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Performing Arts History & Criticism

Death in Venice

A Queer Film Classic

by (author) Will Aitken

series edited by Thomas Waugh & Matthew Hays

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2011
History & Criticism
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2011
    List Price

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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.

About the authors

WILL AITKEN has written three novels — Realia, A Visit Home, and Terre Haute — and the nonfiction books Death in Venice: A Queer Film Classic and Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo van Hove, and the Art of Resistance, which was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. He lives in Montreal.


Will Aitken's profile page

Thomas Waugh is the award-winning author or co-author of numerous books, including five for Arsenal Pulp Press: Out/Lines, Lust Unearthed, Montreal Main: A Queer Film Classic (with Jason Garrison), Comin' At Ya! (with David L. Chapman) and Gay Art: A Historic Collection (with Felix Lance Falkon). His other books include Hard to Imagine, The Fruit Machine, and The Romance of Transgression. He teaches film studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, where he lives. He has published widely on political discourses and sexual representation in film and video, on lesbian and gay film and video, and has more recently undertaken interdisciplinary research and teaching on AIDS. He is also the founder and former coordinator of the Minor Programme in Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality at Concordia.

In addition to the titles below, Thomas is also co-editor (with Matthew Hays) of the Queer Film Classics series.

Thomas Waugh's profile page

Matthew Hays is a Montreal-based critic, author, film festival programmer, and university instructor. He is the co-editor (with Thomas Waugh) of Arsenal Pulp's Queer Film Classics series. He has been a film critic and reporter for the weekly Montreal Mirror since 1993. His first book, The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers (Arsenal Pulp Press), was cited by Quill & Quire as one of the best books of 2007 and won a 2008 Lambda Literary Award. His articles have appeared in a broad range of publications, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, Vice, The Walrus, The Advocate, The Toronto Star, The International Herald Tribune, Cineaste, Cineaction, Quill & Quire, This Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Canadian Screenwriter, and Xtra!. He teaches courses in journalism, communication studies and film studies at Concordia University, where he received his MA in communication studies in 2000. A two-time nominee for a National Magazine Award, Hays received the 2013 Concordia President's Award for Teaching Excellence. .
Matthew is also co-editor (with Thomas Waugh) of the Queer Film Classics series.

Matthew Hays' profile page

Editorial Reviews

[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

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

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


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

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

Washington Post

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

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

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.


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

Quill and Quire

What makes the book so engaging is how Aitken depicts the director's fascinating life.
-2B Magazine


Other titles by Will Aitken

Other titles by Thomas Waugh

Other titles by Matthew Hays

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