Valentino (1977)

Valentino (1977), directed by Ken Russell.

I am compelled to see every Ken Russell film, but he is a director I can't recommend to anyone who is not already watching Ken Russell films. I make an exception for Altered States (1980), talking it up to anyone who retains a sense of wonder.

He is more restrained in some pictures than in others, but when you let him go he is unmatched in the spectacularly excessive, the self-indulgently vulgar. He admits it: that's what Art is, he says.

This one is not as wild as Lisztomania (1975), but -- as in all his "lives of the artists" films -- no one should mistake it for a documentary. Historical accuracy is not important to him; his biopics are more like novels.

I also note that his source is a biography by Brad Steiger, prolific generator of books on UFOs and psychic topics.

Much interesting material embedded in a lot of "who cares? why is this in the film?" The commentary track defends the structure, pointing out that Valentino's life is told by the people in it (mostly women) and that he was a different man to each of them. Russell claimed that each scene was purposefully done in a different style. The commentator raves about the set design and massive costuming effort.

As is often the case with Russell films, I missed subtitles. Many accents, both real and put-on, are hard to follow. Rudolf Nureyev is a Russian speaking English with an Italian accent.

He's rather good in the role. Not a professional actor but he had been performing all his life and the tango dancing was no obstacle. He could put on that erotic fierceness the role requires.

Also with ex-singer Michelle Phillips, last seen in Dillinger (1973). She contributes actual nudity, as shown in the sexy poster:

They enact a film fantasy of a different sort. Those passion scenes of yesteryear: what if we could see the people strip off and actually go at it, which is what viewers were imagining anyway?

Penelope Milford, last seen in Coming Home (1978), contributes comical sexiness as the female lead in The Sheik (1921). She and Valentino retire to the tent for some "rehearsal" and she is awfully vigorous, slapping his face with her boobs (loud SMACK sound effect).

Nureyev didn't want to do that scene, finding it vulgar, but came around. As to disputes and yelling on the set: "Sure, that happens. We do much worse in the ballet".

Kino Blu-ray. No subtitles, but a valuable commentary track by an enthusiastic fan.

He says Valentino was so popular with women because they knew he was "safe". It was shared role playing. No matter how erotically intense he could be, everyone knew there was no harm in him.

He died at age 31 and has 39 acting credits in the IMDB.