The Music Lovers (1970)

Ken Russell's artist biopics generally have the same relation to their subjects that A Hard Day’s Night has to the Beatles – love letters to the idea of the artist’s life rather than exact accounts of biographical detail. The Music Lovers doesn’t quite have the exhilarating, poetic intensity of The Devils or Savage Messiah, and though Russell goes all out in portraying rampant female sexuality (as expressed by Glenda Jackson, who was, is, and always shall be, a cruel and sublime goddess), he’s oddly shy here with male sexuality – he can’t manage to show Tchaikovsky kiss a guy. And he can’t get much propulsion from the story. But the film’s restless physicality is hypnotic, and the systematic style of the film is actually very clever, where both Nina (Jackson) and Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain, competent) are devoted fantasists, and their various fantasias are variously tongue-in-cheek, syrupy, and glorious, and are always rudely interrupted by reality. Russell conjures some astonishing scenes; like when Nina’s tied up, blood running from her nose and between her legs after being ravished by a soldier she had a crush on; she and Tchaikovsky getting drunk and bawdy in a rocking train compartment, which concludes with Jackson rolling drunk, dazed and naked on the floor whilst Chamberlain laughs in giddy relief he doesn’t have to screw her; Tchaikovsky and his brother imagining a glorious triumph where “The 1812 Overture” accompanies their triumphal march and the beheading of the various pests in their lives; and Nina's ultimate madness, where she gleefully squats on the bars above the dungeon allowing caged madmen to give her cunnilingus. Written by Melvyn Bragg!

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