Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

This film won't please music lovers

Cleveland Press March 13, 1971

"Music Lovers" is not for music lovers.

The movies have treated composers notoriously badly but few films have been quite so awful as this pseudo-biography of Tchaikovsky.

Producer - director Ken Russell ("Women In Love") has taken the raw material of the Russian composer's life and concentrated on the rawest parts of it.

"MUSIC LOVERS" is concerned less with Tchaikovsky as a composer than with Tchaikovsky as a homosexual, an unsuccessful husband and a neurotic.

The soundtrack consists entirely of his music arranged to illustrate almost every scene. The cannon roar in the "1812 Overture," for example, accompanies Tchaikovsky's feverish dream of cannon literally blowing off the heads of everyone who has made him unhappy.

Tchaikovsky is played by Richard Chamberlain in a performance that is adequate if not inspired. When first seen he is having a good time with a friend, a curly-haired nobleman.

He later performs his piano concerto, witnessed by Madame Von Meck (Izabella Telezynska), a wealthy widow who wants to be his patroness, and Nina Miliukova (Glenda Jackson), an imaginative young lady who wants him for a husband.

The widow begins supporting him but vows that she will not meet him. Meanwhile Nina writes mash notes to him to the strains of the letter aria from "Eugene Onegin". He responds, imagining a platonic relationship that will give him respectability.

WHAT HE doesn't count on is the fact that after their marriage, Nina, a nymphomaniac, isn't about to settle for a spiritual alliance. Director Russell and the willing Miss Jackson exploit this situation for some of the movie's more sensational moments.

Home life becomes so rough for him that he can't compose a note. After his wife virtually assaults him he tries to kill her, then himself. Failing in both attempts, he rushes off to the country to recuperate on his patroness' estate.

Meanwhile his wife begins to slip mentally and has affairs with men she believes to be other famous composers. Actually they are men from the street brought in by her mother who is collecting money for the service.

Russell wraps up the whole package by having Nina go mad and die in an insane asylum in a scene that outdoes "Marat-Sade." This enables Tchaikovsky to call his Sixth Symphony the Pathetique. Actually his wife outlived him by many years.

Then Russell has the composer purposely expose himself to cholera in a final and successful suicide attempt.

In spite of its daring, its obvious attempts to shock, "The Music Lovers" is not so different from dozens of other screen biographies of composers.

THE ENTIRE movie is excessive. Even the colors are needlessly lush, the soundtrack overly heavy with romantic themes.

One gets the notion that to be a successful composer one must have sexual hangups and that. in Tchaikovsky's case, part of his trauma was the crazy soundtrack running through his head.