Valentino (Kino Lorber, NR)

Valentino 75To enjoy Valentino, you have to take what you like and leave the rest.





Valentino 500

Ken Russell once described his films as novels rather than biographies, thus forestalling the criticism that a film bearing the name of a real person should correspond in an obvious way to the actual life of the person named. You may not agree with Russell’s approach, but it does establish one key point: you should never come to a Ken Russell film looking for reality. Besides, as a character in Valentino says, who needs the truth when you have a good story?

With that proviso in mind, it’s possible to look Russell’s 1977 Valentino for what it is—an over-the-top film about an over-the-top personality of a prior era, played by a notable personality of the filmmaker’s era. Valentino was both a critical and commercial flop upon its first release, and I would never argue that this is a great, or even a good, film. However, it is certainly a Ken Russell film, albeit a rather tame one compared to, say, The Devils (1971).

Valentino begins with documentary footage of Valentino’s funeral (reportedly 100,000 people showed up to pay their respects to the silent film star), which segues into a live-action recreation of the funeral. From there, Valentino’s story is told through the flashbacks of several women, beginning with that of Bianca de Saulles (Emily Bolton), who knew Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) during his career as a taxi dancer.

Next up is June Mathis (Felicity Kendal), who knew Valentino from his cabaret days (“he was a partner to an exhibition dancer on the skids…he carried that act in more ways than one”). As promised, Valentino’s partner is a hopeless drunk, but her weakness gives him the opportunity to meet his first wife, Jean Acker (a goth-like Carol Kane). Acker, a successful actress, motivates Valentino to try his luck in films, leading to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which made him a star.

The memories of Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron, chewing up all the scenery), who arrives at the funeral escorted by a retinue of purple-veiled attendants, take us back to the set of The Four Horsemen. Natcha Rambova (Michelle Phillips), Valentino’s second wife, takes us the rest of the way, beginning with her recollections of The Sheik (note to fast-forwarders—this sequence includes the famous nude scene, and there’s more nudity to come).

To enjoy Valentino, you need to be able to appreciate Russell’s inspired visual compositions, which are well-served by this Blu-ray transfer, while overlooking the cringe-worthy dialogue and the mechanical nature of the plot. Or, to look at it another way, you have to take what you like and leave the rest. Nureyev’s dancing is also a great plus (the man did know how to move), and he was not a terrible actor, either, given the evidence of this film. On the other hand, it’s difficult to judge anyone’s acting by this film, as even the famous actors don’t come off well, given the clunky dialogue and plot, and the fact that many are reduced to playing one-note cameos of famous people.

Extras on the disc include an audio commentary by Tim Lucas, a video interview with Bernard Rose (3 min.; he proclaims Russell’s film a curate’s egg, and I couldn’t agree more), a video introduction to the film by Orson Welles (17 min.), footage of Valentino’s funeral procession (3 min.), a montage of behind-the-scenes stills (1 min.), and four trailers: two for Valentino, and one each for Blood and Sand and Billion Dollar Brain. | Sarah Boslaugh

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