Ken Russell Derek Elley - Essay

Derek Elley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Lisztomania] carries the photographic splendours of The Devils and Tommy to their absurdist limits. Russell's professed intention to deflate the pomposity of his musical subjects has taken many forms over the years…. Lisztomania again breaks new ground: this time there is no underlying affection for the artist in question, merely a desire to use his name, a few of his compositions, and some of the personalia of the period, to forge a celebration of the rock scene in nineteenth-century dress. Russell is still working in a post-Tommy haze, and it is almost coincidence that his subject is from the field of classical music….

To parallel Liszt with the modern pop performer is not an idea original to Russell, but the glove fits well. Where Russell scores above others, however, is in taking the idea to its most outrageous limit—and beyond….

Lisztomania is for much of the time a delight to watch, and even when the mind is left uncatered for, the eyeball is always amused…. The majority of the clichés are familiar from Russell's other films, and tell us more about him than his various subjects, but, as always, there is always a grain of truth (and little more than that) to support his fantasies. But while trading freely on popular myth, Russell also mixes in a strong amount of more factual material, seeking contemporary parallels to make the esoteric accessible to the general viewer…. For the rest, however, fantasy takes over, and much of this is superb. (p. 32)

Derek Elley, "'Lisztomania' and 'The Loves of Liszt'" (© copyright Derek Elley 1976; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 22, No. 4, January, 1976, pp. 31-3.∗