Not topping the book, but what scenes and what sounds!
Review of Death in Venice (1971) movie, by Stefan Stenudd
Thomas Mann's novel is also a perfect piece of art, so of course it is impossible to bring into another media. Visconti follows the story pretty much, and it is only when he allows himself to deviate slightly, that the transition falters. And no matter how wonderful the scenery is, the tension in the air between the characters, the hundreds of subtle signals and allegories, the almost unbearably heightened serving of Mahler's music — still, the minute anomalies in the plot disturb me.
Maybe I'm just a victim of man's desire to flaw the flawless. Nevertheless, I will offer one example, which I regard as crucial.
In Mann's story, Aschenbach eats the strawberries which probably contain the disease that will kill him, after giving up his frustrated chase of the boy Tadzio in Venice. Unable to catch one delight, he settles for another — which poisons him. It is very subtle in the book, but it is there. The forbidden fruit, of sorts, but more a sign of him surrendering life itself.
In Visconti's film, he also eats strawberries, but in a rather insignificant scene by the beach. The chase in Venice ends in a much more melodramatic way. It works, too, but lacks some subtlety, indeed, and also the multi-layered symbolism, giving food for thought.
But that's all forgiven, when the film allows us to feast on beautiful sceneries, faces and constellations, and certainly as many other symbols as we can possibly digest — the last gesture of Tadzio, standing in the water, being the equally sublime and mysterious finale.
7 January 2003
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both Swedish and English. I'm also an artist, an historian of ideas and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.