September 11, 2004

Death in Venice

So after failing in 3 attempts to start watching Starsky and Hutch (even putting aside my long-standing dislike for Ben Stiller Ė I donít think heís very funny, and heís starred in a lot of over-rated dogs, the side-splitting Zoolander being the saving grace of his too successful career Ė Starsky is painfully, almost-incomprehensibly awful) I turned my attention to a horse of a very different color, Viscontiís adaptation of Death in Venice. Iíve already praised Visconti at length on this site for The Damned and The Leopard, two superior films made in the 1960ís. I was really hoping to see Rocco and His Brothers next, but apparently that has not been released on DVD, so I opted instead for this adaptation of Thomas Mannís famous novel. Iíve never read the book, so I canít compare it to that. But compared to the other Visconti films Iíve seen, this one was disappointing.

Visconti is known for creating breath-taking visual scenes, and this movie certainly doesnít disappoint on that front. His attention to period details has probably never been matched by another major director, and having the light, water and scenery of Venice to work with itís not surprising that he creates pictures that capture moments perfectly and look stunningly beautiful too. And in terms of the art design, this film is marvelous: everything from the picture frames, to Aschenbachís art noveau bed, to what are, bar none, the most beautiful and amazing hats Iíve ever seen anywhere. The problem is that Visconti, who values images far above words, is telling a relatively minor story with all these arresting tableaux. While I assume the book is much more complex and nuanced, the plot of the film is quite straight-forward, and Viscontiís grand flourishes just make the whole thing seem too obvious and over-the-top (and this is coming for someone who can fully appreciate his operatic tendencies). This is never more true than in the final scene unfortunately. I still hope I get a chance to see Rocco, and I still greatly admire Viscontiís craft. But to me, this is not his best work.

Posted by armand at September 11, 2004 03:44 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Movies


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