Blu-ray & DVD: Ludwig (1973)
Ludwig II inherited the throne of Bavaria as a young man of 19 in the middle 1800’s. Idealistic and naïve he is more interested in the arts and particularly the music of Wagner, than affairs of state.
The tagline of Ludwig; ‘He loved women. He loved men. He lived as controversially as he ruled. But he did not care what the world thought. He was the world’, is more than apt for this truly sumptuous Arrow Films release. Luchino Visconti produced a ‘film’ which is included here, and also a five part epic TV series, and it is this longer version that is something to behold. Springing off the screen with a new 4K restoration by Arrow, this luxurious film is a spectacle to behold, the glittering blue of Helmut Berger’s eyes are astonishing.
The problem with Visconti for me is, he’s so lauded as a Maestro and the most important Italian, or even worldwide, Directors of film, that ‘normal’ film fans won’t give him a chance. With Masterpieces such as Rocco and His Brothers and the much celebrated (but hardly seen by your average film fan) The Leopard, and Death in Venice under his belt, he is one of those ‘scary’ filmmakers, who is neglected by the mainstream because the consensus is, he is too highbrow.
However, dear reader let me assure you, this is a grave misunderstanding, and along with the filmic opulence and magnificent actors, Visconti only did what any great filmmaker can do; he told stories, almost in a soap-opera way. Tales of family’s, love, hope, pain and all in a heartfelt (yet awe inspiring) way that really isn’t so much high-brow, but majestically enjoyable.
So with a string of masterpieces (just Google him) behind him Visconti turned his attentions to the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1972, resulting in this epic film (in every sense of the word) of 19th century decadence. I dread to think how much this film cost to make, every penny is up there on the screen, from the ermine robes to the swan filled grotto.
Several critics have written that this is in fact a mirror to his own life, and that Visconti like Ludwig was tortured by his homosexuality and the only way he could be free was through the arts, either filmmaking, or as in Ludwig’s case, his obsession with Wagner. Of course this is pseudo psychological rubbish, both men were overtly gay and more than likely NOT ashamed by their feelings. If anything, Ludwig is Visconti’s love letter to Berger. Giving Berger the part of Ludwig certainly showcased his acting chops. Perhaps Berger’s insanely handsome good looks overshadowed his acting credentials somewhat, but here we have a showcase for his immense talent, from an Adonis like beginning to the debauched rotten toothed bonkers end, he is never less than mesmerizing.
The rest of the cast including Romy Schneider (reprising her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the Sissi trilogy), one of my favourite actresses, Silvana Mangano, Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger), and Trevor Howard as Richard Wagner wears Piero Tosi’s costumes (nominated for an Academy Award) with great aplomb.
If I had one bugbear about the film it’s the Italian/German/English dialogue, one moment Trevor Howard is speaking English and halfway through a sentence he’s speaking in Italian. It is rather distracting! However, this is as opulent as any of Visconti’s epics and Ludwig is presented here in its complete form in accordance with the director’s wishes and features the English-language soundtrack for the first time by Arrow. The new interview with Berger is a real insight into the making of the film and his relationship with Visconti (also look out for a new kickstarter about to commence in the hope of making a documentary with and about Helmut Berger https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/654203440/1952140714?token=6eb5c372 ).
So well done Arrow yet again on a great job!
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- 4K restoration from the original film negative
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut or as five individual parts
- Original Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles
- Original English soundtrack available on home video for the first time ever with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Brand-new interview with actor Helmut Berger
- Luchino Visconti, an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Wake Up and Kill, Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
- Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, an interview with the screenwriter
- Silvana Mangano: The Scent Of A Primrose, a half-hour portrait of the actress
- Theatrical trailer
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Cowie.