Lisztomania (1975, Ken Russell)

I’d heard that Criterion will be releasing this, hopefully as a precursor to the uncut The Devils, and since I so enjoyed Tommy, I thought I’d check it out. But I got my wires crossed – Criterion is putting out Quadrophenia, the other post-Tommy, Who-related feature, not Lisztomania. Their loss! My loss too, I guess, since I probably would’ve rented this again just to hear what the commentary track would say about things like this:

Oh but wait, my DVD does have a commentary track by a sleepy Ken Russell, who rouses himself to tell us spectacularly obvious things about once per minute – I didn’t play through very much of it.

Train vs. Piano:

Roger Daltrey brings his boyish energy from Tommy straight into this, as enthusiastic womanizer and rock-star pianist Franz Liszt. He throws parties, hold concerts, flees from sword-wielding husbands, and generally ignores his own wife (Fiona Lewis of The Fury and Innerspace) and children. When his daughter Cosima marries his rival Richard Wagner (I already know how Russell feels about Wagner), Liszt must travel to Wagner’s castle (in a loopy Dracula parody scene) and prevent them from creating a nazi superman.

Vampiric Wagner:

Bored Liszt at home with wife:

In the middle of the film, Liszt goes to Russia and stays with Princess Carolyn (Sara Kestelman of Zardoz) in her penis-decorated palace, leading to a fantastic, cock-filled chorus-girl number. I don’t know why exactly, but Liszt joins the church (under Pope Ringo Starr) sometime later. This is what leads him to fight Wagner (Paul Nicholas, Tommy‘s sadistic cousin Kevin), who is defeated but resurrected as a Frankenstein Siegfried Hitler, who guns down Jews while Liszt’s daughter kills her dad with voodoo. But murdered Liszt returns to Earth from heaven in an angel-winged rocketship, gunning down FrankenWagner, achieving peace at last. All of this really happens. This movie is amazing.

Hitler/Wagner with electric-guitar machine-gun alongside Cosima and Superman-caped children brigade wearing Weezer/Wagner t-shirts:

Liszt with Piano Flamethrower:

Russell: “My film isn’t biography. It comes from things I feel when I listen to the music of Wagner and Liszt, and when I think about their lives.”

The Princess:

Senses of Cinema: “By Russell’s account, producer David Puttnam interfered with the project, insisting on more pop art and less context, and also adding the painfully stupid hoedown music to the opening scene.” They also point out visual references to Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible in the Russian scenes.