Monday, November 28, 2011

a visionary fades

hi everyone

well, the term "he/she had a unique vision" gets bandied about far too frequently these days. it shall, however, be used over the next few days in association with the late Ken Russell. it would be quite right to use the term under these circumstances.

today brought the news that the infamous rather than legendary TV and film director Ken Russell has passed away, aged 84. he had, advises his long term friend and contemporary Michael Winner, been rather ill for quite some time.

my abiding memory (and indeed image below) of him shall be a Russel Harty interview, around the time of Tommy and featured on the excellent The Kids Are Alright documentary film. in it he declared "Daltrey, Towshend, Entwistle and Moon" to be better for England and better in general than "Wilson, Heath and all those crappy people". he didn't suggest that in a calm way, it has to be said, and nor was he interested in listening to other opinions.

perhaps biased by the above, he has always struck me as the kind of director who would be most insistent on getting his way very, very quickly. whereas the late, great Stanley Kubrick, for instance, would think nothing of hundreds of takes of one scene (it was, after all, the "cheapest part" of movie making and it would be crazy not to do more takes, he stated), i imagine Ken Russell having no problem whatsoever punching an actor square in the face if he didn't get a scene right within a couple of takes. i have no evidence to support this, i just imagine it to be, and intended in a complimentary way.

there will no doubt be tributes across the internet and beyond to this great director, but for what it is worth here are 4 films i've selected as being particularly memorable, if not quite advised as viewing for all.

the tamest film on my list of 4 is Altered States, which is perhaps saying something. in brief, it's the tale of William Hurt's experimentation with an isolation tank, and the subequent psychological (and eventual physical) changes and effects it has on him.

the general consensus is if you substitute "isolation tank" for "loads of LSD" it all of a sudden makes a great deal of sense. i recall a truly excellent scene in it where Hurt appears in a doorway, i think in a white suit with flares, against a bright blinding white background, whilst the music of The Doors (Light My Fire if i am not mistaken) plays on.

i'm pretty sure that i have the VHS of this film still, perhaps now is the time to finally upgrade it to a shiny disc.

a film i certainly do not have in any format, however, is Crimes Of Passion, or China Blue as i seem to recall it was released in certain parts of the world.

what was it all about? i really don't recall - i think it was something to do with Anthony Perkins having a voyeuristic obsession with Kathleen Turner's, erm, woman of ill-repute. Perkins was a minister or something i think, trying to "save" her.

i do, however, certainly recall the scene in it with the truncheon / baton, and it is not one i ever wish to see again, thanks. it really, really pushed the boundaries of what you could get away with showing in a supposed mainstream film. claims that things like Basic Instinct and to an extent Crash were groundbreaking, as good as the films were, are somewhat comical when you get a load of what goes on it this one. if you go and get a load of this one, of course - seriously, proceed with caution.

in terms of things seen, one vision that you have seen and can never, ever unsee is Russell's cinematic interpretation of Tommy, the staggering Rock Opera by The Who. Russell declared the Tommy album "the greatest work of art the 20th century has produced", and this would be something i agree with and quote often.

Russell fiddled with the timeline and the story a bit (changed World Wars, swapped the role of father and lover), but this is entirely inconsequential in comparison to his bizarre, bonkers and ultimately brilliant casting choices. it is not everyone, for instance, who would opt to cast Jack Nicholson and Oliver Reed in a musical.

how to describe it? how about the 60s Pop Art movement as a big, massive train, crashing straight into a palace of the very finest of 70s kitsch. yep, that good! a consequence is that it has dated horribly, but a plus is that it truly is one two hour long mind**** that shall never be forgotten.

greatest moments? hard to limit the list, really, but the Young Tommy on the Amazing Journey springs to mind. and Tina Turner as the Acid Queen. and, of course, Keith Moon as your wicked Uncle Ernie. and...well, rather get the film and watch.

finally, absolutely no list or reference to Ken Russell would be complete without mention of his most infamous work (which again is really saying something), the 1971 film The Devils.

i have only ever seen a mid-90s video release that was even more cut than the originally heavily edited version of the film. it thus feels like i have never truly seen it, since legend has it that "almost as much as appeared in the version the censors passed was taken out". the copy i saw certainly looked butchered rather than edited.

word is that a "fully restored" version will be made available in early 2012, which makes it a bloody shame that Mr Russell is no longer with us, for it would have been something for him to see his vision back in place after all these years. i suspect, however, that it will be "fully restored" in as far as it is the original 1971 censored version, rather than just the constantly cut further one that is available now. i would imagine a great deal of the original footage has been lost forever, much like as happened to that other controversial yet brilliant early 70s work of British cinema, The Wicker Man.

beyond those, i can off the top of my head give an honourable mention to his TV adaptation of Lady Chatterly's Lover from the early 90s. this was never a favourite novel or story of mine, but nonetheless it provided a superb piece of entertainment in the adaptation.

Ken Russell was an imaginative, artistic film maker who dared to create the films he wanted to see, whether others wanted to see them too seems entirely secondary. he shall be missed, certainly, but one can only hope the world allows more of his style to make films in the future.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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