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Viewing Vienna on screen

Around the World in 80 Movies: Before Sunrise in Vienna

It should come as no surprise when a city that groomed great minds generates marvelous movies. Vienna claims Mozart, Freud, Klimt, and Strauss--no need to mention first names for influences who show up in a range of films including Amadeus, The Seven Per-Cent Solution, Woman in Gold, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The city also hosted one of the greatest thrillers of all time, The Third Man. Vienna-related movie titles reflect a Mission Impossible day-tripper’s challenge in town to see everything and return to my ship Before Sunrise, something that happens on Danube River cruise like the one I booked with Viking. As always, I mitigated the schedule’s lack of exotic locale lingering by watching my destinations ahead of time, on screen. Some projects show the region as a haven for intrigue and espionage while others play postcards for art, history, music, and romance:

Viewing Vienna—Popular culture includes music, paintings, history, intellectual breakthroughs, and cinema itself to keep Danube locations on the must-see list.

Amadeus, 1984 with a genius confounding the court composer in Vienna. No one says “Rosebud” or drops a snow globe, but Amadeus oozes many Citizen Kane elements of cinematic genius. Working off his successful play, writer Peter Shafer joined director Milos Forman for what the two called a “fantasia on themes in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life” rather than objective biography. This allows them the flexibility Shakespeare showed in his “biographical plays,” taking historical names and inventing situations that illuminate ultimate truths about human nature and life’s injustices. The filmmakers retain historic record of Mozart’s troubled relationships with the court and his father. They keep behaviors he displayed like a love of dance, billiards, and crude jokes. No one knows if Mozart really laughed as obnoxiously as the actor playing him (Tom Hulce) but the giggle enhances an image of nonchalant oafishness that so frustrates his nemesis, Antonio Salieri. Brilliantly brought to life with a best actor Oscar for F. Murray Abraham, Salieri really existed, kept in public consciousness today primarily through this film. His claim about murdering Mozart opens the door to explore differences between talent and genius—territory later mined between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in a different stage musical. With lavish production values and the gift of a soundtrack full of enduring music, Amadeus stands the test of time, feeling simultaneously like an old classic but with the freshness of a recently plucked piece of fruit. The film put Vienna on my set-jetting radar before I realized I had one. I rooted for it to win all eight of the Oscars it took home (including prizes for directing, writing, acting, and as best picture). The movie crossed over into personal experience many times, and once included the parrot my long-ago hairdresser owned. The stylist played her own CDs at the shop, where her parrot usually quietly perched to one side. But when the Amadeus soundtrack came on, the bird lit up like a Viennese Christmas tree as Mozart’s works filled the air with sounds that felt light, arty, serious, complicated, and simple all at once. When the first note played, the parrot’s eyes flew open. Raising her shoulders, lifting her head, and opening her beak to chime in, she complimented the music as if she spent years training to perform with an orchestra. “She loves Mozart, and this is her favorite CD,” explained my hairdresser. I loved going there and wish more salons featured parrots who sing Mozart. Another fun memory comes from the time my film commission job put me in an elevator on the set of An Innocent Man at Nevada’s Carson City’s prison. Last minute, a guy in blue jammed his way in—not what you really want in that situation. Except he looked like Salieri in prison garb, so I got to ride and talk with Murray Abraham about how much he enjoyed northern Nevada with its beautiful mountain vistas. As for my passion to see many sites familiar from movies, we set-jetters like the actual locations where our favorite projects filmed, and Amadeus creates a conundrum. It takes place in Vienna though most scenes filmed in Prague. Director Milos Forman said his home country retained more period looks than modern-day Vienna, giving Czechoslovakia an economic (and nostalgic?) benefit. A challenge for set-jetters? Not really. Just an excuse to visit both cities. The real Vienna shows up briefly in Amadeus with a railroad station scene at the now-demolished Wien Südbahnhof at Favoriten in the south-east of the city. This means Amadeus set-jetters visiting Vienna best honor the film in town by listening to a Mozart concert (they occur frequently) or perhaps checking out a memorial at St. Marx Cemetery. The movie shows Mozart’s body unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave, though historical pattern indicates his family managed somewhat better than that. Bottom line remains the same: no one really knows where his bones lie today. The Ultimate AMADEUS Website // The Film ... The Locations (

