Every generation has its muse. In ancient Greece, there was Helen of Troy. In the Middle Ages, there was the Mona Lisa. And in turn-of-the-century Vienna, there was Alma: a brilliant, sexy young musician who aroused the passions of Europe's greatest artists. Alma seduced lover after lover who changed the world - yet, it was she who ultimately changed each of them.
Europe's most famous men composed groundbreaking symphonies for Alma, painted modern masterpieces of her beauty, wrote poetry to move her and designed innovative buildings inspired by her spirit. But no one could possess Alma for long. Her own unfulfilled dreams continued to drive her from genius to genius seeking the one thing she could not get from love: freedom. Alma's story is a riveting true tale of creativity and seduction, of art and love, and of the sacrifices one remarkable woman, a century ahead of her time, made in her attempt to have it all.
In the midst of Vienna's explosive Golden Age of artistic, musical and scientific exploration, the irrepressible Alma Schindler was involved in tumultuous marriages and affairs with some of the 20th Century's most riveting men including the daring composer Gustav Mahler, the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, the influential modern architect Walter Gropius and the accomplished novelist Franz Werfel.
With BRIDE OF THE WIND, award-winning director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Double Jeopardy), brings Alma's passionate true story to life, with a sensuality that speaks to our own times. Beresford takes audiences into the heart of fin-de-siecle Vienna, to Freud's stomping grounds, where music, art and culture were going through an astonishing revolution, and where the very notion of being modern was born. Here, in a romantic realm of horse-drawn carriages and gaslit artist cafes, Beresford recreates an Old World city clashing with the shock of reality. No one represented that shock more than Alma Mahler, who refused to follow the old rules of how people should behave, who followed only the wild contradictions of her own heart, becoming one of the first truly modern women of her times.
Starring as Alma, newcomer Sarah Wynter plays opposite two-time Tony Award-winner Jonathan Pryce, who portrays the perfection-obsessed Gustav Mahler, and Vincent Perez, who in a sensual performance as the fiery artist Kokoschka, portrays a man so in love with Alma he could not control his jealousy.
Paramount Classics presents BRIDE OF THE WIND directed by Bruce Beresford from a screenplay by Marilyn Levy. The executive producers are Gerald Green, Frank Hubner and Margit Bimler. Lawrence Levy and Evzen Kolar are the producers. Beresford reunites with director of photography Peter James and production designer Herbert Pinter. The costumes for the lavish period are created by Shuna Harwood (Notting Hill). Overseeing the extraordinary recreation of the music of the day is composer Stephen Endelman.
Much that is known about Alma Mahler comes from her own intimate diaries and journals, which she kept since she was 19 and were published after her death. Her extraordinary life has also inspired numerous biographies over the years - but many of these have been colored by biased interpretations and judgments of her free-spirited and seemingly promiscuous behavior. That's why Bruce Beresford was drawn to Marilyn Levy's forthright, palpably real and glamorously romantic script. Levy allowed Alma to be Alma - full of passion, brilliance and astonishing contradictions.
"So much of what I had read about Alma was scurrilous, but Marilyn's script was both thoughtful and entertaining. The combination of the remarkable artists Alma was sexually linked with, plus the extraordinary music of the times and the wonderfully romantic Vienna setting was absolutely irresistible," says Beresford. "In addition, it is a story that is often very funny and always very sexy, as you might expect from a woman who had at least 25 lovers!"
Alma was born into a sophisticated Viennese family who moved in Austria's most exciting artistic circles. Fiercely intelligent and irrepressibly outspoken, Alma was also ravishingly beautiful. She was dubbed "the most beautiful woman in Vienna" and it was said that every eye turned to her like a magnet when she walked into a room. By the time she was a young woman, she was already carrying on rumored affairs with the erotic painter Gustav Klimt and learning music - and perhaps more - from composer Alexander Zamlinsky.
