“The Damned (1969) Death in Venice (1971) and Ludwig (1973) are known as Luchino Visconti’s ‘German Trilogy’. Here Visconti examines the decadence of the Belle Epoque, the corruption and confusion behind the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany, and the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria who has been viewed as very eccentric and was the patron of Richard Wagner. Whilst some critics have marked this down as Visconti’s ‘decadent’ period, and noted an increasing pessimism in the themes that he dealt with this has frequently been over-personalised. Visconti has argued that what interested him was the analysis of a sick society, and in these films the historical forces of modernity versus counter-modernity are being played out.
“In The Damned the representation of the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ when the SS slaughtered the leadership of the sexually transgressive SA of Eric Rohmer, links the growth of Nazism to a crisis of masculinity, and also explores the homo-erotic bonding of militarism which repress its own sexual excess instead transferring that into compulsory heterosexuality in tandem with patriarchal family values.
“Death in Venice links Thomas Mann and Mahler, artists of the period, with a desire for youth represented as homosexual longing which was an impossible desire at that time. Representing a crisis where the new generation will be fundamentally different whilst the once resplendent Venice the most dynamic city in Europe of the Early and middle Renaissance is decaying, riven by a pestilence of a more Mediaeval type. This isolation of the wealthy and their retreat to decadence is a representation of modernity as conquering the old, marginalising the ancien regime.
“Ludwig’s homosexuality can be seen as indicative of the passing of a monarchical system reliant upon hereditary and therefore compulsory heterosexuality. This dovetails two themes. Patriarchal systems based upon physical reproduction have become outmoded and unstable. A newer form of patriarchy is necessary to achieve stability. For Ludwig to express his desire even as a monarch means to regress from the social reality of the moment only when Bavaria has been subjugated to Prussia leaving a token monarchy can Ludwig act out his desires in a limited way.” — Kinoeye
The Damned (1969)
“It’s been suggested that there’s incest between Hamlet and his mother in Shakespeare’s play, but between them there’s lots of things in addition to the incest; Hamlet never actually has intercourse with his mother, and even in my film The Damned I was able to convince [the censors] that the scene was very elliptical. However, when I showed them the film with a tiny cut, they asked for a much longer cut, one which would have eliminated the whole scene, so I refused and stuck to it (…) I said I could have cut more of that scene, but that I would have been forced to insert a counter-camp, and I said it would have made everything more graphic, because you would actually see a naked man and a naked woman on a bed. So I cut this counter-camp in and I showed them the film again, and they immediately agreed to go back to that only one tiny cut.” — Luchino Visconti
“The Damned won Visconti his sole Academy Award nomination, for best screenplay, shared with his two co-writers.” — BBC Four
“When Visconti asked me to be in The Damned, I said to him, “Look. I can’t play this role.” He said, “I know you can do it,” and I said, “How?” and he said, “I can see it behind your eyes. Just listen to me. I’m going to make you up, I’m going to change your style, I’m going to make you look like a woman in her thirties, you’re going to have beautiful clothes, a beautiful set, you’re going to have beautiful people around you. I’m going to put you into this place and you’re going to have to do what you have to do. I can’t act for you. I can do everything else for you, but I can’t act for you. Will you act for me?” I said, “Senor, si! Grazia!” And I did. With Helmut Berger he was an absolute tyrant. He told Helmut every single thing to do. Everything. Every movement. But with the women, he was – I don’t know how he was with Ingrid Thulin because we didn’t have so many scenes together – certainly with me and Romy Schneider, he just puts you in this most incredible situation where you feel like a princess and you’re absolutely loved, and you’re dressed and you’re made-up and he says, “Just now act for me.” And with his women it was like that. With the men it was very different.” — Charlotte Rampling
“Visconti’s intention in The Damned is not to present a realistic character driven drama but a highly stylized metaphor for Germany’s descent into insanity. He intentionally uses extreme grotesque images, with one scene more bizarre than the next. The film is filled with moments of great sadness, perversion and horror that include themes of incest, pedophilia, homosexuality, murder, drug addiction and suicide. One of the highlights of the film is a bloodbath — the historical “Night of the Long Knives,” massacre of Hitler’s old private army. This memorably horrific set-piece is superbly staged, beggining with a pastoral scene of soldiers playing in a lake, then progressing into an almost surreal drunken orgy of soldiers, naked women, men in drag, finally leading to the brutal massacre.