Before Sunrise, 1995 with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy romancing in Vienna. The world’s randomness turns up for strangers on a train to Vienna in director and co-writer Richard Linklater’s ode to life and love as two travelers meet and connect for an accidental daytrip. The script, co-written by Kim Krizan, risks self-conscious pseudo intellectualism as two young people try to find their way in life and spend most of their time together talking and answering questions like “what do you hate?” But magic results from ideal casting, with the leads so natural in their charisma together that their dialogue seems spontaneous rather than scripted by other people. The result turned into a Gen-X favorite that crosses age barriers. It also proves a postcard to Vienna, though only by accident since Linklater got his inspiration for the film on a Philadelphia train and viewed locations as secondary to the story. He told a New York Times reporter that Vienna hit his radar when he presented his movie Dazed and Confused at the city’s film festival and learned about regional production incentives. Though inadvertent, the Vienna locale sets an ideal stage for directors who want visual splendor, plus it covers good suggestions for any visitor (and a mouthful for English speakers): Albertina Palais Museum, Arena Wien, Café Sperl, Friedhof der Namenlosen (Cemetery of the Nameless), Katholische Kirche Mariahilf, Kleines Café, Maria Am Gestade, Maria Theresien Platz, Pressgasse, Teuchtler Schallplattenhandlung, Wien Westbahnhof, Wiener Riesenrad, and Zollamtssteg Bridge. The places gain an extra heartbeat of emotion in a final montage that shows them all without the lovers in this wistful romance.

Bond, James Bond: The world’s most famous spy travels to pretty much every exotic location imaginable but makes a poor tourist role model since he hardly ever stays anywhere long and often leaves a dead body or two behind him. Daniel Craig passes through Austria for an opera in Quantum of Solace and zooms amidst snow-laden mountains during Spectre, while Timothy Dalton gets a killer view of Vienna with 1987’s The Living Daylights (see “The Passenger in Spain” chapter for more about the film). Dalton’s Bond arrives in Austria by crossing the border from Bratislava, though producers never filmed there because of the era’s political restrictions. (Today’s set-jetters find the real Bratislava easier to navigate since it appears on many Danube River cruise itineraries). Once in Vienna, Bond stays at Palais Schwarzenberg and visits the Wiener Prater amusement park, familiar to fans of The Third Man. One Third Man fan included Daylights director John Glen, who worked in the sound department for the noir classic and wanted to pay homage to the film. Daylights also includes the Volksoper (People’s Opera House) and Sufiensalle.

A Dangerous Method, 2011 with Kiera Knightley breaking a bond between Switzerland’s Carl Jung and Vienna’s Sigmund Freud. Sex may lie at the heart of Freud’s therapeutic theories, but speech dominates this project that derives from what he called “The Talking Cure.” Using Freud’s approach on a psychotic patient named Sabina Spieilrein, Jung dealt with a woman whose symptoms of hysteria included tics and grimaces beyond her control. The linking of two psychiatric superstars proves fascinating enough, but history reveals that Spieilrein belongs in their constellation, a tie that proved honey for screenwriter Christopher Hampton after previously turning the difficult Dangerous Liaisons novel into a successful film. Method director David Cronenberg joins the mix, a natural considering his 1996 movie showing psychologically warped people who get sexually charged by car accidents (Crash from J.G. Ballard’s disturbing book, not the Paul Haggis-directed Oscar winner). Sex happens, without any lurid Fifty Shades popular appeal. Instead, everyone analyzes the motivations and impact in an intelligent, restrained manner that proves insightful and respectable. Actors take their roles seriously. Viggo Mortensen from The Lord of the Rings movies inhabits Freud with natural ease and casual gestures. In contrast, Knightley goes all out as she tightens her lips, juts her jaw, and thrashes like a fish trapped on a line. Distressing, and possibly distracting, the performance follows historical descriptions and met the director’s requirements. Knightley’s box office stature from Pirates of the Caribbean movies adds to the film’s top level production values, and A Dangerous Method opens one window revealing a past that still affects the world beyond Switzerland and Austria. The countries show up as locations in the movie, with filmmakers using the Sigmund Freud Museum and the famous man’s own office in Vienna. Filming also took place at Café Sperl, a location in Before Sunrise and episodes of the series Vienna Blood.