But then she met the towering figure of Gustav Mahler, one of Vienna's true rising geniuses, a composer far ahead of his time. Alma fell in love with Mahler and his music - but in order to be with him she had to pay a terrible price: he asked her to give up her own dreams of a composing career in order to be his loyal wife and mother to his children. Alma tried, but she could not be satisfied. The power of Alma's love inspired Mahler to new musical heights, but the more brilliant Mahler's music became, the more Alma began to feel imprisoned by him. Thus, she began her affair with architect (and Bauhaus founder) Walter Gropius - and started her lifelong search for a balance between love, genius and the freedom of creation.
It was this brave quest that fascinated Bruce Beresford.
"Alma may have had the most extraordinary range of love affairs of any woman in history," notes the director. "Her beauty and charm were so overwhelming that she was relentlessly pursued throughout her life by very powerful people. But this made it a tremendous challenge for her to assert her own individuality and talent. Mahler forbade her to compose and Kokoschka stifled her with his jealousy, but Alma transcended them in her own way. She was way ahead of her time in trying to be her own person outside of the realm of her lovers. "
"In BRIDE OF THE WIND, we wanted to capture the most colorful and exotic portion of Alma's life," sums up Beresford, "and reveal the courage of a woman who wanted to create and wanted to love in a time when to do both was considered impossible. "
In making BRIDE OF THE WIND, Bruce Beresford set out to bring to life the charm, passion and excitement of turn-of-the-century Vienna, replete with all of its legendary artists, wild men and colorful characters. He knew he would need an extraordinary cast, capable of embodying the complex genius and sexuality of Alma and her lovers.
Alma, Beresford knew, was a rare role for an actress - strong, complex, yet deliciously sexy. The filmmakers knew they would have ample choice among actresses, but chose Wynter, a virtual newcomer. Wynter had a fresh, exciting quality - which combined with her beauty and expressiveness made her the perfect doppelganger for Alma. After dying her hair red, learning the sing-songy Viennese accent and studying intensive piano, Wynter seemed to glow with Alma's high spirits, so much so, that when the real Alma Mahler's grand-daughter visited the set she was taken aback by the resemblance.
"We needed someone who radiates not only outrageous beauty but also deep intelligence and splashing wit," notes Berseford. "Someone with a vast emotional range, and someone who could take Alma from an ambitious 18 year-old, to a woman maneuvering her way through four very complicated love affairs. Most of all, we wanted someone who would leave the kind of lingering impression Alma must have left on those who met her. Sarah seemed to embody all of that in an utterly fresh way. She has a combination of grace and forcefulness that works perfectly. "
Adds producer Evzen Kolar: "Sarah seems to light up the screen and she has the kind of overwhelming appeal that is everything that Alma was all about. "
Wynter was drawn to Alma's subversive side. "I was drawn to her controversy," the young actress admits. "She was so incredibly ahead of her time. She lived during a time when women weren't encouraged to be creative or ambitious - but she had such big, intense desires that people couldn't handle it. I was really attracted to that part of her. "
She continues: "To me, Alma is a heroine and a great inspiration because no matter what happened to her, she didn't crumble, she didn't give in, she didn't fold. She lived the life she wanted to live in spite of the risks, in spite of the controversy. She was truly a survivor. "
Alma's love story with Gustav Mahler also fascinated Wynter, as it might any artist. "I think anyone who has ever had a strong dream can relate to being asked to give it all up for love," she says. "That's what Gustav did to Alma. To me, it's really quite heartbreaking, but what is most remarkable is that she still kept her hopes alive and continued to create in spite of it all. "
Like almost everyone who has encountered Alma's story, Wynter wondered just what drove her into the arms of so many famous men. "She managed to ensnare all these brilliant minds, and she even drove some of them mad with love for her," observes Wynter. "I wondered what it was about her and I think it was because they couldn't quite capture her, no one could cage her. Her own desires went beyond what any man imagined. She was a sensual woman in a time when women weren't encouraged to follow their impulses and hearts. "
Wynter also became intrigued by Alma's music. Although Wynter had studied piano for many years in her youth, the actress threw herself into an intensive training period, working collaboratively with a performance coach and the film's musical director Stephen Endelman. "I became entranced by Alma's music," she admits. "She wrote in a very beautiful style that evokes her spirit. In fact, the more I studied the music of Alma and Gustav, the more I was blown away by it all. It's truly staggering and I think it sets a wonderful mood for this story. "
"Alma's desire to compose was in conflict with Mahler, and during the course of the film we see that struggle, starting gradually from stolen moments at her piano to a full expression of her work at the end of the film," said producer Lawrence Levy. "It is, in fact, this struggle, in both her life and her music, that is one of the things that attracted us to this story. "
To play the legendary conductor and composer Gustav Mahler, Bruce Beresford had one actor in mind from the very beginning: Tony Award-winner Jonathan Pryce. In addition to his talent for embodying complex and sophisticated men, Pryce brought an extra bonus - an uncanny physical resemblance to Mahler. Standing next to the production's Rodin-style bust of Mahler, Pryce seemed as if he might have been a close relation.
