The B-Movie Isle: Ludwig (Arrow Academy)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam takes a trip back to late 19th century Bavaria in Ludwig to bask in Opulence at its most… well opulent. With a guide like Luchino Visconti (director of the staggering epic The Leopard) the trip though stately is well worth the price of admission. Arrow Academy provides a beautiful transfer and thoughtful edition for this under seen film.
Pageantry is something that few filmmakers are allowed to show and direct in film in any sort of grand scope. The last that had been allowed, Sofia Coppola, was eviscerated by critics and audiences alike for her wonderful 80’s New Wave flavored Marie Antoinette. Even during the most artful times in Film history the paced reveal of the beauty and decadence of bygone eras was a risky and often times losing proposition for Studios and Financiers.
Luchino Visconti made some of his best work about this very subject. The Leopard is a devastating film starring Burt Lancaster, unlike any other methodical exacting epic. Many will find Visconti’s style off-putting. The director’s camera is often allowed to linger in rooms vast and large, dwarfing the human inhabitants. The films artfully oblique allowing you to take in the grandiose and the opulence of the characters his camera are trained towards.
Ludwig finds Visconti working with Helmut Berger in the title role of the King of Bavaria. The film is as impressive of an epic as Visconti made. Though here, there is less affection for his subject. The distance is even further than in The Leopard. Berger in the title role is a complex cantankerous man child who both loves himself and loathes himself in equal measure. Ludwig in the actor’s hands is leader who has no concept of leadership in the same way that Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette had no concept of what true leadership was.
Visconti in the almost 4 hour running time shows us the deterioration of a country, a lifestyle and a man all in parallel. Production design, costumes, makeup and performance coalesce in a way that rarely occurs on film. Berger at times had been a blank slate as a performer, lost at sea if you will, casted only for his amazing looks. Here it is not the case. Visconti has always used Berger to great affect (The Damned is a particular favorite of this reviewer and is very prescient to today’s political landscape) though and here it’s an epic performance surpassing anything the two did prior. Ludwig in Berger’s hand is a man unable to confront truths about himself that everyone sees from Elisabeth (Romy Schneider reprising the exact role that made her famous fifteen years prior in the Sissi Trilogy) to his servants that cater to his every whim and request.
Visconti’s history a theater director comes in use in this picture more so than any other film he produced. The director’s keen observation is still on display his attention to detail to truly see the beauty and devastation of the story. The film’s production design, costuming, camera work and lighting have as much to do with Ludwig’s interior life as Berger’s performance. Showing us shades and disturbances through simple lighting changes, giving us moments where every piece of production fades into the background showing us only Ludwig. It’s powerfully subdued direction.
The film’s final movement, like history taking its course has an inevitability to it. That finale made ever so melancholy by the Wagner-infused score. Visconti directs these sequences like a funeral procession. We know, like the character of Ludwig, what his fate will be. That end is as beautiful, delicate and brutal as anything that Visconti has put to screen.
Arrow Academy has procured a 4K restoration from the original negative. The results of this restoration are glowing. Having sampled older versions of the film, the difference is night and day. The transfer does have that heavy saturated darker visual look that many 70’s era Italian made films do. Considerations to that look the film is gorgeous. They managed to keep the look intact while ensure that the image is razor sharp. The grain structure is present but very light but does not look like they have DNR’ed the image. It’s a beautiful transfer.
The special features include:
- Two viewing options: the full-length theatrical cut or as five individual parts
- Brand-new interview with actor Helmut Berger
- Luchino Visconti, an hour-long documentary portrait of the director by Carlo Lizzani (Wake Up and Kill, Requiescant) containing interviews with Burt Lancaster, Vittorio Gassman, Francesco Rosi, Claudia Cardinale and others
- Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, an interview with the screenwriter
- Silvana Mangano: The Scent Of A Primrose, a half-hour portrait of the actress
- Brand-new interview with producer Dieter Giessler
- Theatrical trailer
Having reviewed both “cuts” of the film, the Theatrical is definitely the preferred viewing option. The “TV version” felt episodic and not a part of the whole. The Theatrical version (as reviewed above) feels more cohesive allowing for the full experience unbroken. It feels similar to the argument that one has with Fanny and Alexander; which is better the TV version or the Theatrical? The best solution to this is watch all ten hours and decide on your own!
Though looking at these special features one would think that this set is slimmer than what Arrow is used to providing, think again. These five featurettes amount to well over four hours of content and more specifically context for the film. The best by far is the hour long profile/documentary Luchino Visconti it’s a vintage doc that profiles the director and gives people a glimpse at the director with comments by just about every major star that has worked with him. The Interview with Berger and producer Dieter Geissler (both of which were produced for this edition) are fascinating for their insights to the actual film. The interview with screenwriter Susco Amico discusses the process of writing with Visconti. The Scent of a Primrose is a great vintage profile of actress Silvana Magano that originally aired on Italian TV.
The Bottom Shelf
Ludwig has gotten a fittingly sumptuous treatment by Arrow Academy. Regardless of what you think of Visconti and the film itself, one should be impressed by the work done for this release. If Ludwig is any indication of the care and thoughtfulness that the burgeoning label is going to lavish on titles, we are in for a very interesting 2017. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!