It was Ken Russell who first saw the similarities between Liszt and the excesses of modern day rock stars. Liszt’s concerts were attended by hundreds of young women, who screamed their hearts out at the composer’s flowing locks, long, dextrous fingers and incredible virtuosity at the piano. He was mobbed by these fans, who tore at his clothes, and ripped souvenir handkerchiefs that had been cast into the crowd (just like Elvis would do over a century later) to shreds. Liszt’s concerts were said to raise the mood of an audience to “mystical ecstasy”, all of which led to the term “Lisztomania” to describe the public’s excessive adoration of the randy composer.
Lisztomania became the title of Russell’s “scandalous” and “outrageous” 1975 cartoon bio-pic, starring Roger Daltrey as Liszt, with Paul Nicholas as Wagner, Ringo Starr as the Pope, Fiona Lewis as Marie d’Agoult and Sarah Kestelman as Princess Carolyn. As Films and Filming noted in this pictorial preview it was to be Russell’s “most spectacular and controversial” film, and while it turned the critics off, it is a film that has grown in reputation and influence since its first release. While not Russell’s best work, it’s still sand-in-the-face to the majority of pap pumped out into today’s multiplexes.
Previously on Dangerous Minds