When the DV was released in US the American mass-cultural project of “liberating de-sublimation” in all areas of life was in a process of being deployed in full power. Visconti’s film narrates the story of the last weeks of the life of a person of rare sublimity and an exceptional artist (Visconti sculpted his protagonist in view of Gustav Mahler) who became erotically obsessed with a young boy of classical beauty inspiring in the musician’s unconscious the mystical project of a priori reincarnation – the feeling that with his passing away he will not lose the beauty of this world completely (spiritual ties to the boy will somehow prevent it from happening). In mid-70s Visconti’s film fell victim to a climate antithetical to the psychological sophistication as “educated snobbery” – it was understood as a sentimental story about an old and sick homosexual, Gustav Aschenbach coming out of the closet.

Visconti in advance addresses the tendency of the pop-cultural mind not to differentiate between homoeroticism and homosexuality – he personifies this non-differentiation into two episodic characters: one on the ship to Venice who insinuates that Gustav harbors “ambiguous” sexual intentions, and the clownish pantomime artist who in his performance “deconstructs” Gustav’s spiritual torments as sexual frustration. Through postures and gestures of his performance the pantomimist masterfully creates a picture of Gustav’s masturbatory torments which he interprets as a typical attribute of the wealthy but de-vitalized visitors of the Venice beaches. But Visconti’s Aschenbach is, as if, intermediary between homosexual desire and homoerotic sensitivity, as Mahler as an aesthete is transitional figure between “romanticism” and intellectualized modernism.

Today, in forty years after the film was made, it becomes more obvious that DV is not gay-lib flick; the film is a cultural call for more complicated psychological life and more sublime and profound emotional ties between lovers, friends and human beings in general. Indeed, DV is about cognitive rapport between the emotional intelligence of two human beings, Gustav and Tadzio, both trying to understand the mystery of Gustav’s attraction to the boy. Homoeroticism (as different from homosexuality) is the spiritual parenthood or brotherhood or sisterhood helping people to accept death as a symbolic resurrection instead of being hooked on surplus-money and extra-power as a symbolic immortality. Homoeroticism neither excludes, nor is it inseparable from homosexuality and doesn’t promote or endorse it. Gustav Aschenbach, according to the film, is “in love” with that undefined grace of the very vitality of life in Tadzio.

The film is a unique visual incarnation of serious music (here, Mahler’s). The cognitive mutuality between Gustav and Tadzio is depicted by Visconti as triumph of human intelligence over the human predicaments. We see how eroticism of the very human intelligence is a part of sublimity of life. Dirk Bogarde’s performance registering even the smallest movements in Gustav’s feelings with tactful articulateness and grace is unique example of the actor’s mastery of human psychology. Visconti again proves himself as the maestro of psycho-analytic aesthetics of human soul.

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Bjorn Andresen (Tadzio) is resting in Visconti’s chair

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Visconti explains to Dirk Bogarde the idiosyncratic nature of Gustav’s “overreaction” on being rushed by the hotel clerk to check out and leave.

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Visconti is “blessing” Dirk Bogarde for the role of Gustav Aschenbach, although Bogarde “didn’t look like Mahler but rather like Thomas Mann”.

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Visconti and Dirk Bogarde discuss Aschenbach’s psychological situation of being stuck in aesthetics between spirit and flesh

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Visconti “grooms” Silvana Mangano (Tadzio’s mother) before shooting a scene

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Tadzio’s mother calls out for her son (Silvana Mangano calls for Tadzio) who is “kidnapped” by the games of the waves.

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Gustav, after getting heart troubles, is on his way to Venice

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Tadzio is resting after overindulging in the sea

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Tadzio in Gustav’s post-memory

Posted on Feb 25, 2012 –   Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” (1971) and How It Was Misperceived By The American Mass Cultural Worldview – (De-sublimated) “Sexcitement” vs. Overtones of Homoeroticism As A Part of Existential Sublime by Acting-Out Politics