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.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Ken's Rainbow

That was a nice wave of affection for Ken Russell who died recently, at the good age of 84. BBC here in England ran WOMEN IN LOVE the other weekend, terrific to see it again after some decades - it remains his "prestige" film, they also showed the lesser known THE RAINBOW from 1989, also by D.H. Lawrence, with the same lead character Ursula Brangwen when younger.

WOMEN IN LOVE is so exhuberent - there is just so much in it, so much plot, so much happening, so many vivid characters, Ken here in his prime has great material to work with and a great cast and comes across like an English Fellini, creating great moods and images, it is so very 1969. I had forgot how marvellous Alan Bates was in his prime, and it must also be Oliver Reed's finest moment, Eleanor Bron is also terrific. Russell was a visionary who marched to the beat of his own drum and WIL remains a film that is both visually striking and rich in narrative. Perhaps the more apt comparison is to Orson Welles, a fellow auteur who started his career in the good graces of the critics and then began making more challenging films that were interested in stretching the medium.

Ken too while "hot" did some challenging films: THE MUSIC LOVERS (I have a new dvd of that to watch, so a report later) and I understand a new complete print of THE DEVILS will be unveiled (but not sure if I want to see that again....) and he kept working to diminishing returns after the success of TOMMY. I loathed VALENTINO and he seems to have lost his mass audience around then, but kept making movies even ending up making them in his garage. THE SAVAGE MESSIAH should be a re-discovery, and perhaps the amusingly awful LISZTOMANIA , and his forays into American movies ... (I recently also got BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967) to complete my Francoise Dorleac movies.)

The BBC also showed a new documentary on him, great to see clips from his "Monitor" days, those black and white films on composers like Delius and Elgar. THE RAINBOW though is a curious trifle - almost D.H. Lawrence lite, or a parody of those themes. IMDB says: Ken Russell's loose adaptation of the last part of D.H. Lawrence's "The Rainbow" sees impulsive young Ursula coming of age in pastoral England around the time of the Boer War. At school, she is introduced to lovemaking by a bisexual physical education instructress. While experiencing disillusionment in her first career attempt (teaching), she has an affair with a young Army officer, who wants to marry her. Unable to accept a future of domesticity, she breaks with him, and eventually leaves home in search of her destiny.

Ken obviously inspired a lot of affection so appearing here must have been a labour of love for Ken's regulars like Glenda Jackson and Christopher Gable as Ursula's loving parents with their bohemian (for the time) marriage. David Hemmings is simply marvellous as Uncle Harry - before he got too florid - and he brings a lot of humour and grace to the role. The unusual looking Sammi Davis is Ursula, and Amanda Donohue (later the star of Ken's bonkers LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) is the school teacher who teaches Sammi the joys of sapphic love as the girls strip and run around naked in the rain ... Amanda soon though latches on to Hemmings and marries him and has a baby, while soldier Paul McGann shows Sammi the joys of hetero sex, as he too strips and runs around naked. Add in school teaching with lecherous teachers and the scene is set for the usual Ken histrionics. So, an enjoyable romp, another of those British films of the era exploring sex in those restrictive times, like that other 1970 D.H. saga THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY by Christopher Miles, who also gave us the later DH bio THE PRIEST OF LOVE with more stripping off by Ian McKellen and Co in 1981 - reviews at costume drama label.

I also recorded THE BOYFRIEND - also not seen that for decades, should be fun again, as Ken's regulars like Max Adrian, Glenda, Gable, Georgina Hale, Antonia Ellis, Vladek Sheybal, Graham Armitage and the very gauche Twiggy [now starring in Marks & Spencer clothes advertisments] amuse and entertain us back in 1971.

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