Almost a year after his death, Warner Archive brings one of his wildest — and that’s saying something — to a long-overdue American DVD release with 1975’s Lisztomania.
Based loosely — in every sense of the word — on the life of Franz Liszt, it’s a musical comedy horror sex fantasy unlike any you’ve ever seen. Renowned in 19th-century real life as a Hungarian pianist of unparalleled skill, he’s portrayed here (by The Who vocalist Roger Daltrey) as the rock star of his era and a man who elicits as many screams onstage as he does in bed with his conquests. By Russell’s anything-goes account, The Beatles of 1964 had nothing on Liszt, who could have audiences madly chanting for “Chopsticks,” and could alternate kissing a woman’s nipples in time to any speed set by a bedside metronome.
Raunchy sight gags abound, much ado about phallic imagery. There are fantasy sequences galore, such as Liszt traveling through woman's vaginal walls like a funhouse slide, but Lisztomania is one of those works where fantasy and reality seem to reside on the same piece of property. With Listz selling his soul to make music that soothes the savage beast, Russell’s script is rife with everything from voodoo to vampires, Ringo Starr and Dr. Frankenstein, Charlie Chaplin and Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner and Adolf Hitler, Superman and Thor — and no, he’s not above using fart noises for comic effect atop a film that already is comic effect.
It’s certainly something else; I’m just not quite sure what. But the ride was undoubtedly an original, orgasmic romp of success, excess and that thing you do that exists betwixt the two: sex. —Rod Lott