Saturday, January 19, 2013

Death in Venice (1971)

My sister was looking for me yesterday night. From her faraway country, she needed to talk. Urgently. I was concerned. She started crying before having the time to explain what it was all about. When she found her breath, she told me the story of somebody who had just died. A friend of hers, or better, a flirt of hers. Middle-aged man who appeared to be a workaholic. Working and living in his office, with no family to support he rarely allowed himself the pleasure of inertia. No holidays, love affairs, shopping sprees to hold him back from work. And from making money. In their short encounter, he confided that he was dreaming to start living after his upcoming retirement. After years of hard work, he could finally allow himself to take a break; to search for human contact; to heartily give his savings colorful material shapes like comfort, luxury and beauty. But his heart did not take his plans into account and stopped beating unexpectedly, paying him with all the time off he ever wanted. Albeit, in darkness.

Death in Venice (1971) is a book and a film that brings  recurring thoughts on internal conflict, life choices, desire, abrupt endings. It did when I first read the novel by Thomas Mann. It did again when I watched the film. Today I stumbled upon it online in the Italian version, the theme of death struck me and the association was made.

A novella that seemed unfilmable became a great audiovisual experience after Visconti's treatment -the endless list of awards easily confirms it. The melancholic and decadent ambience present in the book, amplified thanks to the addition of music and all the beauty of the world in the face of Björn Andrésen. It's something you can judge for yourselves, of course, but personally I find Tadzio the image of the eternal androgynous beauty, some kind of Andrej Pejik of yesterday. Morte in Venezia, is all about fashion, thus the reference -some of the awards it garnered at the time were for costumes. As The Imagist puts it "... (the film) mingles social history, literature, cinema, fashion and interior design in a way that few films ever do." You can check those navy stripes for yourself.

Tadzio (or Bjorn) was less careless in real life than his filmic persona though, much as the composer Gustav Not Mahler that he was torturing on screen. "My career is one of the few that started at the absolute top and then worked its way down. That was lonely." he said, and I believe him. Little good can happen to a young boy adored as an androgynous beauty before he even had the time to acknowledge his sexuality. Bjorn was not gay, but apparently nobody cared. He was for them.

Gustav Von Ashenbach swiftly changed profession in Visconti's hands; how lovely to make him not an author, but a composer; he gave us the opportunity to listen to Mahler's Symphony No 5 enhanced, plus he gave Dirk Bogarde a reference point. Bogarde had indeed Mahler in mind when playing the character, just as Thomas Mann had the latter in mind when writing it. The whole story is loosely based on true events, which makes it a resourceful cocktail of real life and fiction, indeed.

Life and death are too real to be fictional though. And they both come and go without knocking on our door first. So, whenever our Apollonian self is at war with our  Dionysian one, which one should we favour? The conflict intellect versus passion is a tantalizing one. Civilisation itself is based on suppression of our supposedly "animal" instincts. Right. This doesn't mean we should die without giving way to our desires. Facing the fact that we are mortal every single day, could possibly help us facilitating bits and pieces of our Dionysian self, because it's part of who we are. Should we attain equilibrium, we are saved.


Sheila WB said...

Lovely post. x

estelle said...

Thank you, I'm happy you liked it :-D