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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel, a 2008 documentary about the director, featur≠ing Luchino Visconti; actors Burt Lancaster, Silvana Mangano, and Marcello Mastroianni; filmmakers Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli; and others
  • Alla ricerca di Tadzio, a 1970 short film by Visconti about his efforts to cast the role of Tadzio
  • New program featuring literature and cinema scholar Stefano Albertini
  • Interview from 2006 with costume designer Piero Tosi
  • Excerpt from a 1990 program about the music in Viscontiís films, featuring Dirk Bogarde and actor Marisa Berenson
  • Interview with Luchino Visconti from 1971
  • Viscontiís Venice, a short 1970 behind-the-scenes documentary featuring Luchino Visconti and Dirk Bogarde
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Dennis Lim

Death in Venice

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Luchino Visconti
1971 | 131 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #962
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 19, 2019
Review Date: February 11, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

Based on the classic novella by Thomas Mann, this late-career masterpiece from Luchino Visconti is a meditation on the nature of art, the allure of beauty, and the inescapability of death. A fastidious composer reeling from a disastrous concert, Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde, in an exquisitely nuanced performance) travels to Venice to recover. There, he is struck by a vision of pure beauty in the form of a young boy named Tadzio (BjŲrn Andrťsen), his infatuation developing into an obsession even as rumors of a plague spread through the city. Setting Mannís story of queer desire and bodily decay against the sublime music of Gustav Mahler, Death in Venice is one of cinemaís most exalted literary adaptations, as sensually rich as it is allegorically resonant.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection brings Luchino Viscontiís Death in Venice to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. Presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition, the new encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration performed by the Cineteca di Bologna and Istituto Luce Cinecitta, in collaboration with Warner Bros. and the Criterion Collection. It was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.

Before getting into the details of this disc Iíll say up front Iíve never seen a screening of the film and I have only seen the film previously through the Warner DVD, which I am pretty sure I rented through Netflix (back in the day), and do not own it for a direct comparison. I remember the colour scheme being a bit muted, deathly almost, but it looked fine, suiting to the film. This, on the other hand, looks terrible.

To get the good out of the way it has been lovingly restored, all damage and blemishes removed. Details are decent (there are some limitations Iíll get into) and film grain is there, looking very good. The encode itself is spotless, never presenting noise or any other digital artifact. On a technical level I cannot fault anything.

Unfortunately all of this good stuff just gets hosed by another aspect of the presentation: the colours. Like other questionable presentations Iíve come across (like The Color of Pomegranates) the colours lean heavily on the warmer, yellow end of the spectrum. Thereís a very heavy yellow bias to everything and itís always there throughout. People look yellow, whites look yellow, blues are cyan or more greenish. Everything is yellow. Yellow yellow yellow. This all looks awful but there is unfortunately a larger side effect to this that is even more harmful to the image: the black levels just get destroyed. Blacks are severely flat and crushed, and darker scenes have absolutely no depth or detail in them. A few nighttime shots look like black blobs, an endless void in the background. Blacks in brighter scenes even look flat, offering little to no shadow definition. Anybody wearing a black jacket in a scene? It just looks like a flat dark gray mass has enveloped this poor soul. It looks terrible.

Yeah, maybe the film is supposed to look like this, but I highly doubt it and itís the black levels that convince me of that. They look awful, theyíre flat, absolutely kill depth, come off as more of a mushy gray, and show little to no shadow detail. It ends up leading to this mushier looking image and a few shots look fuzzier and less detailed possibly because of it. And this ends up being an incredible shame as the other technical aspects of the presentation are solid.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless PCM 1.0 mono presentation is fine. Dialogue is clear, the music offers decent range and fidelity, and there are no severe issues, other than a background hiss that becomes more noticeable during some of the filmís quieter (than usual) moments.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion throws together an excellent set of features for the film. The first inclusion is the 2008, 55-minute documentary Luchino Visconti: Life as in a Novel. Through various archival interviews with Visconti and the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Silvana Mangano, Burt Lancaster, Francesco Rosi, and others we get a decent (if not terribly in-depth) portrait of the man and some of his films all the way up to Ludwig. Half of it is devoted to his early life, getting into his anti-fascist work and this is probably the most interesting portion in what is an otherwise standard biographical documentary.

Stefano Albertini next provides a new interview under the feature Showing the Story. Here the film scholar first goes over how Visconti, despite his aristocratic upbringing, was able to make films that appealed more to the common person, and looks at his political beliefs, which rarely made their way into his films, at least in an obvious way. He then focuses on Death in Venice and how Visconti adapted the story to the visual medium, even explaining the reasoning behind some of the changes the director made to the story. He also provides some defenses for the numerous criticisms thrown at it over the years, from the film making the attraction the main character has towards the boy more direct to the film suggesting it would be wise to never ďcome out.Ē A commentary would have been beneficial but Albertini offers a strong academic examination, which is most helpful when comparing the film to the novel, though I doubt it will change the opinions of those already not fond of the film.

Criterion then has a section called ďMaking the FilmĒ that features several archival features. Alla ricerrca di Tadzio is a half hour feature from 1970 documenting Viscontiís search for the actor that would play Tadzio and other aspects of pre-production. We get to see a number of auditions (including that of BjŲrn Andrťsen who would get the role) along with footage of location scouting, while Visconti talks over aspects of the adaptation.

There are then a number of excerpts from other programs. Talking About Italian Cinema features 19-minutes from an interview with costume designer Piero Tosi with a focus on his work for Luchino Visconti through the years. Musique au cúur is from a documentary on the directorís use of music in his films and the excerpts pulled here feature Dirk Bogarde and Marisa Berenson talking about Death in Venice, working with Visconti, and how the filmmaker thought of the film as an opera itself. Bogarde also explains how Thomas Mann came to write the story and how that played into Visconti changing the character to a conductor. Finally, thereís a 3-minute excerpt from a 1971 television interview with Visconti (the director talking about the themes of the film and why he has no interest in making a film about modern times), and then a 9-minute promotional featurette called Viscontiís Venice, which offers a handful of interviews and then a look at the filming behind a simple 2-minute shot that appears in the film. Despite the briefness of the scene it should be unsurprising how concerned the director is with the fine details.

The disc then closes with the filmís 4-minute trailer that pretty much just explains the story. An insert then features an essay by Dennis Lim.

I donít recall what was on the Warner disc, if anything (I rented it and I donít think I look) but by the looks of it it included the production featurette Viscontiís Venice and a photo gallery, so Criterion clearly bests that edition by a large margin. In the end itís a strong set of material that should help those new to the film navigate their way through it.

8/10

CLOSING

I think Criterion has done a wonderful job in gathering up special features around the film, which should help those maybe unsure of what Visconti was trying to do work their way through the film. But the presentation is a real wash. Itís flat, itís ugly, and itís mushy, thanks to this yellow push on the colours.


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Purchase From:
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