Though it was a request from one of the Asheville Film Society’s most diehard members, it didn’t take a whole lot of prompting to get me to program Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974). That it happens to fall two days after Russell’s 84th birthday and two days before Gustav Mahler’s 151st birthday makes the choice all the more fitting, since it serves as a birthday salute to both men. Russell himself would disagree with me, but I tend to think Mahler—with its fusion of fact, fantasy and dream imagery—is the best film about a composer Ken Russell, or anyone else for that matter, ever made. The film is not by any means a traditional biopic. Rather, it’s an imagining of the composer’s life, a response to key events in his life and an interpretation of his life and works. It is not a film to everyone’s liking—mostly because of Mahler’s fantasy of his own funeral and the sequence where he converts to Catholicism. For some—including the jury at Cannes in 1974—it’s a work of genius. Others may be less generous, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen. Hopefully, you will find it a richly rewarding and powerful—and sometimes blasphemously funny—film experience.
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