Monday 28 November 2011

Sad news that Ken Russell is no more


So this sensational odd-ball of a British film director has left us, at the age of 84.
His films were always such an 'event' in the late 60s/early 70s - always controversial, maddening to many, and certainly never to be ignored. When they were released they were so eye-popping in terms of visuals on those huge cinema screens in pre-multiplex days. One hardly dared to blink for fear of missing something!
Those I show here are the films which, in my opinion, show him at the very peak of his art (I've no doubt that some may deride my choices - particularly including 'Valentino' and 'The Boy Friend', two films which Russell himself detested. Even 'Tommy', I find, gets somewhat wearing to watch after an hour or so.). Pity that, in my opinion, in the 70s he lost the plot big-time and never recovered. His films then became for me, if not parodies of a parody, then, frankly boring - surely one of the ultimate crimes in film-making!
But he has left a canon of work which, in terms of lapel-grabbing images has rarely been equalled, let alone surpassed.
Ken Russell - a name that deserves to be remembered for a very long time.


  1. "Women in Love," I thought was incredible. Wonder what I'd think if I saw it now. For me, "Valentino" was a huge embarrassment (especially watching Nureyev contort in the nude scenes to conceal his privates) and I have tried three times to watch "Tommy" in its entirety and have never succeeded (and I have been known to sit through the worst trash just to be polite to the writers/creators who don't even know I exist). But, yes some great works were in there!

  2. He did make some great, extravagant, thought-provoking films.

  3. i was not aware there was a film "Mahler" !
    As he is my favorite, I will check this out.

  4. Mitch, together with Bob and Dr Spo surprise me in knowing of (some of) these films as I thought that he was very much of an insular British taste, but there you are.
    Yes, it's difficult to find any fault in 'Women in Love', it catches the spirit of the novel perfectly.
    I actually am able re-watch 'Valentino', but more for the visuals than anything else. I agree that Nureyev's limitations show - if nothing else!
    'Tommy' I just find tiring, mainly aurally, but the visual imagination is always stunning.

  5. Bob, glad that you're a fan too, but it was only in a glorious 7-8 year period that he maintained his mastery before he went off the boil. Great shame it wasn't for longer.

  6. Dr Spo you really MUST catch 'Mahler'. It's an incredible switchback ride. Among all the extravagances characteristic of Russell, the fantasised portrayal of his conversion from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, in particular, is screamingly hilarious, and would bring down the wrath of many a Wagner worshipper.

    Btw when you say 'Mahler' is your favourite (composer), did you really mean that literally, or was it just a figure of speech? I wouldn't decry anyone for saying it, but it is a MOST interesting remark coming from your good self. Just in case I'm raising some doubt, I do also have a significant regard for Mahler.

  7. I remember when "Women In Love" was released and everyone was talking about the nude wrestling scene.

    Russell's visuals were powerful and this is one of the reasons his movies stay with you for a very long time.

    The films that remain with me are: "Valentino: - what a thrill to see Nureyev dancing the tango with the great Anthony Dowell. "The Music Lovers - because of the music and the pairing of Richard Chamberlain and Christopher Gable. I'll also add "The Boy Friend" because of Christopher Gable.

  8. Not for the first time, Paul, have you and I are of one mind.

    Chris Gable was certainly a 'blonde bombshell' in those days.

    Richard Chamberlain must have done a lot of heart-searching in taking on 'The Music Lovers' as it was only relatively recently that he came out, though he must have known that playing Tchaikovsky might have set some tongues wagging, though those tongues turned out to be rather restrained. For me, he certainly looked his best in that film.

    He and the recently-deceased Gable were again paired together in the dire musical film of 'The Slipper and the Rose' in the mid-70s, which I so much wanted to like but the Sherman bros' below-standard songs didn't help the already dull visuals one little bit.
    The film of 'The Boy Friend' is a curate's egg of a film. Always entertaining to watch - but then did Russell really have to import those 'Singin' in the Rain' songs? Fine on their own terms but such an action seems to say that the original score wasn't good enough alone. If it was good enough for Julie Andrews in both London and on Broadway, then that's good enough for me!

    Oh, and the wrestling scene in 'Women' - very artfully and tastefully done. I believe that both Reed and Bates deliberately got themselves pretty drunk before filming it. Just as well or it might have needed very fine camerawork to conceal anything 'unwanted' coming up!

  9. Sad news - but the radio had it as lead story all day. Bit too much.


    Advance notice...... so, the final '5 on the fifth' needs to feature as many people as possible! Just take 5 photographs on the days leading up to the 5th and publish those on your own blog and then add the link to my blog so that others can find your images.

    As always, you can either take 5 random pictures or follow this months theme:

    Winter Weekend

  10. Stephen, I wasn't aware of all that much coverage of K.R.'s demise on the radio. Mentioned, yes- but not to excess. Perhaps we were listening to different stations. Certainly in the 70s this would have been major news but I agree, less so now.

    Yes, I read about your final '5 on the 5th' on your own blog. I was going to actually stand aside once again as it's not so easy for me to do, but since you've gone to the trouble.......