"Jonathan is such a gifted actor that he really became Gustav," says Beresford. "The more he got into the role, the more he looked like him. It was quite thrilling. " Adds Pryce: "I find it quite liberating to play a real person because you know that your job is to get to a kind of truth. Mahler was a complex man but I wanted to reflect his essence - his all-consuming devotion to his music, even in the face of his love for Alma. "
Pryce had long been an admirer of Mahler's music, but during his intensive preparation for BRIDE OF THE WIND, he became an even more ardent fan. He rehearsed extensively with composer Stephen Endelman to learn how to conduct with the famed precision and emotion of Mahler. "Mahler's music is so dramatic and so incredibly emotional that it's an actor's dream," notes Pryce. "It allowed me to learn to conduct in a way that is expressive of the character. "
Says Sarah Wynter of Pryce: "I just thought of Jonathan as Gustav the minute he came on the set. His transformation was almost eerie. "
Adds producer Lawrence Levy, "to see Pryce and Wynter walking in costume down the very same steps that Gustav and Alma Mahler walked down 100 years earlier, was an incredibly exciting part of the filmmaking process. "
The most fiery of Alma's romances was her whirlwind, explosive affair with the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. Kokoschka had a reputation as the enfant terrible of Vienna, a wild man who could out-party, out-think, out-fight and out-romance any other artist in Vienna. He fell in love with Alma with the same intensity of passion he brought to his art, and referred to her as "my wild creature. "
Beresford wanted a Kokoschka who would be tempting, dangerous and utterly sensual. He found that mix in Vincent Perez, who became an international star with charismatic and sensual performances in the Oscar-winning Indochine and Cannes prize-winning Queen Margot. Perez also offered an authentic edge: he himself studied as a sculptor and painter in his native Switzerland before dedicating himself to acting.
"Kokoschka was one of my heroes when I was young, so I was quite excited to play this part," says Perez. "But I was also fascinated by Alma, who was such a strong and irresistible woman that most of Vienna was seduced by her. She was probably one of the first modern women of the century. And, of course, Kokoschka was absolutely madly in love with her. Crazed with love, really. "
Perez was also drawn to a story that takes place in one of the most exciting periods of human achievement: turn-of-the-century Vienna. "Vienna was the hot-bed of culture at the time, so it has a really magical quality," he notes. "To have so many great artists all working and living and having relationships with one another is quite extraordinary. "
To prepare for the role, Perez delved into Kokoschka's letters, including some 400 he wrote to Alma. "They had a crazy romance," he explains. "They had a very strong physical attraction to one another but they were always slightly at odds. He was very extreme in everything, full of passion all the time. But the flip side is that he was possessive and jealous and fierce and Alma just wanted to be free. "
Also inspiration to Perez was Kokoschka's most famous painting - the BRIDE OF THE WIND of the film's title. The producers were able to get the rights from the Swiss museum where the original hangs to have an authentic reproduction made for the set. Perez spent a lot of time with that painting, getting to its core. He explains: "It's essentially Alma and Oskar in bed surrounded by a tempest of storms and torrents of nature - only they are an oasis of love in the middle of it. This is what he envisioned for them. "
Comments Sarah Wynter: "Vincent has a wonderful fiery quality and it was quite inspiring to watch him work. He brought out the wild sparks that resulted in Alma's most exciting love affair. The best part for me, of course, is that since Alma had so many lovers, I got to work with a whole slew of incredible leading men in this movie. "
Befitting a film about some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, BRIDE OF THE WIND has a captivating look reminiscent of paintings-come-to-life. Bruce Beresford collaborated closely with cinematographer Peter James to create luxuriant images that capture both the glamour and the heightened inventiveness of Vienna at that time. Beresford has worked with James on numerous films, but James forged an entirely different style of lighting and angles than Beresford had ever encountered.
