Lisztomania (1975)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Musical Drama  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Craig Butler

Amazingly enough, director Ken Russell's biographical films are even less faithful to the facts than the fanciful ones produced by Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. In Russell's case, at least his disregard for the truth has a purpose, for his end goal is to create an impression -- of his subject, of his work, of his times -- that is intended to transcend facts. Unfortunately, Russell's reach tends to exceed his grasp, never more so than in Lisztomania, his bizarre and ludicrous desecration of the life of Franz Liszt. The director's well-known penchant for vulgar excess (and, often, just plain vulgarity) runs rampant here. While the sheer visual outrageousness of the film is distracting for a while, the pointlessness and idiocy of the script become wearying very quickly. Even granting Russell the benefit of the doubt and assuming that part of his intention was to create the cinematic equivalent of one of Liszt's pieces, he fails to achieve this goal, ending up with a muddled, annoying, and frequently pretentious piece of claptrap. No cast could rise above such material and such circumstances, and so Roger Daltrey is left to flail about helplessly and to little point. Paul Nicholas comes off even worse, despite a greater commitment to fulfilling Russell's vision. Only Veronica Quilligan, in a relatively minor role, gives a thoughtful, fairly nuanced performance, an exceptional feat, all things considered. Rick Wakeman has given an unbecoming and unconvincing rock edge to Liszt's music, which has in turn been fitted with appalling lyrics. Despite the momentary fascination inspired by some of the imagery, there's little to recommend here.