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Lisztomania (1975)

With The Devils (1971) and Tommy (1975), Ken Russell created a very powerful style that intimidated producers and divided the critics. However, he came a cropper with this ugly, migraine-inducing and mind-numbing bore.

Hungarian composer Franz Liszt is here portrayed as a rock star, 1840-style, by Roger Daltrey of The Who. The shaggy-maned idol rips into his songs and the audience screams with excitement. Some ecstatic fans storm the stage, wanting simply to touch him. Some want to bear his child. One adoring woman announces she already has.

Russell portrays Liszt as a debauched celebrity pandering to public appetites with performances that are beneath his talent, while also spending much of his private time bouncing from one woman’s bedroom to the next.

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Liszt’s sexual wanderings climax with a fantasy sequence during which Liszt grows a Godzilla-sized erection, which, at one point, several women straddle simultaneously.

On instructions from the Pope (Ringo Starr), Liszt is charged with luring his former colleague, Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas), back to Christianity. This doesn’t go well, because Wagner has become an evil scientist preoccupied with bringing the Norse god Thor (Rick Wakeman) to life – although Thor, for some reason, wears the costume associated with the version of the character appearing in Marvel Comics of the 1960s and 1970s.

Sprinkled amid this nonsense are various scenes in which Daltrey, the lead singer of The Who and the star of Russell’s previous film, Tommy (released a few months earlier in 1975), sings original rock songs.

The result is a wild, kaleidoscopic romp, full of sexual symbolism, Carry On humour and Hammer horror send-ups – an epic of self-loathing, self-parody and self-destruction.

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Franz Liszt
Roger Daltrey 
Princess Carolyn

Sara Kestelman
Richard Wagner

Paul Nicholas
Countess Marie d’Agoult

Fiona Lewis 
Cosima

Veronica Quilligan
Olga Janina

Nell Campbell 
Hans Von Bulow

Andrew Reilly
The Pope

Ringo Starr
Count d’Agoult

John Justin 
Lola Montez

Anulka Dziubinska
George Sand

Imogen Claire 
Thor

Rick Wakeman
Captain

David English
Daniel

David Corti
Blondine

Lucy Willers
Governess

Felicity Devonshire 
Hector Berlioz

Murray Melvin 
Strauss

Andrew Faulds
Rossini

Ken Parry 
Frederic Chopin 

Ken Colley
Felix Mendelsohn

Otto Diamant

Director
Ken Russell