Starring: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale and Lee Montague
Fremantle Home Entertainment
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 28 March 2005

Director Ken Russell's Mahler examines the tormented life of composer Gustav Mahler. This blend of history and psychological analysis produces a fascinating study of art and sensuality. The film takes place on a single train ride, in which the sickly, aged composer and his wife, Alma, confront the reasons behind their faltered marriage and dying love. Flashbacks and sequences chronicle his turbulent and dysfunctional family life as a child, his discovery of solace in the natural world, his brother's suicide, his conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, his rocky marriage and the death of one of his young daughters...

Mahler, from 1974, could have been a fascinating insight into the life of composer Gustav Mahler. All the foundation work has been done and then director Ken Russell wades in and demolishes everything.

The composers tragic life is told in flashback form during a train journey towards the end of his life. So far so good, but of course this isn't a Ken Russell movie unless there are numerous pointless "arty" scenes that are so unsubtle that they slap you in the face screaming: "Look! Do you see what I'm saying? Am I not clever?"

A few examples of these very poorly (and in some instances downright offensive) designed scenes include Mahler's wife breaking out of a cocoon and crawling over to a rock in the shape of a face and kissing it; Mahler inside a coffin, still alive, as his wife dances on top of it in lots of lingerie (oh, please!); and Mahler's conversion from Judaism to Catholicism - a female Nazi tempting Mahler to eat a pigs head (actually this was unintentionally very funny - in an embarrassing sort of way).

Mahler's flashbacks to his childhood are well handled - with an impressive performance from the young actor portraying the composer. In fact the majority of the flashbacks were handled really well. It was just the tagged on obscure scenes that seemed out of place. It was almost as though Russell wasn't sure what sort of movie he wanted to make - or what message he wished to convey to the audience. Should it be arty? Or a straight retelling of Mahler's life?

Because of this the whole production comes across as a sloppy mess. But the worst thing about this release is that the quality is not that much better than a VHS copy. You'd think that someone would have bothered to clean up the original film print a little. Instead, this release looks as though someone has transferred a poor print onto VHS and then copied it to DVD.

The only extra that is included is a three minute trailer. In fact save yourself the trouble of wasting two hours of your life by watching the trailer - which pretty much sums up the movie.

Nick Smithson

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