Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 129: Death and Venice

“Gustav Von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) the artist at the climax of his career; composer, conductor, maker of great music, suddenly alone. Aschenbach, the artist at the crisis of his life, suddenly alone in the magical city they say is doomed to sink back into the sea, from which, by Venus, it rose. Aschenbach the artist at the crisis of his life, here faces the images of immortality and beauty”. This is the voice-over on the theatrical trailer for the 1971 film Death in Venice, by director Luchino Visconti.

For a while there, Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni dominated Italian cinema and made their lasting mark on the world of film; of their pictures, the word “masterpiece” is used again and again.

What is it about Venice that seems to attract the maudlin and melacholy in storytellers and filmmakers? Three films come to mind - Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) (starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), The Comfort of Strangers (Harold Pinter’s screenplay of Ian McEwan’s book, directed by Paul Schrader) and Death In Venice (1971) - all set in Venice, all beautiful and yet, all enveloped in a preoccupation with death?

Death In Venice, based on the Thomas Mann modern classic, is the story of Gustav Von Aschenbach, who comes to Venice to recover, following the death of his wife and child to the plague, at home in Germany, and to convalesce from his own near mental collapse. There he falls madly, helplessly in love...but with a boy, Tadzio. His passion for the impossibly beautiful youth, and the impossibility of it, leads to despair. When a new plague (Asiatic Cholera) invades Venice, Von Aschenbach pleads with the boy’s mother to take the youth and his siblings away from the city, whilst the composer remains to wait for death and liberation from his desolation.

Visconti acknowledges that Thomas Mann talked of the German Composer Gustav Mahler in the same breath that he would talk of his protagonist Gustav Von Aschenbach, and the story is set in 1911, the same year that Mahler died. To that end, Visconti uses the beguiling fourth movement (Adagietto) of the Symphony No.5 by Mahler throughout the film, it dominating the score.

Day #129 Tip: The Degeneration Plot
A “plot of character” says story scholar Norman Friedman (‘Form and Meaning in Fiction’, University of Georgia Press, 1975), “...the Degeneration Plot fetaures a character (in our case Von Aschenbach) who was at one time sympathetic and full of ambition (we see this in flashbacks to earlier times in his life) and subject him to some crucial loss (the death of his wife and child and collapse of his career) which results in his utter dissillusionment. He then has to choose between picking up the threads of his life and starting over again, or giving up his goals and ambitions altogether, or he may end midway between these two alternatives not knowing what to do next.”

“There is a sequence of feeble and short-range hopes, followed by the materialisation of long-range fears, with maybe the final effect being one of all depends upon how convinced we have become that the protagonist has in fact, only one real choice he can make, upon how impossible staying alive for another try seems to be.”

Over the last eight or nine days, I’ve been working through the different archetypal plot forms, using a different film as an example for each type of form; tomorrow I’ll wrap this up with The Tragic Plot.

Happy days.

No comments:

Post a Comment