“A comic strip in 7 episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864-1949” Strauss is played as a power-hungry megalomaniac by Christopher Gable (also of Russell’s Tchaikovsky film The Music Lovers). The film itself is fanciful and alive, and surely one of the best biographic movies I’ve seen.
Only two years after 2001: A Space Odyssey, Russell accompanies that film’s big opening song with shots of a caveman who soon runs into religious mania and screaming nuns (both of which would be rampant in The Devils the following year).
“Alas, the time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. The dead end of mankind is approaching.” I could quote every line and display stills from every shot. This seems way too extravagant to be a made-for-public-television movie, and too good to be a long-censored rarity. Only ten years until this can be shown legally despite the Strauss family’s objections, unless copyright law is extended like it always is.
We get a love triangle in the box seats at the opera, scenes of Macbeth, Don Quixote, a fun Salome with two lead actresses, and the infamous garden party with the nazis. Yes, the film does feature Strauss giving Hitler a piggyback ride, both of them grinning and playing violins. Various fantasies, both nightmarish (Allied soldiers interrupt Strauss’s innocent mountain vacation and murder his family) and wishful (his glorious music pounds critics into submission).
Kenneth Colley (Jesus in Life of Brian) – the only actor to play both Jesus and Hitler?
“A life completely away from politics and war – that is what I’ve always longed for.” Ends with a speech by an aged Strauss distancing himself from the nazi party, “There’s no stain on my character. These nazis are criminals, I’ve always known that.” But a minute later complains about “Jewish stubbornness” before catching himself. Russell partly credits Richard Strauss with scenario/dialogue, saying he used the man’s own words in the script. A scathing portrayal.
IMDB has incomplete credits. Judith Paris (a nun in The Devils) played Strauss’s wife Pauline, Vladek Sheybal (camp classic The Apple, Russell’s Women In Love) was Goebbels and Imogen Claire (appeared in and choreographed Lisztomania) was one of the two Salomes.
Tape number at top of screenshots provided so the BBC can locate their tapes and release this properly. Timecode (below) provided so you can easily find your favorite scenes. Thank me later.
The complete title reveals Russell’s intention to create a satirical political cartoon on the life of the German composer, who Russell saw as a “self-advertising, vulgar, commercial man . . . [a] crypto-Nazi with the superman complex underneath the facade of the distinguished elderly composer.” And, although, according to Russell, “95 percent of what Strauss says in the film he actually did say in his letters and other writings,” many critics and viewers found Russell’s treatment of the venerated composer itself to be vulgar.