Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Ken Russell, R.I.P.

It has just been announced that veteran English director Ken Russell ("the wild man of British cinema" as lazy journalists called him) has died, aged 84. More or less forgotten for the last couple of decades, though he kept working, he of course came into his own in the 60s with the films he made for the BBC (his film on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, DANTE'S INFERNO in 1967, with Oliver Reed exhuming his wife's coffin to retrieve some poems was unforgettable, in stunning black and white images) and his other television films on Delius, Elgar etc were innovative at the time and led to his career in cinema; there was also a highly regarded one on ISADORA DUNCAN, THE BIGGEST DANCER IN THE WORLD, with Vivien Pickles.

WOMEN IN LOVE, THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE DEVILS were all notorious in their time as Ken pushed the boundaries... later films on Liszt and Mahler certainly went over the top, and then there was TOMMY !, as well as THE BOYFRIEND, the long unseen SAVAGE MESSIAH and that interesting addition to the Harry Palmer films, BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN in '67 also with some stunning imagery (and Francoise Dorleac in her last film). THE BOYFRIEND is still a pleasure now, as a cast of Ken regulars [Christopher Gable, Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, Antonia Ellis, Murray Melvin, Vladek Sheybal] headed by the gauche Twiggy, Tommy Tune, and Glenda in a hilarious cameo, re-enact the 20s musical in a provincial theatre (in Portsmouth). That and THE DEVILS both in 1971 made it quite a year!

I recently got a new issue of THE MUSIC LOVERS, so it will be interesting to revisit it ... His later films like ALTERED STATES, CRIMES OF PASSION and THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM have their devotees too.

I loathed his VALENTINO in 1977 though, which trashed both Rudolfs - Valentino himself and Nureyev - and the rest of the cast. One would have thought Ken would have relished the excesses of '20s Hollywood but its mean-spirited view of Valentino, his wife Natacha, Nazimova (Leslie Caron) left a nasty taste, for me anyway - and Pauline Kael also loathed it! Perhaps we had enough of Ken's excesses by then .... I have been meaning to catch his first cinema feature FRENCH DRESSING in 1964 about a small town putting on a film festival which could be interesting now.

Ken was certainly a colorful character - I saw that famous interview on television when he hit critic Alexander Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of the newspaper "The Evening Standard" containing Walker's dismissive review of his latest opus.
His early BBC work though is certainly worth investigating if one missed them first time round - like that imagery of the young Elgar riding his pony over the Malvern hills as the music blares out ...

Like Schlesinger, Losey, Lester and Roeg his best works are a testament to that innovative late '60s/early '70s era; I dare say the obits will now be referring to him as the grand old man of British Cinema. TOMMY was full of invention too, like Eric Clapton's Church of Saint Marilyn, not to mention Ann-Margret and those baked beans!. Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughters all became part of his cast of players.
His first wife Shirley (who died in 2002) was a well regarded costume designer who did the costumes for Ken's major films as well as other prestige period movies like YANKS, REDS, HOPE AND GLORY etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment