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January 28, 2012

Movie Review: Paganini (1989)

Directed By Klaus Kinski

Review by Greg Goodsell

Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840) was renowned Italian violinist who enjoyed a devoted female following in the manner of today’s popular musicians. So proficient was he at the violin, stories were rife that he had sold his soul for his musical skill. Other stories circulated on his notorious frugality, only owning one set of clothes that he kept in a violin case in spite of his many millions. Even more widespread were stories of his conquests with countless women, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger sister among his bedpost notches. Noted cinema ham Klaus Kinski obviously found an affinity for the subject matter, and wrote, directed and starred in this biopic. A labor of love, Kinski rounded out his cast whose last names were Kinski as well. Not surprisingly the resulting film was as good as it sounded!

Buy Paganini on DVD

The release of Paganini to DVD is fortuitous with the passing of British lion director Ken Russell, who this writer was very fortunate to meet a year prior to his death. The famed iconoclast first gained attention with a series of big screen biographies on classical composers such as Mahler and The Music Lovers that would bend time and space with their use of creative anachronism and surreal beauty. Paganini is obviously indebted to Russell. But alas, it resembles his end-of-life type work such as The Fall of the Louse of Usher—scatter-shot, unfocused with a cast brimming with family members!

Many scenes in Paganini attempt to be lit solely with candlelight in the manner of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). These scenes come out dark and grainy, not unlike an amateur photographer’s first use of “fast film.” The majority of the shots likewise are of the hand-held camera with a palsied photography variety, so viewers are advised to stock up on the Dramamine. A scene early on has a lady-in-waiting drawing her coach alongside two horses copulating as “she strokes the dolphin. It’s a good thing this happens at the onset as it doesn’t get better from there, gang!

For an essentially lousy film, the DVD is lousy with extras. The Entertainment One and MYA Communication version comes in a two-DVD set, the first being the 84-minute theatrical version and the 98-minute director’s cut respectively. Disc one has the 50-minute feature “Backstage” with behind-the-scenes footage. There is also a five-minute Cannes Press Conference in French sans subtitles. Disc Two contains 50 minutes of Deleted and extended scenes along with a photo gallery and the original trailer.

Completed shortly before Kinski’s death, Paganini is not a project that anyone would really wish to be actively associated with, despite the actor’s long, hard road to get the film shot and completed. If you’re in a Kinski mood, you’ll be better served with one of his later horror pictures like Crawlspace (1989) or the Werner Herzog documentary, My Best Fiend, detailing their highly unusual love-hate relationship.

1 comment:

  1. Cinematic ham? Greg, you're killing me baby! Interesting article though and your work is great, as always.