Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia) (1971)

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Released 17-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Visconti's Venice
Gallery-Photo-A Tour Of Venice
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 125:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (75:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Luchino Visconti

Warner Home Video
Starring Dirk Bogarde
Romolo Valli
Mark Burns
Nora Ricci
Marisa Berenson
Carole André
Björn Andrésen
Silvana Mangano
Leslie French
Franco Fabrizi
Antonio Appicella
Sergio Garfagnoli
Ciro Cristofoletti
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Gustav Mahler
Franz Lehár
Franz Lehár

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Venice, 1911. German composer Gustave von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) has travelled from his native Munich for a rest cure in Venice. He is suffering from a heart condition. In the lounge of the plush Lido hotel he spots a Polish family, headed up by Mrs Moore (Silvana Mangano) and finds himself strangely attracted to her androgynous teenage son Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen). Gradually his obsession increases. Meanwhile, a plague threatens the city.

    I would write more about the plot, but there is not that much more to tell about what is essentially a mood piece. There are long gaps without dialogue, and much of the story is told visually. Death in Venice is based on a novella by the German writer Thomas Mann, which is short enough that you could read it during the just over two hours it takes for this film to unfold, probably with some time left over. The protagonist of the book was partly inspired by Gustav Mahler, the Austrian composer who died in 1911 and whose music is used judiciously in this film, though Mahler himself did not have homosexual leanings as far as I know. Thomas Mann is alleged to have been a homosexual (though he did marry and have six children) and much of the storyline is supposedly based on Mann's own experiences.

    There are some differences between the book and the film - in the book, von Aschenbach was a writer, not a composer, and he did not travel to Venice for health reasons, but to seek out new surroundings and sensations - but mostly this is a literal adaptation of the events depicted in the book. Much of the novella is given over to ponderings on art and beauty, and this element is lost in the film. What we are left with is the hollow shell of the story, and while it is exquisitely filmed, it seems to lack something at the core. Bogarde's von Aschenbach comes across as an ageing, homosexual voyeur rather than Mann's disturbed artist struggling with an attraction that he does not understand to an idealised youth.

    Dirk Bogarde gives an overripe performance as the protagonist. His constant leering and grinning get annoying after a while. The film is slow and deliberately paced, and there is no real emotional centre to the film. Von Aschenbach did not become a character that I could identify with and so I did not really care what happened to him. Mark Burns yells and overacts badly as Alfred during von Aschenbach's flashbacks to Munich, in some poorly judged sequences. Silvana Mangano does not have to do much but look good for the camera, which is a pity considering she was a fine and underrated dramatic actress. Those of you who have seen Fellini's early masterpiece I Vitelloni may recognise Franco Fabrizi in the tiny role of the barber.

    Luchino Visconti indulges too often in his fondness for zooms and pans, which continually draw attention to themselves. On the other hand, he has gone to considerable effort to ensure authenticity of the locations, decor and costumes, and with the gorgeous cinematography of Pasquale De Santis this film is a treat to look at.

    Some critics see this as a masterpiece, and it seems to have been Visconti's biggest success internationally, so if you are seriously interested in the cinema you should seek this out and form your own opinion.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is pleasingly sharp throughout. Photography is in deep focus much of the time so the whole visual area of the film is sharp and detailed. Shadow detail is satisfactory as most of the film is well lit.

    There is a range of colours present from light pastel shades to deep primary colours, and all are rendered with accuracy. Flesh tones look good and blacks are very black. There is no noticeable low-level noise present. The film has sufficient grain to make it look like a film, but not enough to be annoying. The film overall has that 1970s European look, with a pale, transparent light and a very slight muting of the colour palette, which is almost certainly due to the film stock used.

    As the film has a lot of detail, especially with the straight lines of buildings and the complex outlines of latticework and furniture, aliasing occurs regularly throughout. The effect is relatively mild but it is noticeable and therefore distracting. There is a severe example of the moire effect at 42:15 on the finely striped bathing costume worn by Tadzio.

    Edge enhancement is present throughout, though it only becomes distracting when objects are outlined against the sky. The level of enhancement is relatively small and therefore not of concern.

    The print used for the transfer was in quite good condition, but there is some dirt and dust at the beginning of the film, with occasional small white specks throughout. There is also a scratch visible at 34:10, and an indistinct dark blotch appears towards the upper right corner of the image from 9:00 to 11:04.

    Subtitles are provided in ten languages. Not all of the dialogue is in English. Tadzio's family speak in Polish, and some of the minor characters speak in Italian. I suspect that it was Visconti's intention that this dialogue remain untranslated, so that the viewer shares von Aschenbach's point of view. If you switch the English subtitles on, a lot of this dialogue is translated, which may not be what the film-maker intended.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change occurring during a mid-scene cut at 75:05. The layer change is mildly disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are three audio tracks provided for this film. The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 1.0, reflecting the original mono soundtrack, with alternative Italian and French 1.0 tracks included. The film seems to have been shot in English, though most of the actors are dubbed. It is certainly Dirk Bogarde's voice on the English track, and I am pretty sure that Romolo Valli's voice is his own as well. The lip sync for these actors is very good, and some scenes may have been shot with sound, though this was unusual for Italian-made films of this era. The alternative tracks also seem to be well done from the sample I made of them. However, you cannot switch audio tracks while playing the film: you can only do this from the menu.

    Dialogue is generally clear though often it is recorded at a low level and needs the volume increased to be understandable. Some of the Italian accents are a little difficult to decipher. The sound is also a little tinny and even distorted, such as the crowd sounds in the railway station sequence.

    The music is by Gustav Mahler, and there is some suggestion during the film that this music is by von Aschenbach himself. There is a brief excerpt from Mahler's Third Symphony, but the bulk of the music is the Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony, which is used to very good effect. There is also some Beethoven played by a pianist in a brothel.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    The Adagietto is played as background to the static main menu.

Visconti's Venice (8:59)

    This short promotional film made during the making of the film (and inappropriately if accurately translated on the slick as Viscount's Venice) is in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The film features Visconti travelling through Venice and setting up some of the shots seen in the film, establishing his credentials as a perfectionist. He is interviewed (in English) and gives his opinion that there is justification for changing the protagonist from a writer to a composer, but does not elaborate. There is also a short voice-only interview with Bogarde. This film is an interesting puff-piece made for the American market and is a welcome inclusion.

Photo Gallery

    A series of 16x9 enhanced photographs from the production, including publicity and behind-the-scenes shots, mostly in black and white. One shot includes the actor Helmut Berger, who does not appear in this film but was in several other Visconti films.

Theatrical Trailer (3:41)

    This is an original trailer in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced, telling us that the film is a masterpiece and that we should all see it. The trailer is in average condition and has not been restored.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has been released on DVD in Region 1 with exactly the same extras as the Region 4, and judging by the available reviews, using the same print material, so I will rate this a draw.


    A slow and ponderous film that is beautiful to look at but is not particularly dramatic or moving. A lesser film by a great Italian master. Now, if they would only release the restored version of The Leopard in Region 4....

    The video quality is quite good.

    The audio quality is slightly below average.

    The extras are good but not generous.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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