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Rethinking Mahler$
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Jeremy Barham

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199316090

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199316090.001.0001

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On the British Reception of Ken Russell’s Mahler

On the British Reception of Ken Russell’s Mahler

(p.163) 9 On the British Reception of Ken Russell’s Mahler
Rethinking Mahler

Eftychia Papanikolaou

Oxford University Press

Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974) constitutes aesthetically and historically one of the most idiosyncratic and rewarding composer biopics. With a train as locus of the diegesis, the narrative provides overlapping flashbacks interspersed with fantasy and dream sequences. The viewer must put together Mahler’s life as if in a temporal puzzle, in a non-teleological fashion that contrasts with the linear progression of time implied by the train’s journey. Despite historical inconsistencies and extravagant presentation, the film offers commentary on a composer still being discovered. Its visual and aural synchronisations between Mahler’s memories and his music re-construct and manipulate Mahler’s—and also the audiences’—memories, and comment on the reception of Mahler’s life and music at that particular point in time, thus perpetuating existing images and ideologies. Rather than a study in myth-making, making encapsulates and appropriates the reception of the Mahler myth.

Keywords:   Mahler, Ken Russell, film, cinema, reception, Britain, narrative, flashback

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