Tuesday, 12 February 2008

LUDWIG (1972)

Most of my knowledge of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria comes from the 1955 film LUDWIG II directed by Helmut Kautner and starring O.W.Fischer as Ludwig with Klaus Kinski (in his second film role) as mad prince Otto. This, rather more detailed, exploration of this fascinating story is by director Luchino Visconti and stars Helmut Berger. It is generally agreed by critics that Visconti’s greatest contribution to the cinema was with his neo-realist films such as OSSESSIONE, LA TERRA TREMA and ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS and I certainly won’t argue with anybody who feels that way. But for sheer breathtaking entertainment I personally love his big budget extravaganzas – visions of crumbling hierarchies, madness and perversion.These films are almost universally regarded as technically brilliant but emotionally cold works where one can feel little sympathy for the characters. I can’t subscribe to this view (although to a degree I can understand it). Visconti was also a noted director of operas and these films SENSO, THE LEOPARD,DEATH IN VENICE and THE DAMNED are virtually operas without the arias (the certainly have the music : Verdi, Wagner, Mahler with Richard Wagner himself appearing as a character casting a heavy shadow over the story of LUDWIG.) The cast of the film is superb to say the least with Berger as Ludwig descending wonderfully into madness and, at least, equalling his transvestite, paedophile nazi in THE DAMNED (that film’s lederhosen gay orgy is mirrored here as the bureaucrats move in to remove Ludwig from the throne) and Romy Schneider, Silvana Mangano, Trevor Howard, Gert Frobe and Helmut Griem (as a loyal officer who questions whose fault Ludwig’s extravaganze really was) inhabiting their roles to perfection. Visually the film is stunning – the spectacular fairytale castles, of course, designed by Ludwig himself. It’s the sort of movie that one must be prepared to immerse oneself in – it checks in at 246 minutes so a thermos and sandwiches might be a good idea. Rating ****

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