This late-Romantic composer is at his most individual in his magnificent symphonies. His conception of the symphonic form, greatly misunderstood at first, was entirely different from the Classical and Romantic models: He left behind the prevalent Beethoven sonata-allegro form with its dramatic contrasts, and even though he was at first accused of trying to write Wagnerian symphonies, he abjured the fluid Wagnerian style. Instead, he created large blocks of materials with single harmonies lasting up to 64 measures, introducing sudden breaks when climaxes seemed inevitable, and much more, giving birth to a monumental, almost metaphysical experience. Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) (aka Livia and The Wanton Countess) excerpted the extraordinary, expansive music of the composer's Symphony No. 7 to underscore its story of the last days of the Austrian occupation of Venice. In Ken Russell's brilliant television film The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner (1990), excerpts from the composer's symphonies, string quartet, and Te Deum underscore this poetic drama about Bruckner's pathological obsession with numbers and counting. Jan Schmidt-Garre's excellent Bruckners Entscheidung (Bruckner's Crisis, 1995) is similar in biographical coverage to Ken Russell's piece.
Another aspect of Bruckner's composition emerges in his sacred works. In director Gillian Armstrong's touching and unusual Oscar and Lucinda (1997), with an excellent original score by Thomas Newman, Oscar, the son of a strict preacher of an Australian religious sect from which Oscar ran away as a child, has become an obsessive gambler at the horse races in order to put himself through seminary school. Lucinda has become owner of a glassworks factory which she has bought with her inheritance from her mother. The two meet on a cruise. Lucinda, who has also become a compulsive gambler, asks Oscar to hear her confession on the boat. As he climbs the stairs to an upper deck, an excerpt from Bruckner's gradual in the Lydian mode Os Justi (1879) is heard creating a light religious atmosphere with its Renaissance-based liturgical style. In an offscreen voice, Oscar says, "In order that I exist, two gamblers, one obsessive, the other compulsive, must declare themselves." Lucinda is seen playing a form of solitaire in her stateroom. The music ceases, unresolved, as she opens the door to Oscar's knock. In the droll following scene, Oscar is having a bit of seasickness (because he's associated the sea with his mother's death since he was a child), and the two become fascinated with each other by enthusiastically talking about card games. This turns into a monologue by Oscar questioning why God requires that people gamble their souls.
Bruckner's music is also heard in Le Jardin de Celibidache (1997), a portrait of the noted French conductor; the Polish television film Jej powrot (1975); It Happened Here (1966); and Fugueuses (The Fugitive, 1995, aka Une fille galante).