"Peter has an utterly unique ability to adapt his lighting style to the story he's shooting. In this case, he just completely went for a lush look reminiscent of turn-of-the-century photographs," explains Beresford.
"We wanted the film to look very luscious and rich, very saturated," adds James. "I used dusty colors and both over and under exposure to add to the stark contrasts between light and dark in the film. And of course I had marvelous locations in which to shoot, in Vienna's most famous opera houses and recital theatres. "
BRIDE OF THE WIND was shot on location in contemporary Vienna, one of the most beloved cities in the world, and one which has retained its charms since the turn-of-the-century. For Beresford, shooting in Vienna was not only a source of authenticity but a constant fountain of inspiration. "It was particularly wonderful to be able to shoot in places where these events actually took place a century ago," muses Beresford. "That sparked everyone's imagination. "
Vienna is rarely used in contemporary films because of the cost and logistical nightmares - but there could be no other choice for BRIDE OF THE WIND. As producer Evzen Kolar notes: "We could have shot this film in Prague but only in Vienna could we truly find the Imperial style of architecture that is so key to the time and place. Nowhere else would have been anywhere near as spectacular. "
"It was also just such pleasure," continues Beresford. "I've shot films in the Canadian wilderness and the middle of Africa, so Vienna seemed like a paradise. Sure, there were all kinds of bureaucracy to deal with, but everywhere you turned it was absolutely beautiful. This story is so essentially Viennese, we had to be surrounded by this fabulous architecture, by this sense of history, by this ambience you can't get anywhere else. It brings the story a truthfulness. "
Beresford also used as much local talent as possible, casting many English-speaking Austrian actors to evoke complete authenticity. "They adapted effortlessly to the events in the film because they were so familiar with Vienna's history," notes the director.
The cast and crew were able to shoot in such Viennese landmarks as the Vienna Opera house - but production designer Herbert Pinter still had to turn contemporary streets and modern storefronts into a palpable 1900 reality. His work was a constant inspiration to the cast. Relates Sarah Wynter: "The set designs of Herbert Pinter just brought the world of Vienna alive for us. He transported us back in time. "
Pinter researched the period extensively - and found that it was far more modern, even revolutionary, than anyone ever expected. "Every time I would walk onto a set, I would look at the furniture and think 'that can't be right - it looks too modern,'" says Beresford. "But it was all authentic pieces from the early 1900s throughout. It's just that extraordinary things were happening in design then. It was truly the beginning of the modern. "
Adding another layer to the authentic look are the costumes by Shuna Harwood, many of which are archived pieces that had been kept in storage for a century in Vienna. Harwood delved into history books for photographs of Alma and her lovers, trying to stick as close as possible to their individual tastes and styles. "I wanted to make them look as real as possible," she comments. "Since they were real characters in history, we had a good idea of where to start and then we just took off from there. "
Harwood also browsed through Vienna's costume houses looking for original dresses and jewels for Sarah Wynter. "We wound up using about 90% authentic pieces," she explains. "I only created a few of Sarah's dresses, which is just what we wanted because with the real thing you get the real feeling for the lace and the material and the texture. "
Harwood had her work cut out for her throughout the film, following Alma Mahler from about 1902 to 1918. During this fast-changing period hemlines rose, corsets were shed and silhouettes changed radically. "Luckily for us, Shuna is just incredibly knowledgeable about every period in history and we were continually blown away by her attention to details," says Sarah Wynter.
For the costume ball Alma attends early in the film, Harwood had to outfit over 200 characters in the most glamorous dress of the day. "It all added up to an incredible atmosphere," observes Wynter. "The costumes were stunning, the locations were incredibly historical and authentic and everyone just looked amazing. It truly takes you there. "
One of the most emotionally transporting elements in BRIDE OF THE WIND is the music, composed by Stephen Endelman. In addition, excerpts of Gustav Mahler's and Alma Mahler's music was reorchestrated for the film by Endelman who worked on set to bring the film's music to life.
