From its stunning opening sequence, featuring Georgina Hale (who plays the wife of Gustav Mahler in this Ken Russell film) isolated in full mummy wrap and writhing with erotic yearning to the lush strains of her husband's music, Mahler distinguishes itself as the most poetic and archetypal of Russell's great-composer works. A kind of cinematic response to Luchino Visconti's 1971 adaptation of Death in Venice, in which Dirk Bogarde plays a Mahler-esque composer in search of beauty in the plague-filled city, Mahler stars Robert Powell as the great Jewish romantic from 19th-century Vienna, drafting enormous symphonic works in the midst of rising anti-Semitism. Converting to Christianity as a means of survival, Mahler carries on with his work but experiences an erosion of his health and sense of identity. Meanwhile, his self-effacing spouse represses her own creative drives to keep the resident genius afloat, plugging every leak and receding all but invisible into the woodwork. While the film is the least ostentatious of Russell's movies about music, it is hardly conventional--a mix of lyrical tableaux and comic fantasy that adds up to a stirring, dream-like experience.