Philip Kitcher on Luchino Visconti's Morte a Venizia

Deaths in Venice

This week our featured book is Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach by Philip Kitcher. Today, we have a couple brief excerpts from Deaths in Venice, in which Kitcher discusses Luchino Visconti’s film version of Mann’s novella, focusing particularly on the film’s ending and on the ways that the film differs from the novella and Britten’s opera. We’ve included a couple of clips from and about Visconti’s film, as well.

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“Luchino Visconti’s film Morte a Venezia ends with Dirk Bogarde as Aschenbach, hair dye and makeup streaming down his face, apparently suffering cardiac arrest on the beach–from which he is carted unceremoniously away by two attendants, The slow zoom out, with the figures becoming ever smaller and more anonymous, adds an ironic touch of Visconti’s own, a homage to Mann’s manner, even though both the ungainly configuration of the body–more like a heavy sack of fertilizer than the remains of a respected visitor–and the reduction of Aschenbach to a small speck seem quite at odds with the writer’s regained dignity in the novella’s final sentence.” — Philip Kitcher

Final scene

“Nevertheless, although mention of Visconti in discussions of the novella is typically an occasion for negative, even scathing, comments, the film deserves defense not simply for the qualities students of film rightly emphasize but also for its illuminating perspective on Mann’s story. The kernel of Visconti’s insight, expressed already in the opening shots of the frail Aschenbach and most fully in the depiction of heart failure on the lido, lies in his emancipating the writer’s death from the obvious diagnosis. Visconti’s Aschenbach is not a victim of the cholera that plagues Venice. Instead, he dies as the result of a condition that has been with him for a long time, possibly for his whole life.”

Watch the movie’s trailer

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