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Avant-garde composer Gustave Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) travels to a Venetian seaside resort in search of repose after a period of artistic and personal stress. But he finds no peace there, for he soon develops a troubling attraction to an adolescent boy, Tadzio (Björn Andrésen), on vacation with his family. The boy embodies an idea of beauty that Aschenbach has long sought and he becomes infatuated. However, the onset of a deadly pestilence threatens them both physically a potent symbol for the corruption that compromises and threatens all ideals.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
One of the great, cinematic films, it’s a real pleasure to revisit Death In Venice on DVD, in a sensational experience of sound and music and mood that stays with you forever. The screen may have shrunk but the film hasn’t. Made in 1971 by Italy’s Luchino Visconti, in English, Death in Venice received great acclaim both critically and commercially, thanks in large part to Dirk Bogarde’s subtle, moving and haunting performance as Professor Gustav von Aschenbach, a character modeled on the composer Gustav Mahler, whose third and fifth symphonies are used – and used effectively – in the film. 

But Visconti was subtle, too, in his handling of the adaptation from the Thomas Mann novel. No easy task. Aschenbach’s reputation for insensitivity, his emotional ice, is melted by the striking, innocent beauty of a young boy on the Lido in pre-WWI Venice, where the professor has gone to recuperate from a physical and emotional breakdown. But his demons go with him. The themes of youth versus death, and innocence as a corrupting influence, are handled with sublime nuance in the film, leaving us plenty of room to speculate and explore the themes. Death in Venice is filled with images that remain in the memory forever – many of these are of Aschenbach as his emotions – complex and tortured as they are - melt on the summer sand of the Lido, where life is given free rein, even as death seeps in like a slow tide. 

Nostalgia-driven black and white stills make up the Tour of Venice (don’t expect a travelogue).
The main feature on the DVD is Visconti’s Venice, which starts with a gondola ride as Visconti travels to set. We learn how, himself a Venetian and a descendant of the Duke of Milan in the 14th century, the place is more than a film location. But if you think this is the a travelogue, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s an early take on the modern day making of doco, only les superficial. Dirk Bogarde talks profoundly and revealingly about working with Visconti and the (pleasantly old fashioned) narration guides us through the production process.Visconti talks about how he works, which, according to Bogard is to use the script as a vague outline for creating the images. It’s not always easy for the actor. This is only 10 minutes long, but it’s a concentrated 10 minutes. 

And for once, the three and a half minute trailer is well worth seeing; it encapsulates the film in all its spectacular vision.

Published May 6, 2004

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(Italy / France, 1971)

CAST: Dirk Bogarde Bjorn Andresen Silvana Mangano Mark Burns

DIRECTOR: Luchino Visconti

SCRIPT: Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco (Thomas Mann, novel)

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

PRESENTATION: English, French, Italian; Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Visconti’s Venice; A Tour of Venice; trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004

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