Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Rock Opera > Fantasy > Counterculture > Classical Music > Politics > Concert > Pop > Theater > Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975/Warner Archive DVD)/Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live (1993/Eagle Blu-ray)

Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975/Warner Archive DVD)/Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live (1993/Eagle Blu-ray)


Picture: C+/B-     Sound: C+/B     Extras: D/C+     Film: B     Concert: B-*



PLEASE NOTE: Lisztomania is only available from Warner Bros. in their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.



The Music Video was once seen as a potential artform, but it has declined as such since the late 1980s with MTV eventually no longer showing them and most simply being lazy, formulaic or outright unmemorable.  However, the more talented artists know how to bring music and image together.  Ken Russell was a visual film director who showed his ability for memorable images as far back as Billion Dollar Brain, his 1969 feature film debut concluding the Harry Palmer/Michael Caine spy trilogy.


His work only became more interesting and challenging, with music becoming more prominent.  In 1975, he made two Rock Opera motion pictures.  First was the big hit all-star version of The Who’s classic Tommy.  Even if the score was not as good as the original 1968 double album (also reviewed on this site in a Deluxe Edition SA-CD/CD set), it was a watershed film and a precursor to the fast editing that would characterize Music Videos.  We have covered two Blu-ray editions as these links will show:








But even more challenging and the peak of all Rock Opera cinema that includes the likes of De Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise, the ill-advised Bee Gees/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show is Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975), with Roger Daltrey playing Franz Liszt in a surreal Tommy-like film (they even share some set design) that goes all the way in dealing with the first real life music mania (people were said to get deliriously excited by Liszt’s music at the time like no other music made before) and Russell immediately makes the Beatles/Who connection early on as Liszt gives a concert to screaming female fans (though this is also meant to recall initial reactions to male performers like Elvis Presley, Rudy Valley, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Johnny Ray, Paul Anka and all who followed) to make what will turn out to be its deepest points.


Warner Archive is issuing this on DVD as Criterion prepares to issue Quadrophenia on Blu-ray and with Tommy so stunning on Blu-ray, this was the right time.  The film opens with one of Liszt’s many female sexual romps immediately showing his roguish appeal and general carefree sense of womanizing, but he is also friends with Richard Wagner (a highly underrated Paul Nicholas performance) who have similar music paths at first and (at least implied here) were involved sexually.


However, the film is brutally honest about music, sex, sexuality, power and al the high and low points of their intersections, making this as bold as any Russell film including the still-unavailable in the U.S. The Witches (1971) which Warner also owns and has allowed to be issued overseas and as lavishly decorated and costumed as any of this films in general.  From here, we get a deep sexual exploration of the sexes, Liszt’s friendship with Wagner, his many female relationships and how his popularity hits reality in dealing with an unhappy Church (Ringo Starr plays The Pope!) and some who do not like his music or its affects.


This carries over into a split between Liszt and Wagner as Wagner (suggested in part from his sexual love of men) starts to look for a ‘superman’ that can make the future better, complete with literal references to Superhero genre characters (including Superman, many of the female fans looking like a Wonder Woman knock-off and when Wagner goes Victor Frankenstein, bring a variant of Marvel Comics’ Thor to life, as played appropriately by keyboardist extraordinaire, classic Yes member and composer for incidental music in this film, Rick Wakeman), while Liszt represents the open male from his sexuality and sexual activities to his music.


Russell rightly suggest how vital their music would be to the 20th Century and how underrated their influence was, including how Wagner would sadly inspire Nazi Fascism as the film gets darker and Wagner replaces his Thor with “a new superman”.  Russell and the cast pull no punches throughout, going all the way in the sense of the fantastic and at the same time, the most brutally honest and mortal.  This is rated R, but the sexual content alone would likely get this an NC-17 today, but it is a gem all around and though some things do not work, most of this does with Russell making his grand statement by the end of this remarkable film.


