Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Death in Venice" is slow and painful

Cleveland Press August 6, 1971

"Death in Venice" is playing is playing at the Cedar-Lee. Drama; adults, teens. In the cast are Dirk Bogarde, Bjorn Andreson, Silvana Mangano. Running time: 130 minutes.

Slow, almost to the point of being static, but visually beautiful, is "Death in Venice," director producer Luchino Visconti's film adaptation of the Thomas Mann novella.

The literary work is a very interior one virtually impossible to translate into a screenplay.

Where Visconti succeeds admirably is in translating the novel into a series of images. As drama, however, this is rough going.

He has recreated the world of 1911, of elegant gentility, of a way of life that was soon to pass, of a leisured wealthy class. These are elegant paintings come to life, colors that clash and blend, scenes that are composed with an artist's eye.

VISCONTI HAS chosen to turn Mann's protagonist from a writer to a composer, probably on the premise that Mann based his character on that of Gustav Mahler. Mahler's music, the third and Fifth Symphonies, is used on the soundtrack and what other movie can boast background music by so great a composer?

Visconti also invents flashback scenes to account for this and other aspects of the character's life. These are the least of the movie, offering almost a jarring note to the proceedings.

The picture stays with the composer throughout; from his arrival, tired and ill, in a Venice filled with different nationalities, their strange languages providing a blur of gentle sound.

ONE FAMILY has among its children a boy with long flowing hair and a face of great and almost feminine beauty. He is attracted to the boy, tries once to leave Venice, comes back-actually is drawn back. He watches and follows, always at a distance.

He suspects there is something wrong in Venice, the smell of disinfectant and death is everywhere. There is danger of a plague, someone finally tells him but still he is powerless to leave.

A change comes over him and he allows his grey hair to be painted, his lips to be rouged, his face to be covered with a pasty white. It is a corpse being made up though still alive.

DEATH FINALLY comes -but in Visconti's film it is a long time coming-sitting in a beach chair watching the boy silhouetted against the Adriatic and tile bright sky, the black dye running down the face of the dead man.

Without turning the movie into a homosexual romance Visconti chooses to make the attraction more clearly of that type than Mann did.

It is a distortion that almost blurs the symbols of youth and age, beauty and decay, life and death. These do come across but Mann' s concern with art vs. life is hopelessly lost.

DIRK BOGARDE as the composer is superb. An underrated actor, he now has what is probably his best role. There is little dialog (for some characters there is none) and much must be done with little more than expressions and gestures.

The greatest fault of the film is its length. Two hours and ten minutes is far too long for so slim a story. Visconti's forte is grand opera for outside of grand opera death has never been so prolonged.

There is much that is good in "Death in Venice" but long before it is over the movie begins to sink under the weight of it all.