck but nothing too serious. Grain is present, as it should be, but never distractingly so and colors look nice and natural. Detail isn’t bad at all and skin tones look good. Some scenes are a little soft and there are a couple of minor compression artifacts noticeable in some of the darker scenes but otherwise the movie looks very good here.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix on the DVD-R is fine, if not as full as you might hope for given the amount of music used in the movie. Overall though it sounds good, there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow and this is problem free, even if it would have been nice had the music had just a bit more punch behind it.

    Extras are limited to the standard Warner Archive menu and chapter stops, that’s it – there’s no trailer here.

    The Final Word:

    Thematically and visually over the top in that amazing way that Russell’s films can go, there are those of us who really would have liked to have seen Lisztomania get a special edition release. That didn’t happen, but until it does, this release from Warner Archive is a good alternative. The disc doesn’t have any extras at all, which is a shame, but it looks and sounds quite good and the movie is so uniquely Russell that, yes, of course it comes recommended.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      Might have to get this sooner than later! Great review, thanks!
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      Also, Diabolik owes you because this article prompted me to get their last in-stock copy of BFI's THE DEVILS!! Phew!
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      You won't regret it!
    1. Ian Miller's Avatar
      Ian Miller -
      I don't! And LISZTOMANIA came today, too! Watched up until just after the title card, and I can't wait to finish it up later!