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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

LUDWIG (1972)

Luchino Visconti’s LUDWIG is a hard-luck case. Cobbled together as a replacement for a canceled Proust project; the stress of production helped precipitate a heart-attack Visconti never fully recovered from; his ‘original cut’ was slashed by nearly an hour & a half; and it had to follow Visconti’s much acclaimed DEATH IN VENICE/’71. (Plus, in hindsight, find itself followed by his unjustly maligned CONVERSATION PIECE/’74, a sort of DEATH IN VENICE-Lite, that has now gained special status as a connoisseur’s piece.) Now, that we can see all 235 minutes of it, the film is much improved, and feels paradoxically shorter, but still problematic. Ludwig, King of Bavaria, was mad for castles, mad for Wagner operas, mad for pretty boys and just plain mad. Not far off from Visconti, yet the film feels staid & stale. A matter of taste? You can just about feel Visconti's disdain toward the heavy Bavarian hunting motifs that adorn the walls as he compensates by adding fussy edits to the stuffy interior scenes while lenser Armando Nannuzzi puts in hopeful, but useless little zooms. It’s only in the third act, as Ludwig starts to lose control that Visconti begins to find some. (No small matter in a film this length!) Alas, by then, we’ve lost the horrid Wagners, so entertaining played by Trevor Howard & Silvana Mangano, and are left with the Queen Mother, a Princess marked return-to-sender, an orgy’s-worth of Aryan boys with shaggy hair, and the voice of Giancarlo Giannini’s emanating from Helmut Berger’s Ludwig in the preferred Italian-language version. It’s all a bit daunting.

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