ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Entertainment and Media»
  • Movies & Movie Reviews


Updated on November 5, 2014

Mahler (1974)

A few decades ago, I watched Ken Russell's "Mahler" in an art-house movie theater in West Los Angeles. I went into this completely blind -- or nearly so. I had previously observed Russell's "The Devils," so I really didn't know what I'd be witnessing.

I had started to become a classical music fan -- particularly a Beethoven fan, but I wasn't really cognizant of Gustav Mahler's compositions. I think the bits I listened to on the radio kind of gave me a creepy feeling.


Spectacular Improvisation

The movie kind of dazzled me. Now, if you hate Ken Russell, you don't need to read any further.

As for myself I was really pulled in -- from the very beginning. From the onset it was clear that Ken Russell was going to use Mahler's own music to depict imagery drawn from the director's own imagination. For me this strange melding of Mahler's symphonic works (mostly) and Ken Russell's extremely strange interpretations worked in a bizarre way.

Opening Sequence
Opening Sequence

Inaccurate But Loving

The movie critics and musicologists lambasted the film for its inaccuracies. Their criticism may be justified, but when you willingly go to see a Ken Russell film, you have to expect wild distortions, exaggerations and foolery. The film is not meant to be a documentary. He's done films on a number of musical composers, and he takes whatever license he chooses, without the fear of ridicule. "Mahler" is no exception. He has a great deal of fun with the subject.

The film is actually very loving. He portrays Mahler in a sympathetic manner. The entire experience takes place on a train ride. Mahler and his wife (Alma) occupy their cabin, and you feel the tension and aloofness of both toward each other. Relying on flashbacks, dreams/nightmares, Russell is able to provide a convincing veneer to Mahler's relationships with his early family, Hugo Wolf, his youthful enchantment with nature, his sacrifices to survive as a conductor, the suicide of his brother, his inescapable conversion to Christianity, the death of one of his children, and his struggles with Alma. Structurally, this never gets too far out of hand because we always return to the train cabin. The dialogue is tight and limited.

Alma Struggling to be Born
Alma Struggling to be Born

Film Values

The costuming is exceptional, as is the cinematography. Russell relies primarily upon stark visuals to convey his story. The visuals (which are very rich) combined with Gustav Mahler's own music, make a powerful impact.

The actors are all marvelous. Robert Powell bears such a strong resemblance to the actual Gustav Mahler it's easy to forget that you are watching a performance. Georgina Hale (as Alma) turns in a mesmerizing effort. Together, they carry the weight of the film with a beautiful dexterity.

Robert Powell as Mahler
Robert Powell as Mahler

On a personal level, the film led me to buy the collected, boxed works of Mahler on vinyl. I'd put on an LP and just listen. For quite a while I found much of the work to be dissonant and perturbing. Slowly, I started to "understand" what Mahler was doing and had a kind of awakening and full appreciation of Mahler's talents. He was bridging an odd period in musical history -- transitioning from the romantic era into the 20th Century. The man was a true genius -- almost completely unappreciated in his own time. I became such an admirer that I joined the Gustav Mahler Society in Los Angeles (which I do not think still exists). Membership didn't involve too much on the part of followers. Interested members could periodically gather at a home in the Hollywood Hills. We'd listen to some Mahler then express our feelings/reactions.

The gift/curse of genius
The gift/curse of genius

Unfortunately, the Ken Russell film is not available in the US (unless you have a DVD player that can also play European-formatted material) -- at least this was true the last time I checked. I'd like to see this film converted to BluRay and released in the US.

The IMDB gives the film a 7.3 rating, which is pretty decent. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 79% rating, but has very few contributors to the vote.

Happily, there are a number of Mahler's symphonies performed in live performance (and otherwise) available on YouTube.

Photographic Portrait of Gustav Mahler
Photographic Portrait of Gustav Mahler

Quite nicely, the entire Ken Russell film is available for viewing (for now at least) on you tube.

Mahler (by Ken Russell)


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)