I watched you the first day in 'La Caduga degli Dei', remember?.
You made six shots for me all different, the first day?
No dialogue, just the mind. I saw. And I knew that I had found my actor. Voila'"!
La Caduga was made in 69, it dealt, operatically with the struggles of power in a mighty steelworks family as they succumb to the Nazi war machine in 1933.
It was here that the great Italian director Lucino Visconti made clear his plans to make another picture.
"You must start right away he said. You must hear the music of Mahler, everything, We make a study of solitude, of loneliness, if you hear the music you will understand. But you must not do anything else until we make it, wait for me only ? Capisci?
These words echoed in the mind of the actor to play the lead, Dirk Bogarde, who recounted these memories in his second volume of autobiography Snakes and Ladders.
The film was an adaptation of Thomas Mann's celebrated novella "Death In Venice" and primarily dealt with an ageing and ill composer who travels to Venice and is mesmerized by the crystalised beauty of a young boy. Here the man finds solace in the boy's grace
Gustav von Aschenbach arrives in the city of haunting images before the First World War as illness and disease grips, cholera brought from African waters spreads probably from fruit sold and consumed in harsh sunlight. As he is set to leave the boat to make for the Hotel Des Bains he sees a strange older man, his face rouged assuming a grotesque image of youth, he is alarmed.
At the Hotel as he sits quietly observing guests the composer notices a Polish family and Tadzio, a youngster blessed with porcelain eloquence, he is struck with awe at the sight of the boy and at once he is filled with hope that had eluded him in his native Germany. Here his volatile conversations with friend Alfried over wisdom, art and its divinity leave him troubled, doomed, as his friend had remarked to accept the fact of pure natural beauty. His professional schedule forces exhaustion and poor health culminating in collapse after a performance.
Now in Venice set against a wonderful Lido and the grand Hotel he thinks of nothing but the boy whilst drifting back in nostalgia to his past. Comforted by his mother the boy emerges from the surf , the white sand on the beach a perfect compliment to the elusive essence that remains in the mans mind, awe struck from something all powerful.
Von Aschenbach checks himself one evening in the dining area after meeting the boy's eye.
"You must never look at anyone like that again" he tells himself and promptly arranges a hasty exit from the hotel and the place. But in a mistake his luggage is transported elsewhere and he is left stranded at the station, a half smile comes to his face as he accepts return to the hotel and to his destiny.
Pestilence grips Venice, the streets are disinfected and many leave, but the composer on return, is content. He sees the youth from his balcony overlooking the Lido and in a tragic and strangely affecting scene, attempts contact via a restrained wave. Absurd and honest at once. As his natural attraction escalates he has yet more flashbacks, a retrospective inner turmoil paramount to this struggle between positivity and denial.
He hallucinates at approaching Tadzio his young brother and their mother. Here he tells them all to leave Venice due to the disease, his thoughts and melancholy are drowned out by a macabre street performer who agitates him as he sits alone on the hotel verander, as darkness has forced those dining to depart
Agreeing to sit at the mercy of the local barber who transforms him into a replica of the ageing man he saw on arrival, Von Aschenbach assumes the almost guilt ridden and tragic appearance of his own lost youth.
(Visconti - "You will have lips as ripe as strawberries")
With his ailing health gradually taking hold he follows the family as they stroll through the stricken alleyways, keeping his distance he eventually gives up and falls to the stoned ground, fragile and laughing at his own pathetic self.
The family appear to be set to leave, this weakens the composer further who makes way for the Lido helped by beach hands. Here breathing heavily he slumps in a chair looking out over the glaring sands, he sees Tadzio again who frolics with a friend until they begin to fight, the boy ups an walks away towards the sea.
He becomes emotionally concerned at any loss of happiness emanating from the boy, and breaks down, trembling he struggles to move as illness grips, black hair dye is almost macabre as it trickles down his cheeks in the harsh sunlight.
With just enough strength to glance up he catches the image of Tadzio in the distance, statuesque in the glistening ocean. "Only beauty is Divine" he murmurs to himself.
Hanging on to life he reaches out tragically to grasp divine grace, the boy turns to face him from afar seemingly pointing upwards to the ultimate peace he has been seeking.
Don't forget that Death in Venice is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Nik Allen
From his childhood days in the great meadows of Sussex, through the War to movie stardom and finally to his sad demise in a top floor apartment buiding only a short walk from Harrods, Dirk Bogarde was the closest we could hope to come to a true enigma in cinema. A fiercely private man, his complexities were born from a life existing inside a staunch personal shell, such was the power of his convictions that he strived to lead this contradicting and strangely diverse life away from the public eye.
During and more so after, his career with the Rank Organisation he sought to be understood ultimately finding these recognitions as a writer.
Dirk was fifty. Patronised almost by movie stardom he now realised that it was time to depart England; he fled to Europe where his adventurous and aesthetic consciousness could thrive and so hopefully defeat the influx of northern talent that took roles usually offered him at home. Ironically it was here that he gave his best performances in cinema.
Visconti had known of his work and had seen his two Losey films, "The Servant" and, as Stephen in the excellent "Accident". He promised after filming wrapped on La Caduga that he one day would make a film especially for him, a film for Bogarde.
