TCHAIKOVSKY. Directed by Igor Talankin. Music arranged and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin. Starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky as ‘Tchaikovsky’. Narrated by Laurence Harvey. Distributed by MGM-EMI. Cert ‘U’ Showing at the Odeon, Haymarket, London.
Unlike Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, the Russian film Tchaikovsky isn’t going to upset anybody, especially people like Mary Whitehouse, Ross McWhirter and David Holbrook, who like the films they see to be completely innocent and without a trace of the realities that exist in the actual world we live in.
Mosfilm studios is rumoured to have made Tchaikovsky because of the treatment of their greatest composers and national heroes received from Mr Russell. What we see in Britain is a considerably shortened version of what was originally a film that ran for just over four hours. Our version is just under two.
The Russians spared no expense in making this epic, but managed to exclude every reference to Tchaikovsky’s real life from the script. What we are left with is a rather naive and sensitive heterosexual character, who has an unhealthy amount of love and devotion for his mother. So everything that embarrassed the Russians when Mr Russell put a little reality into his character is omitted. Really, it’s so whiter than white, it surprised me that it wasn’t Walt Disney production.
Technically the film is superb. The camera work is copied from successful American and European movies that have been developed in the last five years and is extremely well done, but it doesn’t help one not notice the wooden performances from the actors. The music is really beautiful though, and the stereo sound at the Odeon, Haymarket, is excellent. It’s a pity that the film is drastically cut, because we are only treated to small fragments of some of the composer’s finest music. The ballet scenes are given slightly more time, and subsequently they are some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Highlights from the soundtrack are available on a two-record set issued by Phillips Records, (Cat No 6641048).
Amazed by their childishness, one wonders who the Russians think they are kidding. Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, undoubtably a fairly unhappy one, but whether this was due to his sexuality is debatable. What is obvious, is that his gayness was very much the basis of his inspiration for many of his greatest works. Personally, I would say it was the major influence on his Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. But that’s debatable too.
It’s a shame to see such a fantastic composer, whose genius in many respects will never be equalled, given such a reactionary whitewashing. As a result, the only people likely to be attracted to this film are the most ardent admirers of Tchaikovsky’s music.
Incidentally, on the night I saw Tchaikovsky, the whole of the audience was highly amused at a line from Laurence Harvey’s narration. It was when the composer had moved to Moscow and was “befriended by Nikolay Rubinstein, a great pianist and a gay companion.” And that truly is the only reference to one of the most important aspects of Tchaikovsky’s personality. Maybe that’s even too much for ‘clean-up’ Mary. Better watch out MGM-EMI.