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Ken Russell classic films



With two flops he needed a commercial success, so returned to classical composers with Mahler. Mahler from 1974 is a film about sacrifice and creativity. It starts with a dream sequence which is Russell at his best and most visual.  A train journey provides a rite of passage. Mahler remembers episodes from his life, and on the train itself he confronts jubilant crowds (success), the gutter press (sensationalism), his wife's lovers (infidelity), and the doctor (mortality).

A beautiful film mixing true emotion, the death of Mahler's children, with dancing Nazis.
At times Powell seems to be influenced by Dirk Bogarde from Death in Venice with the similarities going beyond the direct homage included in the film.

The domestic sequences of Mahler as a child are similar to those in Savage Messiah.

The film cost just over 150,000 pounds and was shot in seven weeks.  The American version was shortened by 30 minutes, mainly by removing the Cosima Wagner sequence.


Ken Russell Mahler   Ken Russell |Mahler

Robert Powell plays Mahler and Georgina Hale his overshadowed wife Alma who literally buries her creativity. 

Oliver Reed appears in a cameo role as the railway guard- in the book Hellraiser Robert Sellers states Reed was given three bottles of Dom Perignon for the role. 

Dana Gillespie the singer (she recorded Bowie's Andy Warhol before Bowie did) plays Mahler's mistress, and she wrote the composition she plays. 

Photography is by Dick Bush.

Best Image

Ken Russell Mahler   Ken Russell Mahler

The hut by the lake bursting into flames which starts the film.  Mahler's idyll has ended.

Apocalypse Now!

Apocalypse Now!

Coppola pays homage in the opening of Apocalypse Now!

Best Scene

Ken Russell Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler walking down the stairs in a black veil like the shadow of death.


Ken Russell Mahler Death in Venice

Ken Russell includes a homage to Death in Venice.
There is a long train ride. Various nuns.  A crucifixion with Nazis etc. Russell kitsch at its best.
The scenery is around Russell's former home in the lakes.
Mahler makes fun of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto just as in The Music Lovers.


Other films released in the same year include The Godfather 2 (sublime), Pasolini's Arabian Nights, Polanski's Chinatown and Brian de Palma's cult Phantom of the Paradise.

The Godfather part 2    Pasolini Arabian Nights    Phantom of the Paradise


More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore * Mindbender * Trapped Ashes/ The Girl with the Golden Breasts


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