4.4 C
New York

An Empress Ahead of Her Time Is Having a Pop Culture Moment


VIENNA — The Nineteenth-century Empress Elisabeth of Austria is all over the place in Vienna: on chocolate boxes, on bottles of rosé, on posters around town. The Greek antiques she collected are at Hermesvilla, on town outskirts; her hearse is at Schönbrunn Palace, the previous summer residence of the Hapsburg royal family; and her cocaine syringe and gym equipment are on display on the Hofburg, which was the monarchy’s central Vienna home.

These traces paint an attractive, but incomplete, picture of an empress who receded from public life not long after entering it, and spent most of her time traveling the world to avoid her own court. She had a tattoo on her shoulder; drank wine with breakfast; and exercised two to 3 times a day on wall bars and rings in her rooms. These eccentricities, combined together with her refusal to have her picture taken after her early 30s, fueled an charisma round her.

Now, nearly 125 years after Elisabeth’s assassination, at age 60, two recent productions — a recent Netflix series called “The Empress” and a movie called “Corsage” that debuted on the Cannes Film Festival in May and can hit American theaters on Dec. 23 — offer their very own ideas.

“Growing up in Austria, she was the important tourist magnet, apart from Mozart,” said Marie Kreutzer, who wrote and directed “Corsage.” Nevertheless, she added, Elisabeth, who was married to Emperor Franz Josef I, is basically a mystery. “Her image is one you may reimagine and reinterpret and fill along with your own imagination, because now we have loads of stories about her, but you don’t know in the event that they’re true,” Kreutzer said.

The moody, mental and beauty-obsessed empress has had many reincarnations.

While alive, Elisabeth, who also went by “Sisi,” traveled continuously, often to Hungary, Greece and England, and was rarely seen by the Viennese public. In private, she wrote poetry, rode horses and hunted, hiked high into the Alps, read Shakespeare, studied classical and modern Greek, took warm baths in olive oil and wore leather masks full of raw veal as a part of her skincare routine.

“She was such a recluse,” said Michaela Lindinger, a curator on the Wien Museum, who has studied Elisabeth for greater than twenty years and wrote “My Heart Is Manufactured from Stone: The Dark Side of the Empress Elisabeth,” a book in regards to the Empress that inspired “Corsage.” “People didn’t see her, and he or she didn’t wish to be seen,” Lindinger said.

Nevertheless, she was the empress of Austria, and later the queen of Hungary, too, so she was widely discussed. “Regardless of how much she fled the eye and scrutiny and the court, she was all the time pursued,” said Allison Pataki, who wrote two historical novels about Elisabeth, “The Accidental Empress” and “Sisi: Empress on Her Own.” “She was thrust into the highlight as this young girl who was chosen by the emperor, largely due to her physical beauty.”

After Elisabeth was killed by an anarchist in Switzerland, in 1898, she became an object of fascination throughout the Hapsburg Empire, and her image appeared on commemorative coins and in memorial pictures. Within the Nineteen Twenties, a series of novels about her were published, specializing in her love life.

In the course of the Fifties, the “Sissi” film trilogy, starring Romy Schneider, revived Elisabeth as a happy-go-lucky Disney princess come to life, clad in bouncy pastel dresses and beloved by animals and other people alike. The syrupy movies, which appear on German and Austrian TV screens every Christmas, are a part of the “Heimatfilm” genre, which emerged within the German-speaking world after World War II and have beautiful scenes of the countryside, clear-cut morals and a world untouched by conflict.

“I grew up watching the Romy Schneider movies in a campy way,” said Katharina Eyssen, the show runner and head writer for “The Empress,” who’s from Bavaria, in southern Germany. As played by Schneider, Elisabeth is “only a good-hearted girl that has no inner conflicts,” she said.

Eyssen’s tackle Elizabeth, played by Devrim Lingnau in “The Empress,” is feistier, wilder and edgier than Schneider’s. The series opens shortly before Elisabeth meets her future husband (and cousin), during his birthday celebrations in Bad Ischl, Austria. Because the story goes, Franz Josef was expected to propose to Elisabeth’s older sister, Duchess Helene in Bavaria, but he modified his mind once he saw Elisabeth.

