Death in Venice: Reel/Real Impact; Critical Status

In the second volume of memoirs, Snakes and Ladders, the British star Dirk Bogarde recounts how the crew of Visconti’s Death in Venice created his character’s deathly white skin for the final scenes, just as he dies.

“The makeup department tried various face paints and creams, none of which were satisfactory, as they smeared. When a suitable cream was found and the scenes were shot, Bogarde recalls that his face began to burn terribly. The tube of cream was found and written on the side was “Keep away from eyes and skin”: the director had ignored this and had been testing it out, as small patches, on various members of the crew, before finally having it applied to Bogarde’s face.

In his memoirs, An Orderly Man, Dirk Bogarde relates that, after the finished film was screened for them by Visconti in Los Angeles, Warner execs wanted to write off the project, fearing it would be banned in the U.S. for obscenity because of its subject matter. They eventually relented when a gala premiere was organized in London, with Elizabeth II and Princess Anne attending, aiming to raise funds for the sinking Italian city.

In a 2003 inerview, Björn Andrésen, who plays Tadzio, expressed his dislike of the fame that Death in Venice had brought him, and how he sought to distance himself from the objectifying image he acquired from playing the desired boy.


He stated that he disapproves of the film’s theme: “Adult love for adolescents is something that I am against in principle. Emotionally perhaps, and intellectually, I am disturbed by it – because I have some insight into what this kind of love is about.” He also recounted attending the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival: “I was just 16 and Visconti and the team took me to a gay nightclub. Almost all the crew were gay. The waiters at the club made me feel very uncomfortable. They looked at me uncompromisingly as if I was a nice meaty dish…it was the first of many such encounters.”

Critic Lawrence J. Quirk wrote in his study, The Great Romantic Films: “Some shots of Björn Andrésen, the Tadzio of the film, could be extracted from the frame and hung on the walls of the Louvre or the Vatican in Rome.”

Andrésen did not represent just a pretty youngster as an object of perverted lust. Novelist Mann and director-screenwriter Visconti intended him as a symbol of beauty in the realm of Michelangelo’s David or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the beauty that moved Dante to “seek ultimate aesthetic catharsis in the distant figure of Beatrice.”

In 2011, writer Will Aitken published Death in Venice: A Queer Film Classic, a critical analysis of the film, as part of Arsenal Pulp Press’s Queer Film Classics series.

In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.

In 2021 Juno Films released The Most Beautiful Boy In The World, a revelatry documentary in which Andrésen recollects the years of predatory and pedophilic behavior he received from the cast, crew, and fans of the film.

Critical Status:

Awards and Honors

1971 Cannes Film Fest: 25th Anniversary Award (special award created as comensation)
1972 BAFTA Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound


1972 Academy Award, Best Costume Design[citation needed]
1972 BAFTA Awards: Best Actor, Best Direction, Best Film[citation needed]
1971 Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm (Best Film)