His idea was eventually realised but not without problems, only a quarter of the budget could be raised in Italy and the director turned to Hollywood financiers happy to back the movie providing Bogarde was dropped and replaced by a more bankable name. They also insisted the boy Tadzio, central to the story, was to be substituted for a girl. More acceptable in their eyes, a la Lolita.
Thomas Mann had told Visconti that he had met the composer Gustav Mahler in a train compartment coming from Venice, sitting weeping, he said he had touched beauty and that he had to leave or die. The resulting novella Death in Venice was really this account told and enhanced by the stunning music created by the man, used by the Italian director who, pacing the images choreographed the changing influences in the symphony's feeling. His insistence on certain shots for specific pieces of sound validated these intentions "we shall shoot from the book as Mann has written it!" No script!
The light of the scirocco was essential for Visconti's early summer filming and the transformation of the actor into an ageing composer a touch of genius. It saw Mann's novella and Mahler's music meet the Italians hand and the actors' skill to combine to produce a haunting film, a painting on reel, a canvas awash with a harmonious humanity yet splendid with subtle decadence. De Santi's photography was a deft touch of brushwork which has hazy colours and focus gelling expertly to give an unreal tone to the unique locale'.
The real revelation is Dirk Bogarde whose underplayed performance brims with silent mannerisms, the first actor to "think" on screen: he is magnificent as Von Aschenbach. The factors above are enough surely to silence the harshest critics who found it too difficult to allow any involvement. Indeed some of the current crop of directors now see this film as seminal and wonder at the lack of meandering dialogue, omitting the needless caricatures and their contrived persona seen in modern cinema. Could it be that the time has come for this cinema to be at last respected. Someone should contact the hardcase at Time Out whose absurd and self righteously wrong synopsis of the film is an embarrassment.
Far from being "risible" Death in Venice cannot merely be dismissed as some homage to homosexuality or as torturous filanderings within the mind of an ageing pederast, but more as testament to the lives of its director who grew up in the fascist regime in Italy as young boy, and for the actor whose introverted persona was born amongst other things from his service in the army as liberator and soldier during the onslaught of Nazi Germany. These factors are enough' let alone the life and loves of Gustav Mahler and the author.
I first saw this film on the day that the actor departed this world, shown on terrestrial tv as tribute it managed to move and mesmerise. I think it was Dirk Bogardes greatest ever role, "like being asked by Olivier to play Hamlet" was his verdict on playing Von Ascenbach for Visconti, a genuine honour it seems. "The peak and end of my career" he also added
The events surrounding and during the film were recounted in many of his volumes of autobiography, these were in a different class than most pedestrian memoirs and a visual gift was seen to flow though the quality of writing. Not sensationalistic his "ego trip" as he called them were rarely self indulgent, merely honest accounts by a man with an ear for humanity. He found during his time in Provence that this gift for writing would be an important turning point which allowed him to recall his time with Visconti and many of his ilk whilst making masterpieces like "Morte a Venezia".
There is a moment in autobiography that I feel sums up its everlasting appeal. When it was over Dirk went to see the director, he asked him if he had seen a rough finished cut of the picture and forayed into the mind of Visconti for indications of how he had performed
"You look for compliments is that it"?
"No Christ ,no!
The Italian grabbed hold of Bogardes head and kissed him roughly on both cheeks.
"Your work transcends anything I even remotely dreamed of,.....Go Away"
He went away and wept during the drive home, the experience was over, the character had been left behind with his white suit and laced boots.
Physically exhausted the actor headed for his French country farmhouse in Provence unaware that in time he would engage himself in yet another, more dangerous love story, a darker tale that would also be guided by the hand of an Italian although this time a woman.
The film "Le Portierre De Notte" aka The Night Porter.
Hollywood execs were so impressed with the score they offered the following words to the Italian: "who did the music". "Mahler" replied the director. "Great, sign him up."
With only a single white suit at times the wardrobe were forced to smother Bogarde in chalk to hold the gleam which, with the hat, sealed the presence of the character.
He died at age 78 in 1999 in Chelsea after writing several volumes of autobiography and novels, A Particular friendship dealt with a communication he had with a mystery woman with whom he connected via correspondence.
Signed copies of his books have become sought after items.
know some Death in Venice trivia that we could add? [Please
send it in]
Visiting Venice every year, I've now become intrigued with the locations for Death in Venice, a Movie that fascinates me.
Studying the film, you can ocassionally make out place names on buildings in the latter part of the film as he follows Tadziu about. These are difficult to decipher. However, the following names appear: Rio Menuo de Laverano and
Ponte Malvasio. [Thanks to Larry]
Ponte de la Malvasia Vecchia is in the NW part of Venice, between Rio de la Sensa and Rio de la Misericordia, near the Ghettos. [Thanks to Lenore]
Can you help? Do you know any of the Venice, Italy filming locations used for Death in Venice? [Please send them in]
Mahlers 5th Symphony was used as guidance for the images that Visconti felt he needed to show. It is a strangely affecting piece of music and captures the loneliness, tragedy and beauty that is the simple story that Mann had written.
The piece more or less runs through the entire picture and is as much a factor as the direction, photography and performance, possibly more so. Track listing:
1. Main Title
2. Deserted Beach - Mascia Predit
3. Evening on the Veranda
4. Salon & The Bordello - Claudio Gizzi
5. Return to Venice
6. Death & End Title
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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