I had this enormous post written out about The Music Lovers (1970), but about 90% of it was drunken rambling. See, I quickly realized that, like The Count of Monte Cristo, my memory of this film did not stand up to the reality — and that reality required a lot of booze to get through. So, I’ve scrapped that post in favor of writing this one, which I hope is slightly more linear owing to the fact that I am, unfortunately, quite sober while writing this.
On the surface, this movie looks awesome. First off, it stars Richard Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson. It’s about famous composer Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky (Chamberlain), a closeted gay man who somewhat impulsively marries a woman he’s never met, who turns out to be a nymphomaniac (Jackson). From my dim recollection of the VHS cover at my local video rental place in the late-80s, it was made out to be a quirky romp through 1880s Moscow set to Tchaikovsky’s greatest hits.
I suppose I should have realized that the very fact that this film was directed by Ken Russell means it probably wouldn’t be some wacky 1970s biopic filled with kitschy scenery chewing and bad 1970s hairdos unless it also featured a lot of disturbing imagery and depressing character relationships. So, yeah. Cocktails.
What I liked about The Music Lovers
Surprisingly, most of the 1880s costumes, which were designed by Shirley Russell (Ken’s wife, in case you were wondering). She designed quite a few of Russell’s movies before and after The Music Lovers, including Russell’s arguably best-known film, Tommy (1975).
Not surprisingly, the music is pretty awesome. It’s Tchaikovsky. What’s not to love? And some of the visuals are really stunning, such as the nascent Swan Lake performance with Pyotr’s sister and brother by a lake… with swans…
Or the way that Sasha Tchaikovsky seems to disappear into the trees as she and her brother stroll through the forest.
I also felt the film’s treatment of his sexual orientation was fairly progressive for the 1970s — there’s no overt moralizing, but the stigma of being gay is shown in subtler ways. The wink and a nod between Tchaikovsky’s colleagues at the conservatory, his brother and sister imploring him to take a wife and at least pretend to be straight for the sake of his career, and in the finale, his former lover effectively shit-canning his lucrative patronage by revealing his sexual proclivities. It’s all handled far more subtly than I was expecting, especially considering the intensity of the scenery chewing.
What I didn’t like about The Music Lovers
Tchaikovsky’s beau, Count Anton Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable), has quite possibly the worst hair of the lot. Funnily enough, I’ve called out Christopher Gable in another Richard Chamberlain film for his bad hair…
This weird corset worn by Glenda Jackson that looks like it’s too short to be supportive, but too long to be an underbust corset. Also, WTF modern hair.
The over-wrought Freudian imagery. Then again, this is a Ken Russell film. I’m not sure I should have expected anything different.
I think Monty Python pretty much sums it all up.