“Visconti dramatizes alienation and madness in a very similar way that Stanley Kubrick handled similar themes in A Clockwork Orange. He photographs these acts of violence and perversion with detached but almost pictorial beauty. Everyone’s sweats in this movie: drops of perspiration trickle down temples, and rivers of sweat glisten on upper lips while the baroque lavishness of the scenery makes a striking contrast with the ghastly minds of the characters. The cinematography is brilliant, capturing the decaying elegance impecably. Visconti uses a Hammer-horror pop color palette emphasizing the intense contrast between shadow and light (good vs. evil), blues, browns and reds. In the opening scene, he shoots the blasting furnaces of the steelworks factory, flames and smoke coming up from the furnaces as the titles jump on and off the screen and we hear the harrowing music theme by Maurice Jarre; a fitting metaphor of Hell and of the horrors and depravity which will follow.
“With The Damned, Visconti reassures himself again a spot right up there, into the pantheon of great directors. One can see the influence of The Damned on later films such as Bob Fosse’s Cabaret or the psycho sexual drama The Night Porter. The film was originally rated X due to its challenging subject matter, but Visconti’s craft and talent elevates this epic drama to a higher artistic level. With its brilliant set design, spectacular costumes, the intensity of Helmut Berger and Ingrid Thulin performances, Luchino Visconti’s The Damned is a feverish masterpiece not to be discarded.” — from ‘The Spinning Image’
the entire film
Death in Venice (1971)
“Some shots of Björn Andrésen, the Tadzio of the film, could be extracted from the frame and hung on the walls of the Louvre or the Vatican in Rome. For this is not a pretty youngster who is supposed to represent an object of perverted lust; that was neither novelist Mann’s nor director-screen writer Visconti’s intention. Rather, this is a symbol of a beauty allied to those which inspired Michelangelo’s David and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and which moved Dante to seek ultimate aesthetic catharsis in the distant figure of Beatrice.” — from Lawrence J. Quirk, ‘The Great Romantic Films’
“In his memoir, An Orderly Man, Dirk Bogarde relates that, after the finished film of Death in Venice was screened for them by Visconti in Los Angeles, the Warner Bros. executives wanted to write off the project, fearing it would be banned in the United States for obscenity because of its subject matter. They eventually relented when a gala premiere of the film was organized in London, with Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne in attendance, to gather funds for the sinking city.”
“Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella Death In Venice visibly had a strong influence on Ron and Russell Mael aka the band Sparks. In their early performances Sparks got a miniature ocean liner made out of papier-mache, and Russell Mael had burst out of it wearing a dark sailor suit to begin the show. The ideas of the miniature ocean liner and the sailor suit were obviously inspired by Lucchino Visconti’s movie despite Russell’s suit was dark instead of the white one wore by the main young character Tadzio from the movie. When the first Halfnelson album failed, the Bearsville label thought the record should be repackaged under the name “Sparks” with a revamped packaging too. So Ron Mael and manager/ photographer Larry Dupont designed the album cover with the fake brick wall. It just wasn’t as interesting as the original first car interior cover but the pic featured Russell Mael in the famous sailor suit inspired by Luchino Visconti’s movie. When Sparks’ second album, A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing, was released one year later it included the song “Moon Over Kentucky”. The intro of this song was written by Ron Mael after seeing Death In Venice.“ — from ‘Sparks: the Early Years’
“If The Damned displays a violent assault on space, Visconti’s adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice shows it slowly dissolving. Twenty years before Wong Kar-wai, Visconti had already penetrated the private space of a lonely, romantically obsessed individual and summoned up his emotional landscape through the expressive use of an urban environment and music. Like the furnace that sets the scene in The Damned, Death in Venice states its mood and pace in its opening image, an incredibly slow shot floating from the middle of a dusk-blue mist into the Venetian lagoon across which the boat bearing composer Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) to the city of his death passes. Accompanied by the music of Gustav Mahler, upon whom the character of the composer was based, this shot slowly brings the story into focus, just as at the end it again drifts out of focus. This lends a sense of instability to the melancholy, dreamlike interim. Visconti’s descriptive camera is allowed to dominate the film because there is simply nothing but description and observation in this film. As in The Damned, Visconti makes expert use of the zoom lens, but this time the zooms are for the most part slow and exploratory. The camera glides endlessly across the hotel and its guests, as well as the beaches with their numerous holidaymakers, often starting a shot as if it were from von Aschenbach’s point of view, only to finish with him in shot, creating a subtle sense of disorientation.
