Plot: What’s it about?
Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a composer with many great works in his resume, but his recent output has been lackluster. His mind hasn’t been able to bond with his creative forces, which causes him immense stress. If he is unable to channel his creative energies, his music will not flow as it should. As a result, he feels stifled and even washed up at times, since he can’t seem to do what he loves to do. But his music is only part of the problem, as his personal life also suffers and on the whole, Gustav is at his breaking point. In an effort to relax and get away from all the stress, he ventures to a seaside Venetian resort. He hopes to put his mind at rest and recover from all of the trials and tribulations, then return in a refreshed state of mind. This is an ideal setting to do just that, with beautiful beaches, bright sunlight, and cool waters, but even this haven of relaxation will provide no refuge for Gustav. He is soon in the midst of an unexpected situation, when he finds comfort in a place that is forbidden. As a creative person, Gustav has found inspiration in numerous sources, including people he encounters. Just such a person has surfaced at the resort, someone who has the ideal beauty he longs to rediscover. But this attraction is not a natural one and instead of a new light, Gustav plunges further into the darkness…
This is a simple film with minimal elements, yet Death in Venice comes across as rich and well crafted. Luchino Visconti (The Damned, The Leopard) directs with passion and control, a fragile balance that is tough to achieve. Death in Venice is slow and deliberate, as if Visconti wanted to control every second of movement and ensure his vision was retained. This could have been a real mistake, as the atmosphere could have been lost, the pace could have thrown off, and the audience could have been left cold, as slow often equals dull and uneventful. But Visconti takes precious care not to upset his balance, which results in a movie that has few real plot turns, yet keeps us riveted from start to finish. How many movies have you seen in which little happens, but you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen? But Visconti’s direction is also bolstered by some wonderful performances, especially the turn of Dirk Bogarde (The Night Porter, Victim). Bogarde is in fine form here and really shines, while his costars also hand in effective portrayals. I do think the slow pace will leave some viewers cold, but if you have a solid attention span, Death in Venice is a rewarding cinematic experience. This disc from Warner is worthwhile, but this movie screams for a two disc special edition. But since I doubt Warner will revisit Death in Venice, I can recommend this release to all fans of artistic cinema.
Video: How does it look?
Death in Venice is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a terrific visual effort, one which really brings the film’s beautiful visuals to life, thanks to a source print that is in tremendous condition. I’ve seen some ragged prints of Death in Venice, but Warner rounded up a very clean one here and that deserves some thanks. I could see some minor nicks and worn spots, but not many and grain is never a problem in this treatment. The color washes across the screen, from the bright blues to the crisp whites. The hues remain bright and pastel in shade, but when more vivid colors are needed, the transfer obliges. No troubles with contrast either, so yet another impressive catalog title presentation from Warner.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio here is presented via a mono option, but rest assured, this material doesn’t need much beyond the sheer basics. This is a slow, dialogue driven movie and the soundtrack follows that approach, its basic and little else. The music does add some life to the experience, but this is mono, so don’t expect miracles. I found dialogue to be clear and easy to understand, while the other elements seem in proper order as well. Not a dynamic soundtrack, but one which handles the material well and offers no reason to complain. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, should you need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes some still photos, a brief, vintage production featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer.