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[whitespace] 'Bride of the Wind'
Blowin' in the Wind: Sarah Wynter plays Alma, famous hyphen wife (-Werfel, -Mahler) of musical and artistic history, in 'Bride of the Wind.'

Vienna Woodenness

'Bride of the Wind' biopic of Alma Mahler-Werfel is all Hollywood hot air

By Richard von Busack

ALMA Mahler-Werfel, heroine of Bride of the Wind, was the subject of a 1964 requiem by Santa Cruz's own Tom Lehrer: "Alma/Tell us/All modern women are jealous/You should have a statue in bronze/For bagging Gustav and Walter and Franz."

That is, (1) anxious composer Gustav Mahler, (2) Walter Gropius, leading light of the Bauhaus and originator of the idea that architects ought to comport themselves like an archbishop attending the Atheists' Ball and (3) minor novelist but really nice guy Franz Werfel, who, though Jewish, unleashed "Song of Bernadette" on the world.

While Alma never got a "statue in bronze," she has received a Bruce Beresford biopic that, in grandiosity and coldness, is the next best thing. Alma (Sarah Wynter) begins her series of conquests in turn-of-the-century Vienna, landing Mahler (Jonathan Pryce), then considered a radical, marginal talent. These early scenes, with Pryce conducting the symphony, are instructive as an introduction to the composer and his works.

The man, however, is a conservative when it comes to women. His bride begins to feel stifled, leaving her aging husband for a fling with Gropius, whom she meets at a sanitarium. Gropius is played by Simon Verhoeven, who conveys all of the man's correctness without passing on a sense of his genius.

Alma next takes up with Oskar Kokoschka, whose painting Bride of the Wind portrays her. Kokoschka is a casualty of the First World War, though this war affects Alma very little.

Wynter is an untried actress with an underwritten part. Marilyn Levy's screenplay contains lines quarried from Hollywood plaster: Alma to Gustav Klimdt, "You've scandalized half of Vienna with these drawings"; the storm-clouds-are-gathering line "If the Balkans keep heating up, we'll have more pressing things to worry about."

But maybe the real problem is Mahler-Werfel herself. Karen Monson's biography of Alma suggests that Alma was flighty, vain and gripped with Austrian prejudices she didn't shake even in her 80s. (This is hinted at in the movie when she complains about Mahler's "Jewish" music; she was of Jewish extraction herself.) Whatever it is that's missing, Bride of the Wind hardly conveys what it was that the great minds of the time saw in Alma.

Beresford's direction is reactionary in the modernist scenes: check the syphilitic-looking decadents chez Kokoschka, with Vincent Perez as the artist, looking amusingly like Udo Kier Jr. The artist denounces Alma as a manikin, before throwing an actual manikin out of his studio window to illustrate his point.

It may be that Kokoschka had his ex-lover pegged. What was the motto of Ordinary Records, "A High Standard of Standardness"? It could be the slogan of Bride of the Wind. In one typical scene, Mahler defends his modern music, commenting, "Tradition is just another word for laziness." Bride of the Wind is a robustly traditional movie, portraying a fervent time with the gravity of an episode of Masterpiece Theater, where, no doubt, it will be showing within a year or two.

Bride of the Wind (R; 95 min.), directed by Bruce Beresford, written by Marilyn Levy, photographed by Peter James and starring Jonathan Pryce and Sarah Wynter, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the June 14-20, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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