The Empress, 2022 with Vienna’s iconic Sisi discovering that fairy tales may come true when you’re young at heart--but not everyone lives happily ever after. Stories inspired by royalty make us peons feel better about our own comparatively mundane lives since events prove that lavish estates, lush gardens, sumptuous meals, plus elaborate clothing all fail to guarantee happiness. Loved without restraint by Austria’s general public and a counterpart to Princess Diana in The Crown, Countess Elisabeth of Bavaria learns that marrying into royalty squashes her freedom of choice, privacy, and individuality. Historical record indicates that love, rather than status, drew Elisabeth to marry Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph, letting the six-part series play up romance and sex amid stunning visuals provided by Bavarian castles and intricate costumes. Costumes include a finely detailed wedding dress Elisabeth wears for several episodes (making good use of the expenditure). Devrim Lingnau and Philip Froissant make attractive leads whose emotions show clearly even for those who don’t understand the original’s German language. With beautiful production values and an intriguing mix of passion and politics, The Empress holds its own in the dragon-free, real-life game of thrones. Despite its Vienna setting, the series mostly filmed in Germany, using many castles. Airing on Netflix, the show’s popularity caused one castle, Schloss Weissenstein north of Nuremberg, to open as an air b & b with initial room rates at 185 euros. Meanwhile, Vienna visitors who adore Season 1 can learn more about the real woman by touring the Sisi Museum at the city center’s Hofburg site. Or they can watch other projects about her including the 16-year-old Romy Schneider in her breakthrough role as the empress in 1955’s Sissi (with two s’s and two follow-up films). Decades after Europe embraced the lavish trilogy, the Sissi movies reflect their era by glossing over downer aspects of the empress, instead highlighting a mix between Disney and Sound of Music froth and family values. Austrian mountains, happy children, adorable animals, and musical interludes provide a cheery look at the perils of princesshood. Those perils earned Vicky Krieps a best actress award at 2022’s Cannes Film Festival for Corsage, which like Sissi, uses some Vienna locations. According to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), the empress has inspired projects about her almost every year since 1921. True fans can show their enthusiasm by buying Sisi rubber duckie.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, 2015 with Tom Cruise on a globetrotting hunt to unveil a black ops terrorist organization. The fifth entry solidifies defining points that make the franchise succeed: glamorous locations, engaging team members, crazy disguises, catchy music, impossible stunts, and of course, Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Somewhere in all this mix a story shows up, though it often seems written in invisible ink for every MI movie, disappearing from my memory the minute I walk out of a theater or turn off the t.v. set. Weak links tie each location and action sequence together as I rewind and tunnel through wires in my brain to recall just how Hunt got from Belarus to an opera in Vienna, or from there to Casablanca and eventually the Prime Minister’s house in London. The connections seem improbable, but the series always gets away with it because--after all--the title uses that word “impossible.” Plus, all those impossible acts astound with their creative visuals and technical superiority, which includes the star’s willingness to go as far as he can with his own stunts. In real life, Cruise himself proves an example of the seemingly impossible turning real as he catapults over bad press, defies the aging process, and gleams among the brightest stars in the movie universe. Meanwhile, set-jetters can spend years hunting Hunt’s locations with destinations all over the world. Danube cruisers get two opportunities. They settle for a brief panoramic view of Budapest similar to one that opens Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or spend more time visiting the Vienna Opera House from Rogue Nation. Vienna lures other espionage links with Jennifer Lawrence as a Red Sparrow or the comic team of Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis facing The Spy Who Dumped Me (more about those at Body of Work in Budapest).

