PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Lola Montès

Ophüls' grand fantasy has influenced countless contemporary filmmakers. Lola Montes is bar none his most adventurous, luscious celebration of visual spectacle.

Lola Montes

Director: Max Ophuls
Cast: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: NR
Year: 1955
Release date: 2010-02-16

"Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl." We all know the immortal words that open Barry Manilow's timeless "Copacabana", but who would have thought that they would be such a great starting point in a discussion of Max Ophüls' misunderstood classic Lola Montes?

Ophüls' Lola is indeed a kind of a showgirl, she is the shining jewel centerpiece of a grand, swirling circus that serves as a framing device in the film for telling the viewer her story. Who is Lola Montes? Who is the woman behind the crumbly facade of this traveling show? Does it even matter who she is?

From the very beginning, it is important to realize that Lola (Martine Carol), while the subject of this film, is also it's object. She is an object of desire, ridicule, gossip. She is a legend in her own time, a broken, alcoholic beauty who has wooed King Ludwig I of Bavaria (played here by the always-amazing Anton Walbrook of The Red Shoes) and Franz Liszt, created scandals and charted her own unique course through life.

She's not unlike a reality television star – marginally talented, with her true gift lying in the fact that she knows how to best exploit herself. Lola is a figure on which ideas are expressed. Music, dance, stormy emotion, light, gesture all conspire to craft an intricate identity both for the film and for the character.

Ophüls stages a complicated carnivale, a ballet royale that is often reflexive in its ruthless self-reflexive presentation of the show within the show, or mise en abyme that presents two "mirror" versions of Lola for the spectator: one (broken) version performing her own life story for throngs of onlookers, the other a dream version of her in flashbacks leading up to the present.

Ophüls sets the stage for a breathtaking seduction of his audience. With the dynamic opening sequence that introduces Lola and the flashback-structured main conceit of the film, the director creates one of the most whimsical, energetically-directed prologues that I have seen put to film. The arrival of Lola and the circus in concert with the sheer audacity of Ophüls' brilliant, virtuosic technical achievement is just a pure cinematic thrill, a pure spectacle that dazzles the eyes with outrageous colors and patterns of light.

This gorgeously-realized tableaux vivant is dripping with baubles, papier mache orbs, and light and festooned with feathers, bells and whistles, the film creates a style that is singular to its maker: a look and aesthetic that defines opulence. In a seminal review, critic Andrew Sarris called Lola Montes the greatest film of all time, so that type of hyperbole doesn't feel too off-base given the meticulous way in which Ophüls constructs his mise-en-scène.

As in his classic The Earrings of Madame De..., the director showcases elegant textures, luscious Technicolors that seem to not exist in true nature. Lola Montes, both the movie and the character are lacquered with a glossy veneer, mysterious and complex underneath but on the surface they are beautiful, jewel-adorned fantasies.

This is a stunning celebration of aesthetic perfection and to know that Lola Montes was also Ophüls final film is disheartening, but cinephiles can rejoice in Criterion's sumptuous offering of the film's crisp, eye-popping transfer. In fact, Criterion has culled some of Ophüls' greatest achievements and reinvigorated them for new generations to marvel at -- La Plasir, La Ronde and Madame De... catapult the director to auteur status and Lola Montes confirms his place in the pantheon of great directors who employ melodrama, technical virtuosity and innovation to tell stories about women that time has either been cruel to or forgotten.

Without the spectacle of films such as this one, there would be no Bas Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge in particular borrows heavily in terms of style from Lola Montes), and Rainer Werner Fassbinder might have not have chosen to end his BRD trilogy with the homage Lola. The influence of this forgotten, misunderstood tale of a doomed female footnote in history has influenced countless contemporary and classic filmmakers stylistic choices and once it reaches a new generation, the possibilities for it infecting new artistic processes are infinite.

On the extras disc, which is an absolutely essential supplement for understanding the film's complex production history, such luminaries as Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux and John Houseman present tributes to the great director who is alternately referred to as "a coquette", "fascinating" and a "petty tyrant", among a litany of other contradicting adjectives from a variety of first-hand sources. One interviewee discusses how Ophüls thought of his star Carol as a "monster" because, in a twist that instantly recalls David Lynch's Hollywood satire Mulholland Drive, she was chosen by the producers to play the lead role and Ophüls had no say in the matter.

As usual, the Criterion packaging and artwork are artfully done and the extras disc makes their offering a true collector's edition. Now, Ophülsian enthusiasts just need Letter from an Unknown Woman, Criterion.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.