Where Schneider’s eyes sparkle with joy and excitement, Lingnau’s are heavier and signal a darker inner world

Within the biographies Eyssen read while developing the show, she said, Elisabeth’s character is portrayed as “difficult, fragile, almost bipolar, melancholic.” But Eyssen didn’t fully buy this angle. “There needs to be a creative and passionate force, otherwise she wouldn’t have survived that long,” she said.

Much of what is thought in regards to the empress’s personal life comes from her poems, in addition to letters and written recollections from her children, her ladies-in-waiting and her Greek tutor. “She’s a myth in so some ways,” Kreutzer said. “It was a special time, there was no media as there may be today. There are so few photographs of her.”

After her early 30s, Elisabeth refused to have her picture taken, and the last time she sat for a painting was at age 42. Photos and paintings of her which might be dated later are either retouched, or composites. “She desired to stay within the memory of the people because the eternally young queen,” Lindinger said.

“Corsage” goes further than “The Empress” down the dark pathways of Elisabeth’s character, offering a punk-gothic portrait of the empress at 40, as a deeply troubled soul who grasps for levity and freedom within the stifling atmosphere of the Hapsburg court. She smokes, she’s obsessive about exercise and the ocean, and he or she weighs herself each day (all true, in accordance with historians).

The title of the movie, in German, translates as “corset.” Famously, Elisabeth maintained a 50-centimeter waistline throughout her life.

Kreutzer and Vicky Krieps, who stars as Elisabeth, decided that, for the sake of authenticity, Krieps would wear a corset just like the Empress’s during filming.

“It’s an actual torture instrument,” Krieps said. “You possibly can’t breathe, you may’t feel. The ties are in your solar plexus, not in your waist.” She said she almost gave up on filming due to how miserable the corset made her.

Kreutzer also noticed a change in Krieps, with whom she had worked on one other movie several years earlier, that began during considered one of the primary fittings.

“She became barely impatient with the ladies working on it and the ladies who were surrounding her and touching her,” she said. “I do know now it was the physical tension and pain that made her feel unwell and act in a different way than I do know her to be. It was like her moving into the skin of any person else.”

Having grown up on the Romy Schneider movies, Krieps said she felt as a teen that there was something darker within the empress that was being shielded from view, and began to relate to the entrapment she imagined Elisabeth had felt during her life.

After Krieps went through puberty, she said, “suddenly I had a sexuality and my body was all the time related to this sexuality.” Later, as a mother, she said, “my body became something like a jail,” and society expected her to be a completely different person.

She began to see in Elisabeth’s struggles together with her body and the roles assigned to her as “a heightened version of something every woman experiences,” she said.

The ultimate years of Elisabeth’s life have remained largely unexplored in popular culture. (“Corsage” takes artistic liberties with the portrayal of her death.) After Elisabeth’s only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, killed himself in 1889, her longstanding depression became deeper and more everlasting. While sailing on her yacht, Miramar, she would sit on the deck even in bad weather, her ever-present black lace parasol her only defense against the rain and breaking waves, in accordance with “Sisi: Myth and Truth” by Katrin Unterreiner. Once, during a heavy storm, she had herself tied to a chair above deck. In response to her Greek tutor, Constantin Christomanos, she said: “I’m acting like Odysseus since the waves lure me.”

Pataki, the novelist, said that throughout her life, Elisabeth fought against the constricting role of being an empress. From her poems, mental pursuits and travels, it appears as if Elisabeth was all the time looking outward, imagining herself anywhere but where she was. In a single poem from 1880, she gave a touch of what she may need been pondering during on a regular basis she spent on the deck of the Miramar: “I’m a sea gull from no land/I don’t call anybody beach my home./I’m not tied by anybody place,/I fly from wave to wave.”

In some ways, Pataki said, she may need felt more comfortable in today’s society than in Nineteenth-century Vienna. “Her primary role and the expectation placed on her was, have sons, produce heirs,” Pataki said. “But Sisi was very ahead of her time in wanting more for herself as a lady, a person, a wife and a frontrunner.”

Get the latest Sports Updates (Soccer, NBA, NFL, Hockey, Racing, etc.) and Breaking News From the United States, United Kingdom, and all around the world.

Related articles


Recent articles