Strawberry Postcards in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971) December 6, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, Literature, Queer.
Italian Title: Morte a Venezia
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen, Silvana Mangano
Based on Thomas Mann’s book
I give it to Visconti, Death in Venice is breathtakingly beautiful. For I haven’t read Thomas Mann’s novella I am less obliged to succumb to usual comparisons, seeing it in its bare elegance, the nuances of Mann’s observations impulsively translated into epic equivalence by Visconti’s recreation of the period through lavish art designs and costumes. The beauty it has imparted is similar to Gustav von Aschenbach’s obsession to the chastity of art, it is almost visually perfect, for Visconti’s scrupulousness is felt in every calculated movement, in his trademark zooms, in the overarched vision that seems to mimic the sweep of omniscient observation, without a speck of sloppiness, it is a dream that has successfully traversed the conscious mind, life itself, breathing, talking, loving, paining, dying, which in fitting irony mirrors its subject’s gloomy death, worms of unresolved thoughts never leaving him in peace, eating his soul. Is love just a form of obsession or obsession a form of love? Is love, in all its undeniable shortcomings, only a preoccupation of wishful thoughts that are close to impossible? Everything begins with attraction and obsession only ends with death, which in this case is both literal and figurative. The wordless sequences are insanely provocative and maddeningly obsequious, not to mention the fact that the obsessed and the subject of obsession have never once spoken to each other, only meaningful glances and meetings of the eye. It must be the selfless form of love – – obsession – – but it is also the most effective way to self-destruct.
(When you get used to the idea of watching films as education, however, there comes a point when you go beyond appreciating a work only through aesthetics. Despite my penchant for films that meditate on the virtue and decay of life and death, Death in Venice still leaves me underwhelmed and lacking in its unrelenting highbrowism, and I reckon that is when personal taste comes along. . . no one’s fault, really – – just human irrationality.)