Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" is a very complex novella. To put it on screen, a director has to pick the most important (or easiest to portray) elements from the mythological, psychological and philosophical lines of the story. The plot would remain largely intact. I am most interested in the story of Aschenbach's homosexuality, so I would be concerned with the strange-looking men, Aschenbach's dreams, and the parallel between the denial of the sickness in Venice and his own denials about Tadzio.
Throughout the novel, Ashenbach notices strange-looking men. The same language is used to describe the features they share. The first is the catalyst for his adventure. The traveler is clean-shaven, snub-nosed, a redhead, with furrows between his eyebrows and his teeth bared (p 4 Norton Critical). Next are a hunchbacked, scruffy sailor and the theatrical goateed ticket-taker (13). Then, the old fop in the yellow suit. He has a sinewy neck, dentures, a floppy hat, and a habit of running "the tip of his tongue around the corners of his mouth in an obscenely suggestive manner," (14). Aschenbach arrives in Venice only to be confronted with another blip on his gaydar, the gondolier. He is brutal-looking, with a yellow sash, unraveling straw hat, blonde hair, a snub nose, bared teeth and furrows between his eyebrows. He tells Aschenbach "You will pay," (18). The last strange fellow, the guitarist, comes much later on. He is emaciated, with a shabby hat, red hair, scrawny neck, beardless, pale, a snub nose, with furrows between his eyebrows and a habit of "letting his tongue play lasciviously at the corner of his mouth." He also smells of disinfectant (50). The guitarist, like most l...
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...es linger on his admirer, and Aschenbach does not seem as pathetic. The object of his affection is willing, and we lose some of the tension from the novel. Most of the mythological, psychological and philosophical references have been removed. Visconti makes Aschenbach a composer, not a writer, with a strong relationship to his (dead?) family. His character is not as fully rendered as in the novel but it is sufficient. Tadzio is probably the best part of the movie. The casting was spot-on and one can see how a grown man could fall in love with that. Some of the strange men are there, most notably the guitarist, but the repetition is not emphasized. The film shows Venice's descent into epidemic well, with the street bonfires and disinfecting of the streets. Overall the movie is almost watchable for an art film, but it does not do justice to the very complex novella.
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