Sara Kestelman shows up as Princess Carolyn with sly references to her work in John Boorman’s underrated Zardoz (1973, reviewed elsewhere on this site) throughout her scenes and also good as Fiona Lewis, Neil Campbell, Andrew Reilly, John Justin and an uncredited Oliver Reed. 


This is a very welcome, overdue release from Warner Archive that deserves to be rediscovered by a wide-ranging new audience that would likely really enjoy it.  There are sadly no extras (not even a trailer), but we did notice a recent Blu-ray we reviewed that has exceptional sonics and a fine set of music performances by Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez (two of the best in the business) that features the music of both Liszt and Wagner.  You can read more about it at this link:





Some music geniuses with us to day like Peter Gabriel have not only made some of the best and most challenging music of our time, but also proved to be masters of the visual arts.  From his stage work with Genesis that inspired great bands like Split Enz to his amazing solo career, Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live (1993) is a fine stage concert from the time he was having his early commercial peak as a solo artist.  Featuring 15 songs, plus a bonus performance of Red Rain, the show is a fan favorite and shows Gabriel in action in a way that continues to impress.


The classics performed include Come Talk To Me, Steam, Across The River, Slow Marimbas, Shaking The Trees, Blood Of Eden, San Jacinto, Kiss That Frog, Washing Of The Water, Solsbury Hill, Digging In The Dirt, Sledgehammer, Secret World, Don’t Give Up and In Your Eyes.  Don’t Give Up of course is his duet with Kate Bush, but substituting for her effectively as well as singing on many of the other songs here is a then-unknown Paula Cole.  This is a solid show and worth revisiting, plus a nicely illustrated booklet with some tech information is also included as the only other extra in the Blu-ray case.

For more of Gabriel, try this release of his recent concert New Blood, which was issued on Blu-ray, as well as Blu-ray 3D:





The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot on 35mm film in true anamorphic Panavision by Director of Photography Peter Suschitzky, now known for his many memorable films with David Lynch, he previously lensed The Rocky Horror Picture Show and worked again with Russell on his 1977 biopic Valentino, but his most important work in all of this is lensing Peter Watkins’ 1967 masterwork Privilege (one of several landmark works with Watkins) featuring Manfred Mann lead singer Paul Jones as insanely ultra-popular singer Steven Shorter who has taken England by storm so much, he is now a toy for dangerous political interests.  Suschitzky continues some of the visual approaches here in Lisztomania, yet it melds with Russell’s distinctive style perfectly.  For more on Privilege, see our coverage of the restored film at these links:


Region Free Blu-ray






Processed in Rank Color, U.S prints were simpler EastmanColor-like print releases, but it is possible that Technicolor U.K. might have issued dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints there.  Either way, the print used here has some soft shots, some print damage at times and some aged footage, but there are more than enough moments of definition, detail and color range to show what the filmmakers intended.  I hope this is further restored for a future Blu-ray of some kind because Russell and Suschitzky use the widescreen scope frame to its fullest extent.  This is solid filmmaking all the way.


*The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on World originated on regular 16mm film shot in a 1.33 X 1 frame.  Restored for this release, the concert has been reframed to be widescreen, which will make some purists unhappy, but Gabriel owns the film, now and approved of this.  I still think it should have been available via seamless branching in both the original and widescreen frames, especially since it looks like we are missing a little bit of action at times.  The resulting transfer looks good, but why is it not 1080p?  That holds back the performance a bit too, unfortunately, reinforcing stereotypes about 16mm not looking good on Blu-ray.  Otherwise, color and many shots look good, though you could argue you are still missing something from the concert.


The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound on Lisztomania can be a little soft, but this was one of the first-ever films issued in old Dolby System, which means the old A-type analog noise reduction system.  Apparently, it was for front channels, but when you apply Pro Logic, this does help the sound.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on World fares better by being a more recent recording, and though it can show it’s age a bit, is very well recorded and offers a consistent soundfield with nice dynamic range throughout.  Any of the sound issues that plagued the earlier DVD release are gone here.



To order Lisztomania, go to this link:








and search for the title by name.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com