Directed by: Ken Russell
Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Izabella Telezynska
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I programmed The Music Lovers (1970) somewhat self-indulgently, since Sept. 20 is my birthday. Moreover, back in 1979, the bootleg 16mm print I bought happened to arrive on the same day, so this seemed right, while its sudden emergence on DVD (at least in the UK) sealed the deal. Now, having said all that, I’ll go on to note that this biopic on Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) has started to gain the position—especially after all those Russell tributes last year in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto—of being considered the filmmaker’s best film (including by Russell himself). I don’t quite agree, but I haven’t any real quibble with the choice. André Previn once called it “the greatest film ever made about a composer” and he may well have been right. It’s certainly one of the most daring and creative—and it’s one that is completely driven by the music from the first scene to the last. It’s a film that literally bursts onto the screen with a cymbal crash from “Dance of the Clowns” (The Nutcracker), and one that ends with somber tones of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony backing possibly the most shattering finale imaginable. The key to the film lies in its opening credit—“Ken Russell’s Film on Tchaikovsky and The Music Lovers.” This isn’t strictly a biopic on Tchaikovsky, but Ken Russell’s vision of the composer and those in his circle, the titular “Music Lovers.” Interestingly, nearly every negative thing that has ever been said about the film is neatly interchangeable with much of the original criticism of Tchaikovsky’s own music. That may be the greatest endorsement this brilliant film could have.
The Asheville Film Society will screen The Music Lovers Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.