"In the end, this awe-inspiring music is one of the things that really kept Alma going. Among all her lovers, it was her greatest love. So it was wonderful to have the music in this film treated with the respect it so richly deserves," says Sarah Wynter. "Alma would have been delighted. "
ALMA AND HER LOVERS:
A Brief Primer on Vienna's Geniuses and Romantics
ALMA MAHLER-WERFEL (1879-1964)
Once called "the most beautiful woman in Vienna," Alma Schindler married in succession three of Europe's greatest artists: the composer Gustav Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius and the writer Franz Werfel. She also was the lover of Oskar Kokocshka (among others), and inspired his most famous painting, The Bride of the Wind. (She was also connected with the composer Arnold Schonberg, the singer Enrico Caruso and the writer Gerhart Hauptmann, among others. ) Alma was also a creative force in her own right - a talented pianist and a composer who wrote a number of popular songs. Yet, her greatest fascination remains that she was both witness and inspiration to some of the greatest works of the 20th century.
Alma was born into a prominent Viennese family, the daughter of the landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler. Precociously talented, she began studying musical composition with Alexander Zemlinsky as a young girl, and it was rumored she toyed with his affections as her first lover. In November 1901, Alma met composer Gustav Mahler, who was then Director of the Royal Opera. He was 42 and she was 23, but nevertheless they were married for 8 tumultuous years, during which they had two daughters, one of whom died quite young and the other of whom, Anna, became a famous sculptress. Alma helped Mahler's career tremendously, introducing him to the cream of Vienna's intellectuals. But for Alma, the price of her love for Mahler was high: during their marriage, she gave up her own musical career.
After Mahler's early death, Alma married architect Walter Gropius, and with him had a daughter, who also died tragically in her teens. Alma divorced Gropius in 1918, and married Franz Werfel in 1919. At that same time, she began a salon which became a major attraction for Vienna's most revolutionary artists and thinkers.
Pursued by the Nazis due to Franz's Jewish heritage, in 1938, the Werfel's moved to America and settled in Hollywood. When Franz died, Alma moved to New York, where she remained until her death in 1964. She is buried in the Grimzinger Cemetery in Vienna with her daughter Manon.
GUSTAV MAHLER (1860-1911)
Now deemed one of the great modern composers, Gustav Mahler's work was very controversial at the turn-of-the-century. Although known as Vienna's, and quite possibly the world's, best conductor, Mahler's symphonies were ahead-of their time, with a complexity and scope never before experienced in music. His music drew upon psychology, folklore, philosophy and experience to paint powerful emotional portraits. He pushed the very structure of composition, exploring new harmonies. He once said that "a symphony should be like the world: it should contain everything. " Among his most famous works are the 1st Symphony, the 5th Symphony, the 9th Symphony and "The Song of the Earth," a moving operatic work set to seven poems from The Chinese Flute.
As a conductor, Mahler was famous for his dictator-like presence, which influenced many to follow in his footsteps. The Czech-born Mahler built his reputation at opera houses in Prague and Budapest, before coming to Vienna in 1897 to head The Vienna Opera House. There, he staged many of the era's most important performances.
Mahler also stoked controversy by marrying Alma, a ravishing beauty 19 years younger than he, but he was so taken with her that he could not turn away. He even asked Alma to give up her own musical gifts in order to devote her life to being his wife, muse and mother of his children. But Alma's affair with Walter Gropius drove Mahler to the couch of Sigmund Freud, who used his new theories to help save their marriage. Soon thereafter Mahler grew seriously ill and died in 1911. He is buried next to his daughter Maria in Grinzing Cemetery in Vienna.
WALTER GROPIUS (1883-1969)
Walter Gropius is considered one of the great modern architects. As the founder of The Bauhaus Group, he helped influence the sleek, cool, utilitarian design aesthetic of the 20th century. Gropius believed that the new century demanded a radically new style of architecture, without any ties to past traditions, and he helped to create an entirely novel way of approaching everything from houses to furniture to everyday appliances from a scientific and technological viewpoint.