Museum Hours, 2012 with a guard and visitor finding links between art and daily life in Vienna. It makes sense that a movie using a museum as key setting qualifies as an art film. Writer-director Jem Cohen purposefully creates a non-mainstream pastiche employing a tiny crew (never more than 7 people) and no mainstream hooks. He plucks leads from the non-acting world to relay what he describes in a DVD brochure as “the connection between artworks and viewers.” Calling that tie “deep and natural,” Cohen notes it “needs to be cultivated and encouraged.” Cohen fosters the link when a guard at Vienna’s Kunshistoriches Museum reaches out to a seemingly lost woman who visits regularly. It turns out she knows nothing of Vienna but must stay to help a comatose relative. Various paintings and artists provide both guard and visitor with hours of subjects and thoughts to explore in a natural, every-day manner both at the museum and in non-touristy venues. That means viewers who define action as chases, explosions, sex, and such might feel their eyelids taking on pounds of weight as they edge towards a nap. The same goes for travelers who fill time by bungee jumping, golfing, racing, or with other sporting events. Even a placid museum lover may find the film’s many static shots and casual conversation slow going at times, but those with patience gain insightful background and a springboard to ponder various issues like the difference and connection between timely and timeless. I watched studiously to catch an advance glimpse of a museum on my itinerary since the Kunshistoriches contains paintings by my bucket list artists (three from Caravaggio and one by Bosch). Important works, but the museum ‘s showcase comes from the Breughel Room. Astute comments about the painter sent me back to childhood memories for reassessing the art connection I seek at big city museums. I remembered to my surprise that Breughel played a part in it. No matter where my family moved (Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Southern California, and more) my mom always brought along five imitation oil prints: Van Gogh’s “The Zouave,” two French-Polynesian girls by Gauguin; Picasso’s “The Lovers” plus “Woman in White,” and Breughel’s “Dance Around the Maypole.” The Breughel reproduction inspired the most intense viewings with my little brothers because--as the guard notes in Museum Hours—the artist includes phenomenal detail and varied images that create stories to spark imagination. We kids noted with shock how men wore revealing (ball-hugging) tights. We saw that excessive drinking makes people feel really bad, ready to throw up. But in particular, we looked to the left and smirked at a guy who grabbed his crotch and seemed ready to pee. Mom didn’t notice the giggles and proudly told friends how hanging those pictures succeed at her goal of developing a real appreciation for art in her children. Eventually we broke the bubble by pointing out Pee Guy. And yet…what started as typical kids drawn to bathroom humor ultimately turned into something else. Decades later, I easily cite the artists’ names and titles of all five paintings plus relish opportunities to visit museums like the Kunshistoriches in Vienna. Art appreciation needs to start somewhere, even with urination.

The Seven Per-Cent-Solution, 1976 with Alan Arkin making Sigmund Freud act like Sherlock Holmes in Vienna. Using an opening title card stating that “only the facts have been made up,” the story takes a light-hearted approach to historical star Sigmund Freud and literary light Sherlock Holmes. The adventure leads Holmes away from his usual London setting when his concerned companion Dr. Watson devises a scheme luring the detective to Vienna for treatment by one of the era’s greatest minds. Events require the usually staid Holmes to run through a plethora of emotions, ranting and raving with fear and paranoia; Nicol Williamson chomps into the role with the power of an actor playing Hamlet. Tall and wiry enough to vaguely fill the books’ physical descriptions of Holmes, Williamson finds himself playing a different personality, one more empathetic than haughty. The story’s other canonical characters shift a bit too, among them Robert Duvall as a younger and stiffer than usual Dr. Watson plus Laurence Olivier as a meek and fearful Professor Moriarty. However, Toby the bloodhound comes across exactly as expected from the book series. Though others besides Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invented adventures for the great detective, author Nicholas Meyer made a notably big splash with his international best seller spring-boarding from a reference (in The Sign of Four) that Holmes often took a “seven per-cent-solution” of cocaine. Before the term “Easter Egg” developed as shorthand for deliberately placed references to other projects, Meyer filled his screenplay with Holmes-inspired images including a slithering serpent, a hound’s snarling jaws, and a group of red-headed men haunting the detective’s withdrawal-induced hallucinations. All this appeals to Holmes fans, with added flavor from the Freud/Vienna connection. As Freud, Arkin exudes warmth and intelligence while following a different path that arrives at the same solution as the great detective. Less of a mystery than adventure, The Seven Per-Cent Solution eventually puts the two men into action-hero mode like sword fighting atop a moving train, smoothly coordinated by director Herbert Ross. Settings include a train station at Linz but most action takes place in Vienna. The city contributes excitement with its famed Spanish Riding School when a team of gorgeous white stallions nearly trample Holmes and friends. The Austrian National Library, Hofburg Chapel, and Palm House also make appearances. The film ends in a scene that includes Vanessa Redgrave aboard the (now retired) 1853 steamer Johann Strauss. It sails on the Danube towards Budapest from Nussdorf with the Wachau Valley’s medieval Dürnstein Castle resting picturesquely above the river.

