Research Paper: Ludwig Visconti

Pages: 6 (2045 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Film  ·  Buy This Paper

Luchino Visconti is a well-known director who creates neo-realist movies. In his 1972 masterpiece, Ludwig of Twilight of the Gods, the film centers on the life of Ludwig, King of Bavaria. It is the final part of a three part trilogy which included films: Damned in 1969 and Death in Venice in 1971. The movie deals with the sad and disastrous portrait of King Ludwig II, who at the tender age of 19, became King of Bavaria. His chance meeting with Wagner the same year he was made king, altered the lives of both men with the king providing the composer a powerful and wealthy patron and the composer providing King Ludwig the admiration and friendship he needed.

Many political events influence the actions of the characters from Ludwig's mother's behavior and Ludwig's eventual insanity. The movie ends tragically with the unrequited love of him for his cousin, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and his eventual marriage to her sister, Sophie, as well as a betrayal of Wagner and then lastly, a gradual sinking into depression and ultimately dementia. Although the movie does a good job of revitalizing decadence and melodrama, it also helps explain some of the events of German unification and perhaps nationalist sentiments the director may have felt at the time. Along with German sentiment, culture played a big role in the film as Bavarian royalty allowed Visconti to use and film on their property.

The first release of the film yielded a three hour and forty minute run time which was then narrowed to three hours and then after Visconti's death and subsequent auction of the film became four hours and ten minutes long. The film itself was a decadent and sumptuous feast of the senses and each scene was beautiful and filled with rich tapestries and costume design. The music, from the very beginning as well as the images, plays a haunting yet captivating visual splendor. "The Visconti text relies on visual opulence and aural stimulation, but in such a manner that the spectacle becomes the means of undermining the melodramatic sentiments and actions of the characters." (Landy 88) The king, with a face both beautiful and melancholy, shows the depth of character and the level of magnificence as he simply gazes and speaks through the various shots in the opening sequence. Here the audience sees Visconti's perfect ability to bring the best out of his actors as was seen through Helmut Berger in Ludwig. (Villien 45)

Visconti indulges in many things in his films, from actor performances to set design to twisted and psychologically impactful events. Formerly, melodramas tend to depict a family from the upper class with struggles that eventually unite and overcome them. Visconti disrupts it and transforms the family into a battleground. "The young men in his films cannot rise to a symbolic mutiny against society by opposing their father because they are almost always dead. Thus the end up opposing the norms of a society as a whole" (Bacon 102).

Such antagonism portrayed in Visconti's films consequently provides catalyst for an action beyond reconciliation that leads to the inevitable downfall of the character. (Servadio 67) In Visconti's vision, conformity leads to prosperity and most importantly survival. Whereas rebellion leads to tragedy and death. German ideology, especially Nazi ideology relied on conformity in order to keep believers in check and under control.

For Visconti, punishment from lack of conformity, the rebellion of patriarchy, concluded with loss of love, solidarity, friendship, integrity, and honesty from one's self and society. Thus individuality to Visconti, was deemed immoral and thus rebellion became perverse. A good example of this comes from The Damned in that Martin's violence expresses itself as pedophilia, mother incest, and sadism. In Ludwig his desire to placate Wagner and himself instead of help his country, and his battles with homosexuality, allowed for his eventual demise and death by suicide.

Many of Visconti's films are adaptations, and they also share in their male protagonists an absence of a father due to premature death. Furthermore, they include the mother behaving in a less than matronly manner towards their sons. These events are displayed in Rocco, Sandra and The Damned. In The Damned, the influence Sophie has on her son Martin grows to horrific magnitudes with the film ending in matricide. In Ludwig, the mother of King Ludwig has a political agenda and has little concern for her son or his emotional struggles. The reason perhaps why Visconti decided to include absent fathers and cold and distant mothers is because of his own experiences from his childhood.

Amidst making the film Ludwig, Visconti suffered a heart attack. It could have been from stress from filming. (Cardullo 134) As in previous films, he experienced some resistance from Italian civil servants and fascists, even as much as being blocked from filming in certain locations. But in the early 1970's, Italy went through what some may perceive as the worst crises since World War II allowing for Visconti to witness some of the worst attacks of terror.

Extremist groups such as the neo-fascists, tired of parliamentary democracy, began taking action and performing acts of terrorism through bombs and riots. It began with the right wingers responding to the student riots of 1968. From there left-wingers started their own assaults. These eventually led to people from the previous Resistance groups, to work against the establishment. When filming, Visconti and his film crew had to endure the aftermath of a bombing in Brescia by neo-Fascist group Ordine Nero. The attack wounded ninety and killed six. Another attack, three weeks after completion of the film, resulted in twelve dead and forty-eight wounded. "Three weeks after the film was completed, a bomb planted by the same group on a train between Florene and Bologna killed twelve and wounded forty-eight" (Bacon 132). Prince Valerio Borghese, officially dubbed the "Black Prince" attempted and temporarily succeeded in a coup, occupying the Ministry of the Interior. The bombings, the coup, and the riots, these are what led to the political issues discussed and referred to in Visconti's films.

Visconti originally developed the idea for filming Ludwig when he was searching for film locations for The Damned. The Wittlesbachs and the Bavarian civil service made filming the film easy as they permitted Visconti to film in any royal palace he wanted and free reign to use any of the family treasures Visconti needed to generate the appropriate setting. Additionally since a previous project had fallen through, he had enough time to focus on filming Ludwig. Going back to the film's plot, the film focuses on Ludwig's actions within the German unification.

King Ludwig or Louis as he later wrote (French for Ludwig) upon signing the decree to mobilize Bavarian troops was the inspiration for the film Ludwig. His actions and therefore his allegiance to his country, Bavaria, led to German unification after a decided victory over France. The unification came about from Bismarck wishing to consolidate Prussian leadership by persuading the king of the biggest Germanic state, that being Ludwig, to summon Prussian king to become the emperor of Germany and ask that his kingdom be recognized and become a part of the new empire. "Fearing that his own troops in Paris might participate in proclaiming Wilheilm the emperor in any case, Ludwig acquiesced" (Bacon 175). From the events of the unification came Ludwig's dive into romantic fantasy and his obsessive friendship with Richard Wagner.

His fantasy started with Wagner and his investment in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and Wagner's privileged lifestyle. (Wahl 99) The Bavarian government had no problem allowing Ludwig to spend so much as long as it came from his own fortune. When however, he tried to settle his debts by blackmailing the government, that's when the plan to depose him went into effect. "…the king was mentally unbalanced and unfit to rule. Since Otto was obviously in no better mental condition, their uncle Luitpold was invited to act as regent" (Bacon 175). When Ludwig went out for a walk with Professor Von Gudden, he managed to kill Gudden and himself through drowning. Although some say Ludwig was murdered, people see the two deaths as a murder, suicide. Otto, his mentally unstable brother took his place as king.

Ludwig's fantasy in real life and then seen through the film was a way for Visconti to show the world as it was in the upper class and how royalty lived during the time of the setting of the film. The film as previously stated, punishes Ludwig for his individuality and his refusal to participate in any working of the war of 1866. His dive into art and thus his obsession with Wagner gets greatly emphasized as does his perpetually unrequited love with his cousin, Elisabeth. Elisabeth sees Wagner's art and Ludwig's spending as less than ideal even though she understands the role of royalty and their lack of political involvement.

Eventually with marriage coming in the form of Sophie, Elisabeth's sister, Ludwig goes out for a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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