Gropius began his architect's practice in Germany around 1910, and built his reputation with forward-thinking industrial designs, including The Fagus Shoe Factory. But he also envisioned creating a collaborative where artists and craftsmen of all kinds could create new forms for a new age: the machine age. Thus was the Bauhaus was created, where the foremost avant-garde artists of the day came to study and create, including such painters as Kandinsky and Klee and such architects as Mies Van der Rohe. Here, Gropius also pursued his interests in creating highly functional buildings to serve real social needs, exploring for the first time such concepts as prefabricated housing, apartment design and the very structures of cities.
In 1910, Gropius met Alma Mahler at a spa and immediately began a passionate love affair that was to devastate Gustav Mahler. Although Alma decided to remain loyally married to Gustav, she sought out Walter Gropius after Mahler's death and they were married a few years later. However, the passion between them could not be sustained and they were divorced rather quickly.
Following his marriage to Alma, Gropius's career continued to flourish. In 1938, he left the Bauhaus and opened his own private architectural firm in Berlin. With the rise of the Nazi Party, he was forced to relocate to London, and then to America and Harvard University. In New York, he designed such influential buildings as the Pan Am Building (now the Met Life Building).
OSKAR KOKOSCHKA (1886-1980)
A leading Expressionist painter, Oskar Kokoschka's work demonstrates a deep passion, a fierce energy and a very modern fascination with the inner lives of his subjects. Kokoschka's personal life was as wild and experimental as his art.
Considered the enfant terrible of the Vienna art scene, Oskar Kokoschka may have been the only one of Alma's lovers who truly understood her - and thus became her enemy. Kokoschka was madly in love with Alma to the point of madness and obsession. But during their 3-year affair, she repeatedly refused to marry him. Hoping to win her heart, he painted a masterful portrait of her with The Bride of the Wind, depicting her as "the wild creature" he knew her to be, and himself as the lover who keeps her safe from the tumult of outside world. The painting had the opposite effect, perhaps because Alma did not like to be exposed, and feared being imprisoned by love. Despite their intensely romantic liaison, she cut off all contact with Kokoschka for the rest of her life.
Kokoschka did indeed create a human-size, life-like doll of Alma which he carried around Vienna, even taking it to the opera, after their breakup. In a final exorcism of Alma's spirit, he "killed" the doll at an infamous party in Dresden.
Alma manipulatively encouraged Oskar to join the war effort, and so Kokoschka bought himself a commission as a Lieutenant, only to suffer terrible war wounds after being bayoneted. Despite the severity of his injuries, Kokoschka eventually recovered and went on to paint, write, teach and win the hands of many more beautiful women. Persecuted by the Nazis for his avant-garde interests, Kokoschka went first to Prague and then to England. In 1953, he returned to Austria, where he founded the School of Seeing in Salzburg.
He painted continuously and fervently until his death at the age of 93.
FRANZ WERFEL (1890-1945)
The Austrian writer Franz Werfel is best known to Americans for writing The Song of Bernadette, a bestselling novel about the Saint from Lourdes, which was later made into an Oscar-winning movie. But Werfel's writing career encompassed many styles, from plays to poetry. Throughout all his works, he expressed a deep belief in the brotherhood of man. He published numerous volumes of verse, before writing such expressionist plays as "Goat Song," "Juarez and Maximillian, " "Paul Among the Jews" and "Jacobowsky and the Colonel. " He also gained international acclaim for his novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which recounts the struggles of the Armenians in World War I.
In contrast to Gustav Mahler, Franz Werfel was 8 years younger than Alma when they began seeing one another, an affair that started while Alma was still married to Walter Gropius. In 1918, Alma had a son who was probably Werfel's although she was still married to Gropius at the time (the son, Martin, died as an infant). In 1929, after a protracted courtship (and rumors of other affairs), Alma married Werfel. She later encouraged him to leave Nazi Germany where he was persecuted as a Jew and develop his reputation as an international writer, which led to their settling in Hollywood. Alma remained married to Werfl, her longest continuous relationship, until his death in 1945.