The Third Man, 1948 with Joseph Cotton entangled in a web that includes Orson Welles in Vienna. Director Carol Reed created a rare film where every aspect stands out: music, casting, cinematography, directing, writing, and location. Opening credits roll over pulsing strings as clear sounds emerge from a zither, with precise, captivating, and mysterious qualities that suit the entire film. Credits include Joseph Cotton, who earned high billing in many 1940s films (think Citizen Kane) without achieving the lasting cache of fellow actors like Orson Welles (think Citizen Kane). Speaking of whom…Welles gets third billing in the movie where almost an hour passes before he shows up—but what an entrance! That entrance blends the skills of cinematographer Robert Krasker (who won an Oscar for his work on the film) and director Reed. The two use shadowy figures, distorted camera angles, and a crispness that comes from the sharp contrast of black and white film stock. Reed also teamed with screenwriter Graham Greene, a novelist whose journalism skills helped create plot dynamics featuring real-life situations like a black market racket involving penicillin. Greene found his realities in war-torn Vienna, where a tradition for beauty shared space with the rubble of recent bombs. Many scenes and elements stand out, from the clever use of a small cat to a famous speech about the cuckoo (featuring dialogue added by Welles and reflecting director Reed’s openness to contributions to enhance his film). Locations highlight themes, including a descent into the city’s sewer system which empties into the beautiful blue Danube that Strauss wrote about. A 2010 Studio Canal DVD of The Third Man features tour guide and author Dr. Brigitte Timmerman in front of remaining locations. These include the Ferris wheel at Riesenrad, the closing scene’s walking path at Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery), and Stadtpark with the Strauss statue featured in the film’s opening moments. The Sacher Hotel also shows up in the film plus served as base for writer Greene as he researched the project. The city offers The Third Man Museum, with several rooms posters, stills, and props.

Vienna Blood, 2019- with Matthew Beard borrowing Sigmund Freud’s techniques to solve crimes in Vienna. Many whodunnit series thrive by using a distinctive setting as home to a regular, exorbitant number of horrific crimes, and 1900s Vienna proves fine fodder for murderous leanings by blending iconic names with well-preserved, period locales. Strauss shows up since his Weiner Blut waltz translates to the series’ English title. Mozart and The Magic Flute inspire murders in the first season. Meanwhile Beard, as main-character Max Liebermann, plays a psychologist who attends Freud’s lectures and applies what he learns to helping local police solve mysteries. The murders often prove complicated and contrived, while their psychology seems simplistic. Still, classy production values deliver engaging appeal. Vienna sites add luster to the show, broadcast on PBS with funding from the Viking Cruise line—which makes regular stops in the city. Episodes highlight visitor attractions regularly, and opening credits feature the famous Ferris Wheel, familiar to set-jetters following footsteps from The Third Man and Before Sunrise. The ride proves useful in Season 1’s second episode. St. Stephen’s Cathedral joins the big wheel in opening credit images, another site shown in The Third Man. The series’ first episode also pays tribute to local artist Gustave Klimt by including an exhibit featuring Beethovenfries, a 1902 painting that now hangs at the Secession Building. The city’s Mozart statue in the Burggarten plays a prominent part in the show’s third episode, though with screen magic since the statue stood in a different place before World War II. Like such other projects as Before Sunrise, the series also uses Café Sperl. Music fans know that Vienna Blood represents an English translation of Wiener Blut, a famous waltz by Johann Strauss II. The composer’s iconic work (and trust me, you likely recognize the melody) links the word “blood” to the resilient spirit, character, and emotional heart of Vienna. But “blood” suits dastardly deeds in darker projects like this British series plus a 2019 German feature film dealing with murder and human trafficking.

