Theatrical Release: December 1970
DVD-R Release: September 9th, 2011
Review by Craig Sorensen
As the film begins, Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain of The Swarm) is still working as a piano teacher. He is just at the beginning of his composing career and is gaining momentum. He draws a bit of a crowd to his performances and is kind of a local celebrity. Of course, with most local celebrities there are rumors. There is that hushed rumor that Tchaikovsky prefers the company of men (which of course is true as one of the first scenes is Tchaikovsky climbing into bed with the local queen). Of course that kind of thing was looked down upon by Russian society at the time (it must be a little better now) so, if true, it could ruin his career. Also, Tchaikovsky himself refuses to believe that he had any sexual issues (there is also some hang-ups involving his sister and mother). So what’s a closeted homosexual to do? Why, marry a nymphomaniac of course (played by Glenda Jackson of T-Bag’s Christmas Ding Dong)! This naturally drives everyone insane.
The Music Lovers is a beautiful and sprawling epic. This being a Ken Russell film, it errs on the extravagant side of things but for the most part it seems to play the Tchaikovsky story fairly straight (no pun intended). I was expecting a typical Russell freak-out going into this and other than one big nuts fantasy sequence near the end the film is pretty subdued (for Russell anyway). There is quite a lot of melodrama in this (shocking for a film about a closeted homosexual marrying a nymphomaniac) but don’t let that scare you away. This really is a well crafted and enthralling work and sits well within the Russell oeuvre. I would highly recommend this film to everyone.
The cast is great as well. For some reason I always thought of Richard Chamberlain as an extremely kitsch actor (probably for those Alan Quatermain films and a string of TV movies). I was really surprised by his performance here. He’s really really good as Tchaikovsky. It probably helps that Chamberlain knows a little something about being a closeted homosexual/heartthrob to women. Glenda Jackson is equally great in the role of Nina, Tchaikovsky’s wife. Her slide from slight obsession to full blown psychosis is riveting. My favorite actor though would have to be Kenneth Colley as Tchaikovsky’s brother Modeste. You might remember Colley as Admiral Piett in The Empire Strikes Back. Now I’m really disappointed in Empire Strikes Back for not letting that guy go nuts. He steals every scene he’s in here and plays a big part in that crazy Russell fantasy sequence near the end (it’s my favorite part of the film as the screen captures will attest to).
For the most part this transfer looks good. It is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 2:35:1. Colors look great and the print has been cleaned up fairly well. Of course it would look much, much better if it had been a Blu-Ray release. Hell, it would have looked better if it was on a dual-layer DVD-R. There are some major compression issues here. Any time there is a lot of fast movement the image starts to pixilate and break up. It’s a long film so it’s not surprising that they would need to compress the hell out of it to get it to fit on one 4 gig disc, it’s just unfortunate that they would need to. It’s a Ken Russell film, it really does deserve better than to be dumped onto DVD-R. But, of course, it’s a Ken Russell film so there probably isn’t a big audience. I would just love to see this in 1080P. The mono soundtrack is pretty good here though. The music is one of the stars of the film and it sounded great to me. Dialog and sound effects also sounded good. Of course, again, this would all sound better in HD, but it could be worse. The only extra is a trailer so don’t get your hopes up for much in that department either. I guess we should just be happy that we get any copy of this film.
Now, Warner Brothers, where the FUCK is “The Devils”?