(Ringo Starr, Roger Daltrey, et al / DVD / R / 2012 / Warner Archive)
Overview: The shaggy-maned idol rips into his song – and the audience screams with excitement. Some ecstatic fans storm the stage, wanting simply to touch him. Some want to bear his child. One adoring woman announces she already has. And outside the hall, a horse-drawn carriage waits to whisk the performer away. Meet Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey), rock star, circa 1840. And great ready for all the glitter, groupies and gaudy good times of Lisztomania!
DVD Verdict: In truth, I had wanted to see 'Lisztomania' since first reading about it in the brilliant Golden Turkey Awards in 1980. True to its reputation, Roger Daltrey plays Franz Liszt in a highly stylized (major understatement) manner as an oversexed rock star, singing his way from one predicament to another and making an arch enemy of Richard Wagner, who exists solely to subjugate the world to Nazi Germany, and who is a vampire on the side. I appreciated that Wagner's hat said "Nietzsche," which made his philosophy somewhat evident early on.
In the midst of this bedlam Pope Ringo (I'm not kidding: Ringo Starr is the Pope, complete with eye patch and cowboy boots) makes Liszt attempt to convert Wagner to Catholicism in exchange for his (the Pope's) permission for Liszt to marry. Confused? Don't be. Director Ken Russell explained in an interview at the time of release that "the past attracts me because when dealing with it you don't have to be historically accurate", then helpfully adds that 'Lisztomania' is "pure fantasy based on fact rather than straight factual biography." I'll say.
What this liberty with the truth gives Russell license to do here is stultifying: I am still most amazed by the scene in which Liszt is tormented by noxious flatus from rectum-shaped wall fixtures, then performs a musical number featuring his ten foot long phallus, which meets a guillotine before it's all over. Understated, you say? Well perhaps you will enjoy the death harpsichord, the pipe organ spaceship, and a prolonged familial scene done as Charlie Chaplin. Yes, that's right: Roger Daltrey playing Franz Liszt playing Charlie Chaplin. I would say that this isn't "straight factual biography," although I don't actually know what it is.
'Lisztomania' is absolutely impossible to, shall we say, rate in order for someone to know if they would also like to watch it! There are some entertaining moments, and some surrealistic moments of brilliance, but there are also loads of miscues and plain bad acting in abundance. This film is unquestionably for adults only, please trust me!
Your own appraisal will depend entirely on your viewpoint: there are people who think it's utterly brilliant, while others (probably many more others) find it pretentious and over the top. I think it has value as a touchstone of 1970's overexuberance (and drugs, no doubt.) The one thing I can say without question about 'Lisztomania' is that it's never predictable and never boring! This product is manufactured on demand using DVD-R recordable media. This is a Widescreen Presentation 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 TVs.