Starring: Rudolph Nureyev, Michelle Phillips
Director: Ken Russell
Ken Russell’s account of Valentino’s rise from penniless dance instructor to icon of the silent cinema sees the director at his most Fellini-esque, with lush Art Deco set-dressing, outstandingly lavish costumes and a dreamy silvery-pastel colour palette.
As you’d expect with Russell co-writing, the script – which uses the framing device of the star’s funeral and the reminiscences of the various women who knew him to tell his rags to riches story – feels more like a series of lurid tabloid headlines than an in-depth probing of character. But the whole thing has great energy, with much of the story played for laughs, and Nureyev has a good stab at the lead role, hoofing his way elegantly through Valentino’s pre-Hollywood cabaret act and throwing himself with gusto into several nude scenes.
And as always with Russell, there are the fascinating incidental oddities – Felicity Kendal doing an American accent as a powerful talent scout, Leslie Caron chewing the scenery as a silent era diva who takes the rising star under her wing, and the very whitebread Michelle Phillips (from ’60s pop group The Mamas and the Papas) giving a shrill but quite effective turn as Valentino’s wife, who immediately starts alienating everyone around him by acting as his de facto manager and spiritual guru. Zipping along spryly, the film is less tortured and more high spirited than Russell’s other biopics, and people with a taste for the director’s work will be very glad to have in on this well-packaged Blu-ray. 7/10
The transfer wrings plenty of detail out of the rather soft film stock. The scene where Leslie Caron sweeps into Valentino’s lying-in wearing a cape of frothy white flowers looks absolutely spectacular, with its lush contrast of colours. You can count the sequins on Phillips’ glittery gowns, and the scenes replicating the famous moment
inside the tent in Valentino’s hit The Shiek are a riot of exquisite rugs, tassels and beads. 8/10
A very nice archive interview with Ludovic Kennedy quizzing Nureyev, only 9 minutes long but covering a lot of ground. Speaking fluent English, the star emerges as very humble and intelligent, talking about Russell’s “predisposition to unpluck the feathers from the bird, to unmake idols”. ~ 22 min piece in which Dudley Sutton (of Lovejoy fame) chats in garrulous, uninhibited fashion about working with Russell on this film and The Devil. ~ Audio only interview with Ken Russell, made around the time of Gothic, in which he talks about his return to Britain after working in America. ~ Audio commentary with Tim Lucas – the Video Watchdog editor does his usual thorough job, supplying actor bios and lots of background to the production. 8/10