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Ken Russell films

"It's a berserk exercise of demented genius, and on that level (I want to make my praise explicit) it functions and sometimes even works. Most people will probably despise it" (Roger Egbert,  28 Oct 1975,  click here)

Lisztomania, a film on composer Liszt, 1975, with music by Rick Wakeman. Says it all- not Russell's idea.  A Golem/Frankenstein creature (Wagner, killed by Liszt and resurrected by his daughter Cosima) with an electric guitar that is actually a machine gun walks through a ghetto slaughtering Jews, accompanied by children wearing superman-like clothes. Cosima sees a face through a swastika-shaped window and pulls out a voodoo doll and pierces it with a pin to kill the person. Yes, clearly the story of the composer Liszt.

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

A cheap looking cash-in on Tommy, though Russell says it cost over a million pounds- one of his highest budgets. Roger Daltry´s acting is especially poor even for him.  The film is basically a sex comedy though it is not very funny. The concert sequence with squealing girls dressed like Jane Austen is too long and the film collapses into banality.

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

The Frankenstein Hitler

Typical of Russell, there is a basis in truth. The worst element is the pretentious modern title Lisztomania- but this is actually the title of a book published in Liszt's time.

"Lisztomania may be the most embarrassing historical film ever made. Wait! It gets worse" (Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian, 6 Feb 2013 click here).

Another view by site visitor Steve Mobia (thanks Steve) is:

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

"A constant stream of visual imagination, LisztOmania is the most unconventional and unique of Ken Russell's output.

Ken Russell Lisztomania

Whereas the films of Mahler and Tchaikovsky had flashes of brilliance (the 1812 overture scene in The Music Lovers, the conversion scene in Mahler for instance), with Liszt, Russell finds the freedom for full unhinged expression. It must take the cake as the most peculiar biography ever made about a classical composer. The real world Liszt was a master show off, turned the keyboard toward the audience and performed diminished seventh runs as if possessed by the devil. Russell's film depicts Liszt as the first classical "pop star," complete with fanatical pubescent fans (with fans) and groupies. The movie darts in and out of music and film references, historic fact and allegory — all presented in a hyberbolic comic strip fashion. Yes it's often tasteless and crude but that's all a part of the fun.

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

Though The Devils is arguably Russell's greatest film in both structure and substance, LizstOmania, though not a very well structured movie is dazzling in its audacity. The picture is a must-see for any music student!"


Roger Daltry in Lisztomania

   Ringo Starr in Lisztomania   Kill Bill Vol 1

Roger Daltry (top) as Liszt, Ringo Starr (left) as the pope.  Compare with Kill Bill (right) by Tarantino 28 years later.

Rick Wakeman doing the music as well as acting. What more could you want. An example of the lyrics "war is waste, waste is guilt". 

Oliver Reed in Lisztomania

Oliver Reed appears in a cameo role as the servant- in the book Hellraiser Robert Sellers states Reed was given four bottles of Dom Perignon for the role, one more than for his cameo in Mahler.

Stuart Baird edits and cinematography is by Peter Suschitzky.  Shirley Russell does costumes.

Best Image

Pete Townsend in Lisztomania

Two of the Russian icon paintings of saints are actually paintings of Elvis and (above) Pete Townsend of The Who.

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

Daltry, in love, writing music notes as hearts.  Though family life soon drains his creativity.

Ken Russell- Lisztomania

Not an image but a piece of dialogue, obviously Russell's- "time kills critics my dear".


Best Scene

Daltry as Chaplin in Lisztomania

The Chaplin sequence, a film within a film just as the Cosima sequence in Mahler.


Wagner appears in a sailor's suit (French Dressing etc).
The tsarina is similar to the doll in Gothic.
Daltry in his skimpy loin cloth is often a Christ image.



Other films released in the same year include Star Wars, Annie Hall and The Spy Who Loved Me as well as Russell's Tommy.

Star Wars  Annie Hall  The Spy Who Loved Me  Tommy


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


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