Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist
poliphilo

The Music Lovers

While working for the BBC's arts programme Monitor, Russell created what is essentially a new genre- the biopic that is also a critique and a celebration. With the Music Lovers he took this new genre of his to the big screen. The critics- especially the American critics, who were unaware of his back catalogue- hated it. Roger Ebert's review largely ignored its qualities as a movie to mount a defence of Tchaikovsky's privacy. (If he thought the Music Lovers gratuitous he should have seen The Dance of the Seven Veils, the slightly earlier TV film in which Russell kicks the shit out of Richard Strauss.)

But the Music Lovers isn't so much a film about Tchaikovsky as an exploration of themes suggested by his life and art- in particular the disjunction between the two, the tribulations of love and the transcendent power of music. Facts take second place to affect: The Music Lovers needs them as jumping off points, but is always itching to soar away into scalp-prickling expressionism (most famously in the scene in the railway carriage with Glenda Jackson lying naked and corpselike on the floor, her head rolling from side to side) and packs more cinema into its every minute than most movies manage in their full running time.

Chamberlain is sweet- a little lightweight for the role perhaps, but maybe that's the point: his Tchaikovsky a man to whom things happen- notionally gay but more plausibly asexual- incapable of returning love- a music machine in doe-eyed human form. Glenda Jackson is tremendous-  vital, touching but without a hint of sentimentality- as the wife he inadvertently monsters.
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