Weiner Blut, 1971 with opera stars singing about a city’s spirit in Vienna. Great metropolises generate iconic music, and Johann Strauss II provided the Austrian capital and surroundings with several pieces such as an anthem for the entire network of the region’s biggest river with “The Blue Danube” (or in German, “An der schönen blauen Donau”). Strauss inspired pseudo biopics like 1938’s The Great Waltz and its 1972 remake that filmed entirely in Vienna and features a big musical number aboard a Danube river cruise. Despite top M.G.M. production values like grand ballrooms, full orchestras, sumptuous costumes, choreographed dancers, and a fabulous soundtrack, the film fails to generate the flowing energy of a Strauss waltz. For that, look to a televised version of his operetta Weiner Blut with the city’s signature song. Lyrics celebrate a place “unique, full of fire, full of power.” Despite those heavy words, the operetta serves as light farce, featuring coloratura soprano Ingeborg Hallstein and tenor René Kollo. Director Hermann Lanskse guides a lush production that moves off stage for location filming on estates and in vastly elaborate interiors full of gold gilt and light marble that enhance an elegant yet cheerful mood. Appropriately, the piece ends with the city’s iconic activity, urging everyone to “dance and forget in the rhythm of the waltz.” Strauss’s genius links him with huge film talents: Alfred Hitchcock for 1934’s Waltz from Vienna, Billy Wilder (with Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine) in 1948’s The Emperor Waltz, and Walt Disney for 1963’s The Waltz King. But best of all, Strauss and his music’s light, floating sensations led Stanley Kubrick to use “Blue Danube” for a masterful blending of impressions in his cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Woman in Gold, 2015 with Helen Mirren retrieving her family’s Klimt paintings in Vienna. A real-life David vs. Goliath story, Woman in Gold pits a small shop keeper named Maria Altmann against the Austrian government in a battle for art stolen under the Nazi regime. A giant in the real world of movies, Mirren defies her own 5’4” stature to move like a force with a spine of steel. That means even first time viewers who know nothing about the story figure this formidable lady’s chances for winning look good. Showing both tough and vulnerable sides to the character, Mirren and the script make it clear that though the fight involves millions of dollars, the actual victory comes from achieving justice in a system that pretends thievery and antisemitism no longer exist. Altmann’s real life battle spanned eight years on paper and in courtrooms, so dynamics of the story come off as much less visual than David hurling a rock at Goliath. Flashback scenes involving flight from Nazi soldiers up the action ante, but the basics require legal talk. Working from stories told by Altmann and her lawyer (played by Ryan Reynolds), Alexi Campbell’s screenplay clarifies complicated situations under clear direction by Simon Curtis. His camera lingers on the title painting and shows some of its magic, but we set-jetters know that it takes an in-person visit to absorb a shimmering sensation that goes well beyond the gold leaf that Klimt applied on his canvas. Before watching the movie in 2015, I knew the painting’s magnificence from a 2006 exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Despite my previous, frequent museum meanderings, I never really noticed Klimt until that show but since then appreciate any opportunities to view his works. Vienna represents a jackpot of Klimt sightings—minus the title painting, now called “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” and hanging at the Neue Gallery in Manhattan. Despite returning five works to Altmann (Adele’s niece), the Belvedere in Vienna retains the world’s largest single collection of Klimt paintings for those who want to further appreciate the artist’s unique style. The Schloss Belvedere walk towards the museum’s two buildings appears in the film as a perfect postcard to lure visitors. Other Vienna sites in the movie include the frequently filmed famous Ferris wheel (Third Man, Living Daylights and many more), the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, and Hotel Sacher. Continuing the art connection, you can watch the star of Being John Malkovich paint in a jumbled biopic I think of as “Being Gustav Klimt” rather than its real title (Klimt). Some scenes filmed in Vienna. The Klimt-Collection of the Belvedere | Belvedere Museum Vienna

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