“The only action in this film is what goes on within Aschenbach’s mind and it is by colouring the potentially neutral, at times almost documentary scenes that Visconti creates with the appropriate mood that he brings this film to life. Compared to the crushing solidity of Ludwig, space here is frequently subjective, a screen on which the dying hero projects his feelings. At the same time, this space remains mysteriously aloof from him, displaying all the inscrutability of a foreign country. This slightly threatening aspect of Venice is hinted at from the outset. As von Aschenbach is brought by gondola from the boat at the opening of the film, a dispute with the gondoleer leaves Aschenbach muttering worriedly to himself: “I don’t understand”. In the final stages of Death in Venice, when von Aschenbach discovers evidence of a cholera epidemic locals are trying to cover up for the sake of the tourist industry, the menacing aspect comes to the fore, the now corrupt beauty of the alleys and canals of Venice holding a lurking sense of death and danger far more powerful than even that evoked by Nicolas Roeg in Don’t Look Now (1973) with its more obviously grand Guignol trappings. Roeg’s rainswept, off-season Venice is immediately inhospitable, whereas Visconti, the master of decadence, seduces us with his painterly vision only to gradually reveal the danger at its heart. This parallels the process of Aschenbach’s hopeless love for a boy he has spotted on the beach and his ultimate death in pursuit of his ideal, Visconti once again using space to tell his story, this time with a delicacy that he would never surpass.” — from ‘Visconti’s Cinema of Twilight’, by Maximilian Le Cain
“One would spontaneously put Visconti’s Ludwig in the category of films that are bigger than cinema and more audacious than their time. Their mere existence challenges the dullness of daily life, the materialism of the century… And in this film of over-proportionate ambition, the filmmaker could not remain smaller than his subject: Ludwig, no more than Linderhof castle, is meant to be inhabited.” — Olivier Assayas
“In Helmut Berger’s Ludwig, Visconti’s echt aestheticism finds its last champion, its Tristan, and also its supreme sacrificial victim, its Christ. Ludwig is a passion play: a mass.” — James McCourt
‘Visconti’s best films have the rare quality of existing in space as much, if not more, than in time. It is an intensely visual style of filmmaking, which involves immersing the audience in the atmosphere of each scene and gradually overwhelming them with it as opposed to rushing from one scene to the next in pursuit of narrative tension. Of all the directors who, each in their own very unique way, practice a similar approach – Dreyer, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, Jansco, Angelopoulos, Tarr, certain films by Kubrick and Wenders – Visconti is the most subtle, consciously or unconsciously cloaking his radicalism in the ‘respectability’ of the period genre. I would argue that this radicalism was achieved through constant striving to tell his stories more vividly rather than by making use of any preconceived aesthetic programme. In this way, Visconti can be perceived as the transitional figure in European cinema between classicism and modernism.
“Ludwig deals with an aristocrat isolated by changing times, in this case the King of Bavaria. Melancholy gives way to neurosis; the romantic atmosphere has become that of a gothic horror film, with Helmut Berger’s tormented King hiding from the world like a vampire as he descends into escapism, illness and insanity. Ludwig is a film about a man avoiding coming to terms with change, put in a position of leadership for which he is hopelessly unfit and which he uses to hide from the world. It is an icy, spare, claustrophobic record of decadence and degeneration. Each scene has the feeling of a solemn ceremony or, at times, an historical tableau. His view of events is detached, reflecting both the hero’s helplessness and his increasingly tenuous grip on reality.
“In one powerful scene, we follow Ludwig into a room full of relatives, through a complicated process of bowing and hand kissing. In the middle of it all he becomes aware of a personal betrayal. Almost overwhelmed with fury and grief, he goes through the same formal procedure before leaving the room. The scene is not played as a stiff upper lip exercise in putting a good front on things. Rather it is bitterly farcical, the King’s body trembling with humiliation as he goes through the empty procedures. Ludwig is the story of a man trapped by destiny, history, and his own personal failings. And, in what is Visconti’s most extreme film, he is a man trapped by the walls that enclose him.
