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Death in Venice - A Queer Film Classic

Death in Venice

A Queer Film Classic

By Will Aitken
Series edited by Thomas Waugh & Matthew Hays
Categories: LGBTQ+, Gay Literature, Film & Media
Series: Queer Film Classics
Paperback : 9781551524184, 192 pages, 2011


A Queer Film Classic on Luchino Visconti's lyrical and controversial 1971 film based on Thomas Mann's novel, about a middle-aged heterosexual artist (played by Dirk Bogarde) vacationing in Venice who becomes obsessed with a youth staying at the same hotel as a wave of cholera descends upon the city. The book analyzes the film's cultural impact and provides a vivid portrait of the director, an ardent Communist and grand provocateur. Known variously as "The Red Count" and "the director of the dirty bed sheets," Visconti, along with Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio De Sica, and Federico Fellini, revolutionized Italian film and became one of the giants of world cinema. Although he never spoke directly about his homosexuality, it was an open secret, and many of his works, like Death in Venice, were suffused with it-from the first Neo-Realist film, Ossessione, to Rocco and His Brothers to The Damned and the epic Ludwig.

Death in Venice: A Queer Film Classic is a bracing exploration of both a complicated director and a complex film.


An engrossing biography that Aitken handles with care, covering well beyond the basics in the tight page count. He also opens with it, which gives the reader a great primer on Visconti's background and psychology before taking on Aitken's rigorous analysis of the film itself - a film that continues to stand as one of the most compelling works of one of cinema's most compelling filmmakers. But while many writers have taken the story on before, it's nice to have Aitken and Queer Film Classics give it such an officially queer look.

- Xtra!

Aitken's personal, expressive, and sometimes vulgar language livens up his text.
-Quill and Quire

- Quill and Quire

It is clear that Aitken has done his research on Mann and Visconti. He includes details about their lives that are crucial to understanding how their minds work and the headspace they were in when creating Death in Venice as a novel and film respectively. Definitely worth reading. -Film Matters

- Film Matters

A concise, beautifully argued and well-illustrated guide to one of my favourite movies.
-Uptown (Winnipeg)

- Uptown

There is much to admire in Aitken's poetic and personal account of the film . .. [It] begins to unfold the complexity and richness of a film whose true brilliance many have yet failed to appreciate.

-Film Quarterly

- Film Quarterly

As a longtime devotee of the films of Luchino Visconti, I'm thrilled to report that this new critical study on the work of Visconti is an admirable addition to any film aficionado's library . .. This account of Visconti's life and work is insightful and informative, and Aitken's writing style is engaging.

-Gay & Lesbian Review

- Gay & Lesbian Review

A romp . .. Aitken zigzags from Platen to Plato to Visconti's love life with irresistible charm.
-Andrew Holleran, Washington Post

- Washington Post

[Includes] a richly detailed account of the director's life and other works, full of famous names and scandalous anecdotes, written with tremendous joie de vivre . .. Death in Venice is already a rich film that bears numerous viewings; this book makes it more so.

-Eye for Film

- Eye for Film

What makes the book so engaging is how Aitken depicts the director's fascinating life.

-2B Magazine

- 2B

Will Aitken's superb study of Death in Venice grasps the prickliest nettles surrounding the film - just how homosexual Mann, the novel and the film really are, the notion of decadence, the film's soporific languor and its supposed queer abjection--and subjects them to a scrutiny at once unflinching, generous and constantly illuminating. This is a model of how to intertwine personal response, empirical detail, precise filmic description and wider theoretical issues without ever collapsing these into each other. And it is written with a wonderfully judged wryness and fluency that beautifully evokes and vindicates a magnificent, troubling film.
-Richard Dyer

- Richard Dyer