Promotional poster for Lisztomania
|Directed by||Ken Russell|
|Produced by||Roy Baird
|Written by||Ken Russell|
|Music by||Rick Wakeman
|Editing by||Stuart Baird|
Visual Programme Systems Ltd.
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release dates||10 October 1975|
|Running time||103 min.|
Depicting the flamboyant Liszt as the first classical pop star, Lisztomania features contemporary rock star Roger Daltrey (of The Who) as Franz Liszt. The film was released the same year as Tommy, which also starred Daltrey and was directed by Russell. The film is derived, in part, from an actual "kiss-and-tell" book, Nélida, by Marie d'Agoult, about the couple's affair.
The term "Lisztomania" was coined by the German romantic literary figure Heinrich Heine to describe the massive public response to Liszt's virtuosic piano performances. At these performances, there were allegedly screaming women, and the audience was sometimes limited to standing room only.
Rick Wakeman, from the progressive rock band Yes, composed the Lisztomania soundtrack, which included synthesiser arrangements of works by Liszt and Wagner. He also appears in the film as the Nordic god of thunder, Thor. Daltrey and Russell wrote the lyrics for the soundtrack, and Daltrey provided vocals.
This film was first to use the new Dolby Stereo sound system.
Rather than a straightforward narrative, the film presents Liszt's life through a series of episodes. At the start of the film, Liszt is caught in bed with Marie d'Agoult by her husband the Count d'Agoult. The Count challenges Liszt to a fight with sabres but Marie begs the count to share her fate with Liszt. The Count then orders his staff to trap Liszt and Marie into the body of a piano, nailing it shut, and then leaving it on railroad tracks.
The scene is then shown to be a flashback triggered by the camera flash of photographers backstage before one of Liszt's concerts. Richard Wagner appears and Liszt introduces him to his circle of colleagues including Gioachino Rossini, Hector Berlioz, Frédéric Chopin, and Johann Strauss II. Liszt then pays Wagner to allow him to perform a variation on a theme from Rienzi. At the concert, Wagner is put off by Liszt's crowd-pleasing showmanship at the expense of serious musicianship, which includes adding the melody of Chopsticks to his Rienzi variation. However the crowd, consisting entirely of young screaming girls, go wild at Liszt's performance, storming the stage. Liszt uses Hans to proposition potentially wealthy females in the audience during his performance. One of them is Princess Carolyn, who relays to Liszt her address in Russia.
The next scene shows Marie's and Liszt's domestic life plagued by jealousy over his constant touring away from home and his infidelities. At this point they have three children, the oldest being Cosima. Domestic life has also strained Liszt's creativity. Liszt prepares to depart to St. Petersburg to play for the Tsar. Marie threatens to abandon him if he decides to go. Liszt then suggests to Cosima that he would sell his soul to the Devil to be able to compose brilliant music again. As Liszt is leaving, Cosima consoles him that she will pray to God every day so that Liszt will meet the Devil and be able to sell his soul to him.
In Russia, Liszt meets Princess Carolyn at her court. She begins to seduce him, offering him the ability to compose the brilliant music he wanted in exchange for total control of his life. In one of the most ostentatious scenes of the movie, Liszt then experiences a hallucination where the women of Princess Carolyn's court assail him but then become seduced by his music which strokes his libido and gives him a 10-foot erection. Carolyn sinisterly observes from afar as the women then celebrate his giant erection with a chorus line. The women then drag Liszt's erection to a guillotine in which Carolyn reveals that the bargain for Liszt's newfound musical prolificity is the forfeiture of his libertinism.
The next scene shows Liszt in Dresden during the May Uprising, conflicted about not supporting his friends in the revolt and spending all his time isolated to compose music. Wagner, now a political criminal on the lam, reappears and asks Liszt for money so that he can escape the country with his family. As Liszt tends Wagner's wounds, Wagner secretly drugs Liszt, making him pass out. Wagner then reveals himself to be a vampire who has a mission to write music that will inspire a new German nationalistic movement. He then proceeds to suck Liszt's blood and compose on the piano. Before departing, Wagner leaves him his latest political pamphlet (a Superman comic).
Liszt and Carolyn travel to the Vatican to get married after the Pope agrees to grant her a divorce from her husband. The wedding is ultimately voided by the intervention of her husband and the Tsar. Furious at the Pope's political impotence, Carolyn threatens to write an anthology on her disagreements with the Church (Causes intérieures de la faiblesse extérieure de l'Église en 1870). Liszt then proposes that he will join the Church as an abbot.
Liszt's life as an abbot is shown to be disobedient as he is caught in bed with a woman. The Pope then explains that Wagner has seduced Cosima as his wife and has begun to lead a devilish cult organised around his music. He tasks Liszt with travelling to Wagner's castle to exorcise him and return him to the Christian faith or else Liszt will be excommunicated and his music will be banned.
Liszt travels to Wagner's castle, where he observes a secret ritual portraying a devilish Jew raping several blonde-haired Germanic nymphs. Wagner then appears with Cosima, dressed in Superman outfits, and sings how "the flowering youth of Germany was raped by 'the beast'" and that a "new messiah" will soon arrive to drive out the beast. At the conclusion of the song, Cosima marches the audience, composed entirely of children, out with a Nazi salute as they chant that they "will be the master race".
Liszt confronts Wagner, who is unaware of what Liszt saw, and inquires about his ambitions. Wagner confesses that he has been building a mechanical Viking Siegfried to rid the country of Jews. When Wagner awakens Siegfried with his music, the creature turns out to be crass and slow-witted. Liszt sneaks holy water into Wagner's drink, however the water has no effect on Wagner. Wagner then reveals himself as a vampire to Liszt and threatens to steal his music so that Wagner's Viking can live. Liszt rushes to the piano and plays music that exorcises Wagner, bringing him to near death. Cosima, witnessing Wagner's moribund state, imprisons Liszt and then resurrects Wagner in a Nazi ceremony as a Frankenstein Hitler wielding a machine-gun guitar. Trapped, Liszt observes as Cosima leads Wagner-Hitler to gun down the town's Jews, after which she kills Liszt by stabbing a needle through the heart of a doll made to look like him.
In Heaven, Liszt is reunited with the romanced women of his life and Cosima (it's never explained how she got there after killing Liszt or how the other women got there), who regret their behaviour towards him and each other and finally live in harmony. Liszt and the women decide to fly down to Earth in a spaceship to destroy Wagner-Hitler who has now ravaged Berlin in a fiery machine-gun frenzy. Once Wagner-Hitler is destroyed, Liszt sings that he has found "peace at last".
- Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt
- Sara Kestelman as Princess Carolyn
- Paul Nicholas as Richard Wagner
- Ringo Starr as The Pope
- Rick Wakeman as Thor
- John Justin as Count d'Agoult
- Fiona Lewis as Marie d'Agoult
- Veronica Quilligan as Cosima Wagner
- Nell Campbell as Olga Janina
- Murray Melvin as Hector Berlioz
- Andrew Faulds as Johann Strauss II
- Kenneth Colley as Frédéric Chopin
- Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 83