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Thursday, October 8, 2015

LISZTOMANIA -- Movie Review by Porfle



With one of the dumbest taglines of all time ("It out-TOMMY's TOMMY!"), this movie is a mass of calculated stupidity candy-coated with rampant extravagance.

Vulgar and witless, randomly surreal, utterly tasteless, and lacking any of the visual and musical charm of the film that it supposedly outdoes at its own game, LISZTOMANIA (1975) is a movie that seems determined to be "so bad it's good" without even trying to be good first.

With TOMMY, Ken Russell had Pete Townsend's compelling rock opera upon which to hang his glossy visual musings.  Here, all he has is the music of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner channelled through a beer-addled Rick Wakeman at his worst and bastardized into some of the most pointless, rinky-dink rock songs imaginable.


Not to mention an incomprehensible storyline that features Liszt (Roger Daltrey) as a sex-crazed 19th-century rock star, Fiona Lewis as his long-suffering wife Marie, Sara Kestelman as his mistress, Princess Carolyn (who, in a fantasy sequence, is a Satanic dominatrix riding Liszt's giant, erect member like a bucking bronco before severing it in a guillotine), keyboard whiz Rick Wakeman as Thor, and TOMMY's "Cousin Kevin" himself, Paul Nicholas, as anti-Semitic political anarchist Richard Wagner, who steals Liszt's musical talent by literally sucking his blood like a vampire and then steals Liszt's daughter Cosima (Veronica Quilligan) away for his wife.    

Russell seems to have come to the conclusion that TOMMY was a surefire formula for getting stoners to come back to the theater over and over just to sit and go "wow" at goofy visuals mixed with rock music.  But there's a limit even to that dubious brand of entertainment, and LISZTOMANIA is it.


Now for the weird part--I was one of those gullible dopes who saw LISZTOMANIA two or three times on the big screen back in '75.  I had the soundtrack album on 8-track.  Not only that, but when I got my first VCR in 1981, it was one of the first movies I ever bought on videotape. 

And that was back when movies on videotape were, like, really expensive.  (I still have it, tucked snugly inside its special oversized cardboard container from Warner Home Video.)

Why? Because I love kitsch, and LISZTOMANIA is industrial-strength kitsch that's so utterly, irredeemably bad that it achieves a whole new level of horrible wonderfulness.


It's an all-out assault on art, on music, on film itself, and on our very senses.  And for all its badness, it doesn't even have the decency to be unwatchable even when Roger Daltry stops singing and starts talking.  In fact, I find it impossible not to revel in its absurd awfulness even as I'm repelled by it.

I don't know that much about the real lives of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, but I'm pretty sure Wagner didn't rise from the dead as a Nazi Frankenstein terrorizing WWII-era Europe with a machine-gun guitar, and that Liszt didn't pilot a woman-powered spaceship from Heaven with which to dive bomb Wagnerstein into oblivion. And I kinda doubt that the current Pope looked and sounded like Ringo Starr.

LISZTOMANIA, however, shows us exactly what it would've looked like if these things and more had actually happened, as interpreted by the fevered imagination of Ken Russell at his most dangerously unhinged.  And watching it is like taking a strange drug that gets you high and makes you sick at the same time.



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