Lisztomania (1975)

Honestly, this movie is crazy. I have no idea how Ken Russell talked people into giving him money for this.

Actually, I do. David Puttnam’s Goodtimes wanted to make six movies about composers with Russel, with the first being 1974’s Mahler. He also planned to make films of Vaughan Williams, Berlioz and Gershwin, which was to star Al Pacino.

There was just a 57-page script and Puttman and Russell weren’t always on the same page. Seeing Liszt as the first rock star — the term Lisztomania refers to the sexual mania that female fans felt when in his presence — led to Russell making a movie where he eventually felt that “The symbolism…is a bit too relentless and the fantasy sequences tend to submerge the reality of the characters.”

Well, yeah.

Based somewhat on the book Nélida, a story in which Marie d’Agoult — played by Fiona Lewis in the movie — wrote a barely hidden confession about her affair with Liszt, the movie is barely a narrative and more a series of misadventures, starting with d’Agoult’s husband catching her in bed with the composer and the duel that ensues. After leaving the two trapped inside a piano on the train tracks, the movie quickly moves to the start of his rivalry with Wagner (Paul Nicholas), who hates the showmanship that Liszt uses to win over crowds.

Liszt is now married to Marie and constantly battling with her over his infidelities, unable to write music. He hopes to meet Satan so that he can sell his soul to be inspired again, a fact that his daughter Cosima prays for.

This makes him to Russia, where Princess Carolyn and her court seduce him into growing a ten-foot-long erection, which is taken to a guillotine, where he must give up his carnal needs if he is to create again.

How does one explain what follows? That Wagner is a vampire that uses Superman for propaganda and attempts to suck the musical soul from Liszt? That the Pope is Ringo Starr, who demands that our hero — who has failed at being an abbott of the church because he sleeps around — must stop Wagner and his daughter Cosima and their Reichian zombie death cult? That Rick Wakeman plays Thor? That a zombified Wagner — armed with a symbolic electric guitar machine gun — kills all of the Jewish people while Cosima uses a voodoo doll to kill Liszt, who goes to Heaven and reunites with all of his lovers — as well as his daughter, who has a change of heart in the afterlife — and flies back to Earth where he destroys Wagner and flies into space in his spaceship?

I have no idea what I just watched, but I loved it.

2 thoughts on “Lisztomania (1975)

  1. There is crazy-good and there is crazy-bad. Russell’s Tommy was crazy-good, but this one is crazy-bad. It’s really a mess, but what a glorious mess! Russell’s out-of-control imagination is like a trainwreck — you can’t look away! 😉


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