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As a relatively novice in the career of Luchino Visconti, Ludwig seems like a culmination of the skills he cultivated with other, more well-known films, like Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), and Death in Venice (1971). This retelling of the life and times of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, from his crowning in 1864 through his tormented love life and until his death combines all the pomp and ceremony of those earlier films and expands it beyond the realms of a normal film concept of ‘epic.’ Arguably, Visconti allows himself to languish too longingly on the ritualistic and decorative aspects of historical culture without considering the impact on the drama, but, then, Ludwig never really falls in line with modern sensibilities (not to mention that some of the languishing is meant to illustrate the King’s increasing detachment from reality). The film sort of heralds the coming of popular BBC miniseries costume dramas, yet not matching their specific timbre or tone (none of the ‘episodes’ end on a cliff-hanger and the plot hinges on a scene-to-scene basis, rather than connecting directly to a larger, arcing story structure, for example). The beautiful production design can only carry such an elegant epic so far. The enduring value here is actually in the dated and unique theatricality of Visconti’s choices. Some sequences feel quite contemporary – at least as the term relates to the early ‘70s time period in which the film was made – while others are almost operatic in their paring of affected performance and aggressively-mixed, period-appropriate music.
 
 Ludwig: Limited Edition

Video


Like The Leopard, multiple cuts of Ludwig were released in multiple regions. According to most accounts, the international theatrical cut runs 173 minutes, while the complete extended cut – which was apparently made without Visconti’s input – runs a whopping 236 minutes. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes the extended cut, which they have labeled the ‘theatrical version’ and runs 238 minutes, alongside a previously unavailable cut, which they have labeled the ‘television version’ and divided into five parts, running a total of 249 minutes (most of which seems to be opening/closing credits). The footage is spread over two discs with seamless branching to cover the 11 minutes of differences between these versions without wasting any disc space. In comparison, DVD releases from Koch Lorber in the US and Kinowelt in German appear to feature a 247-minute version and the UK disc from Infinity Arthouse ran about 228 minutes (PAL speed, I assume).
 
Arrow’s new 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is derived from a 2K scan of the original film negative. I assume that the footage was then cleaned up substantially, because the picture quality remains quite consistent and clean, hampered only by some minor dots and scratches. The footage has limits in terms of detail and clarity due sometimes to bouncy grain levels. These are mostly inhibited by the use of shallow focus, image-warping anamorphic lenses, and a general lack of close-ups. Colour quality is strong throughout, but grows more impressive as Ludwig begins surrounding himself with increasingly gaudy costumes and furnishings. The sheer complexity of some shots leads to minor bleeding and blocking, usually in reference to reds, pinks, and warmer flesh tones. Contrast appears accurate with the exception of a few greyish black levels during the darkest sequences.
 
 Ludwig: Limited Edition

Audio


Arrow has included both the original Italian dub and, for the first time on digital home video, the English dub, both in LPCM 1.0 mono sound. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to conjure all of the English dialogue. Either that or the English tracks were thrown out when the film was trimmed for international release. Here’s the part where I remind you that nearly all Italian releases from the era were shot silently, except many sequences in Ludwig clearly feature synced sound – assuming you’re watching the English track. The quality of this live audio is a bit ‘canned’ at times, compared to the more consistent dubbed scenes/shots (both English and Italian), but it’s far from problematic. The international cast is also clearly speaking English. Though the mix of accents isn’t exactly what one would call historically accurate, it is good fun and a defining aspect of Visconti’s unique approach (producer Dieter Geissler complains about this during the interview included with this collection). The film’s score is made up of established classical motifs composed by Offenbach, Wagner, and others. As I mentioned above, the music is integrated into some scenes in a manner that overlaps the dialogue and creates the feeling of a opera, minus the singing, of course.
 
 Ludwig: Limited Edition

Extras


  • Disc one:
    • Helmut Berger: The Mad King (16:05, HD) – The first exclusive Arrow extra is an interview with the always enjoyably eccentric lead actor. He is asked questions about the making of Ludwig, The Damned, and Conversation Piece (both directed by Visconti, 1969, 1974, respectfully), but he’s never the type to stay on-message, so he wanders off on some tangents and is amusingly rude to the interviewer. Note that this was clearly recorded at the same time as the interview that appears on Arrow’s Bloodstained Butterfly Blu-ray release.
    • Luchino Visconti (60:35, SD) – This documentary portrait of the director (which also appeared on the Infinity Arthouse and Kinowelt DVDs) directed by Carlo Lizzani, who made the beautifully melancholic spaghetti western Requiescant. It covers the bulk of his career with clips and extensive interviews with many collaborators.
    • Two excerpts from the English language soundtrack (1:28, 0:21, HD) – The final cut of the film was too heavily edited for Arrow to properly sync these short clips with the video, so they’ve included them separately as audio-only files.
    • Trailer
  • Disc two:
    • Producing Ludwig (14:21) – The second brand new interview features producer Dieter Geissler discussing the ins & outs of the film’s multinational financing and on-set feuds.
    • Speaking with Suso Cecchi d'Amico (48:12, SD) – This extended, apparently made-for-Italian-TV interview/featurette covers the life and times of ‘collaborating’ writer Suso Cecchi d'Amico. It includes brief clips and trailers from the movies that she and her family worked on over the decades.
    • Silvana Mangano: The Scent of a Primrose (31:12, HD) – This short doc on the actress’ career also seems to have been made-for-Italian-TV and previously appeared on both the Koch and Infinity DVDs. It features clips, interviews with friends/cohorts, and archival photographs.

 
 Ludwig: Limited Edition

Overall


Ludwig is certainly an investment. Due to its nearly five hour runtime, I’d personally recommend that novices such as myself watch it using the five episode option Arrow has provided, rather than the original, all-in-one-sitting approach. I’d also suggesting seeing other Luchino Visconti pictures before this one, but, if you’re already a confirmed fan, this limited edition Blu-ray collection is about as extensive as they come.
 
 Ludwig: Limited Edition

 Ludwig: Limited Edition

 Ludwig: Limited Edition
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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