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Friday, April 27, 2012

Ludwig (1972)

In 1864 Bavaria, King Ludwig II (Helmut Berger, GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINIS) begins his unsteady reign. Obsessed with the music of Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard), Ludwig invites him to Munich where he spends copious amounts of the treasury funds to mount Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. Meanwhile, he pines with unrequited love for his haughty cousin Empress Elisabeth Of Austria (Romy Schneider) and struggles with his homosexuality. But slowly and methodically, he loses his grip with sanity. A sumptuous bore. Visually, the film is a stunner and the great director Luchino Visconti painstakingly recreates the splendor of the 19th Century Bavarian court with its gold gilded furniture, beautiful tapestries, underwater grottoes and lavish balls. Originally cut down to three hours upon its American release, the film has been restored to its full four hour length and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. I've never seen such a film with characters walking up long staircases (and the camera recording every step), carriages arriving and leaving, wandering through long corridors and hallways etc. at a snail's pace. Typical of wasted time: Visconti has a slow long shot of a servant walking across the snow to meet her mistress, only to have Romy Schneider dismiss her when she arrives as the scene continues between Schneider and Berger. One is better off reading a good biography of Ludwig instead. But as cinema, it's ravishing to watch if you want to commit to the four hours. With Silvana Mangano, Adriana Asti, John Moulder Brown, Mark Burns and Helmut Griem (CABARET).

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