Luchino Visconti’s adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novel on the corruptive power of beauty (or is it purity?) famously swapped literature for music, turning Dirk Bogarde’s Aschenbach from a writer into a sort of zombified Gustav Mahler. If nothing else, it provides cover for blanket use of the dreamy sounding Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony. (Especially dreamy at the funereal pace played here.*) Gorgeous atmosphere trumps narrative as Visconti revives a lost world of pre-WWI privilege on the Lido with Bogarde’s character ever so slowly (and slightly ridiculously) succumbing to the spreading cholera epidemic, helplessly held in rapt homage to a youthful Apollo called Tadzio. (Played by Björn Andresen as if Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince had matured into an androgynous/adolescent copy of Dominique Sanda.**) Foolhardy & magnificent, the film is both unforgettable and a personal wet-dream for Visconti, with sly moments of self-recognition bubbling up just below the surface. Watch for Bogarde’s puppy-like pleasure when his getaway is spoiled, followed by an ecstatic return by boat as he stands to catch the sun. Essential viewing, even when Pasquale De Santis’s zoom lens pulls you back to the ‘70s.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Actually another HEAR ALL ABOUT IT: The Mahler Adagietto became so ubiquitous after its use here, it now shows up on SuperMarket Muzak tracks! Alas, the slow, slow pace has also become the norm. But it wasn’t always so. Mahler’s closest assistant/protégé, Bruno Walter, is dawdle-free in a revelatory version with the NYPhil (Mahler's old band) recorded in the ‘50s.
DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: **Dominique Sanda? Sounds implausible, but Sanda had just played Helmet Berger’s sister in THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS/’70; Berger had become involved with Visconti after THE DAMNED/’69 and would go on to play a sort of grown up Tadzio figure in Visconti’s marvelous, if maligned, CONVERSATION PIECE/74 which had Burt Lancaster as another Aschenbach, now back to the literary life. (CONVERSATION PIECE is only out in an unwatchable English-dub. Hopefully, an Italian-language version of this beautiful film will soon appear.)