“Ludwig is ultimately a man crushed and destroyed by architecture. Having been deposed by the government as mentally unfit to govern, he is silently escorted by his captors in an interminable real time scene down an endless series of corridors to his bleak, sterile cell. It is at moments like this that Visconti’s leisurely pace turns almost sadistic, yet the relentless oppressiveness of corridor after corridor is genuinely chilling and, taken in the right spirit, possesses a hypnotic, mercilessly compacted power. It is the natural conclusion to Ludwig’s ever contracting world, a final imprisonment. All that is left is his mysterious death by drowning the first time he is let out for a walk in the grounds.” — from Viscont’s Cinema of Twilight, by Maximilian Le Cain
Helmut Berger in Ludwig 1881
p.s. Hey. ** Jamie, Jamie, old buddy! Oh, my God, your gif(t)! You knew the way to my heart, man. Thank you! Everyone, A lovely and very appropriate Xmas gift to DC’s from maestro Jamie. Don’t set your sights on the new year without it. Here. A great pleasure to see you! Please do keep that promise. I’m good, I’m good, busy, nothing new, same old, all is well. I hope your Xmas was everything you wanted it to be cracked up to be. And may this day after Xmas put it to shame. Pencil neck love, Dennis. ** H, Hi. Thanks! Merry Day After! ** David Ehrenstein, And an early Happy New Years to you! Your Xmas event sounds lovely. Potatoes and brussels sprouts, a fave of mine and a staple of the Dutch diet. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh! I loved your Santa vids on FB. ** Steve Erickson, Von Trier making a film about a serial killer is just about as boring and predictable an idea as I can imagine. Thank you in advance for the post. My eyes are peeled. ** Politekid, Hello, politekid! A very merry Xmas to you! And thank you ever so much for the post! You know me very well, apparently. I percolated as I scrolled. Everyone, politekid made a blog post what he says is inspired by this place, and it’s a beauty, and you can and should find and fully absorb it right here. Thank you again very kindly. Please don’t hesitate to come back and hang out here and talk with me and whoever else. Take good care! ** Chris dankland, Howdy, Chris. It might just be, huh. I liked both of Jennifer’s stories a lot. Super exciting prose like an excitingly messed up conveyer belt transporting the exact opposite of detritus or something. And I think I was maybe most blown away by the last part-to-ending of ‘Jelly’. The brain/spot thing was so dynamic and insinuating. Please send her my respects, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more. Yay! Yeah, Lucy’s cool. I will say hi for you. I’m going to try to meet up with her this week if she’s not somewhere with her family for the holidays or whatever. Sweet about that video’s grab. I’ll go get into that Lingua Ignota album. Thanks a lot, man! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Mine was ultra-low key. Ate some Buche, diddled around, enjoyed the weird non-Paris-like Paris stillness. What a curious book there. The one your bro bought you. Let me know if it works, helps, etc. ** Kyler, Hi. Oh, you’re all Scrooged out. Ha ha. I think this year I’m just so happy that people are sharing festive, superficial but sincere well wishes and managing to get their minds off the usual shit for a short bit. But I’m from SoCal. I say vague-out, sincere shit like, ‘What’s going on, man?’ all the time. Well, I hope now that it’s over, the world will start to attract you again, although I guess you still have to get through ‘Happy New Year’? ** Keaton, Hi, pal! I’ve been wondering how the heck you are. Thank you for the Xmas gift! It will be the last and most significant Xmas gift I open! Everyone, Another Xmas gift to DC’s, meaning all of us, this time from the singular and excellence-infused scribe and guy and d.l. Keaton. Is that you Santi Claus?. Thanks again, man. All is well or weller than well even? ** Misanthrope, Not bad, not bad, Your Xmas. I don’t know any of those movies you watched, weird. Or not. You probably don’t know half the movies I watch either. Even steven. Yeah, definitely still in love with Paris and super glad not to be living in the prison riot better known as the USA. So, wait, do you do that outloud reading at home or in some soundproof booth at work? Home, right? Money is absolutely necessary until further notice, it’s true. ** Bernard, Hi. Thanks for encouraging politekid. I agree. Never? Really? Wow, that’s so interesting. I don’t think I know anybody else — well, maybe Kyler — who absolutely doesn’t do Xmas in any shape or form at least begrudgingly. Nice. Whoa, that’s cool about your nephew. I’ll go listen up. A nephew in a cool band. How about that! You’re really reading, like serious and great stuff. Even people who live in Paris read books about Paris. But maybe that’s not that unusual? When I lived in LA, I liked reading books about LA. Is that common? Do you read books about where you live? I wish it was deep winter. It’s depressingly not deep. It was 50 degrees F here yesterday. The unfairness is driving me mad. ** Sypha, Happy holidays to you, James! I figured you were working like a dog, and you usually get sick around now, so I figured you were whomped from in and out. Ah, lucky you on other fronts. Especially about thew Switch for me. I could just buy one myself, but I know it would kill my work ethic, which needs to be very high right now. Anyway, blah, blah, nice! ** Okay. I restored this old intro-y post to some Visconti films. Maybe it will interest you. See you tomorrow.