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  • #16
    Died yesterday, apparently...

    Ken Russell, Controversial Director, Dies at 84

    Ken Russell, the English filmmaker and writer whose outsize personality matched the confrontational brashness of his movies, died on Sunday, news agencies reported. He was 84.

    The Associated Press quoted his son, Alex Verney-Elliott, as saying Mr. Russell died after a series of strokes.

    A polarizing figure who delighted in breaching the limits of propriety and cinematic good taste, Mr. Russell courted controversy through much of his career. His most popular film, the D.H. Lawrence adaptation “Women in Love” (1969), and his most notorious one, “The Devils” (1971), about a 17th-century outbreak of religious hysteria, both caused run-ins with censors.

    The flamboyance and intemperance of his movies were all the more notable coming at a time when British cinema and television were still largely known for the kitchen-sink style of social realism. During the '70s, his most active decade as a feature film director, he made a series of artist biopics and rock operas that his supporters admired for their delirious excesses and that his detractors dismissed as vulgar kitsch.

    Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell was born on July 3, 1927, in Southampton, England, the son of a shoe store owner. He described his childhood as a lonely one, with many an afternoon spent at the movies, alone or with his mother. As a teenager, he attended nautical school, where he claimed to have won over the bullies by putting on amateur productions of Dorothy Lamour musicals. He served briefly in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Air Force, then moved to London, where he studied dance before turning to photography in his late 20s.

    Mr. Russell's work as a freelance photographer and filmmaker led in 1959 to a job at the BBC, where he made dozens of arts documentaries, most notably a 1962 piece on Elgar, unusual at the time for its use of re-enactments. His other subjects included the composers Prokofiev and Debussy, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the painter Henri Rousseau.

    The fascination with genius, ambition and the creative process — and the project of making high culture accessible to a popular audience — continued in Mr. Russell's later fictional features. Many of them take considerable liberties in exploring the lives and works of composers and artists: the Tchaikovsky biopic “The Music Lovers” (1970);“Savage Messiah” (1972), about the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; “Mahler” (1974); “Lisztomania” (1975), which imagined Franz Liszt as the original pop superstar.

    Mr. Russell's career in feature films began with a couple of lightweight genre assignments — the romantic comedy “French Dressing” (1964) and “Billion Dollar Brain” (1967), a spy movie with Michael Caine — and took off with “Women in Love” (1969), a sensuous period piece that connected with the liberated sexual politics of the late '60s. Although the film was generally well-reviewed and a mainstream success— it earned Mr. Russell his one Academy Award nomination for best director and won Glenda Jackson an Oscar for best actress — it was also the first glimpse of his flair for provocation.

    “Women in Love” became notorious for an extended wrestling scene between the two male stars, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, that featured full-frontal nudity and made it past the British censorship board only after Mr. Russell agreed to trim a few shots.

    “The Dance of the Seven Veils,” a caricatured television drama from 1970, emphasized the connections of the composer Richard Strauss to the Third Reich. The Strauss estate withdrew the music rights, and the film, the last that Mr. Russell made for the BBC, remains suppressed to this day.

    His 1971 film “The Devils,” based on real events that had inspired a play by John Whiting and a book by Aldous Huxley, tells the grotesque story of demonic possession at a French convent, complete with exorcism rituals and blasphemous orgies. Mr. Russell, who converted to Catholicism in the 1950s, saw the film as an attack on the corrupt union of church and state.

    The American funders and the British censors called for cuts. The Catholic Church condemned the movie when it was screened at the Venice Film Festival. Even in its edited version, the film was banned by several local authorities in Britain; it was further trimmed in the United States to avoid an X-rating.

    Despite his affinity for classical music, Mr. Russell's films had more in common with the flashy British rock scene of the day. This connection was made explicit with “Tommy” (1975), his frenzied film version of the Who's rock opera and concept album. He combined classical and rock music in the follow-up, “Lisztomania” (1975),which starred the Who's lead singer, Roger Daltrey, as Liszt and featured a cameo by Ringo Starr as the pope.

    Critics tended to welcome each new Ken Russell film as target practice. Reviewing “The Devils” in The New York Times, Vincent Canby called Mr. Russell “a hobbyist determined to reproduce 'The Last Supper' in bottle tops.” Pauline Kael called him a “shrill, screaming gossip.”

    Mr. Russell was not above fighting back. Appearing on live television shortly after the release of “The Devils” with the British critic Alexander Walker, who had denounced the film as “monstrously indecent,” Mr. Russell hit him on the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

    But even his staunchest critics would acknowledge that Mr. Russell left his mark on the medium. The nascent music-video aesthetic of the '80s can be traced to the slick surfaces, rapid montage and voracious pastiche of his films (he lifted liberally from the likes of Fellini and Cocteau).

    He had a knack for casting ascendant stars (Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson) and he sought out talented collaborators: two of his '60s films were scored by the French composer Georges Delerue; he hired the young Derek Jarman as a production designer on “The Devils.”

    Even in the prime of his career Mr. Russell cycled between hits and flops. Time and again he bounced back from critical and commercial disasters like “Lisztomania” and “Valentino.” He ventured into the American studio system with “Altered States” (1980), a hallucinogenic science-fiction film starring William Hurt. In his autobiography Mr. Russell revealed that he was hired by Warner Brothers only after 26 other directors had passed on the project. He feuded with the screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, who took his name off the project, but “Altered States” earned him some of his best reviews and has since developed a cult following.

    Mr. Russell's career never fully recovered from his 1984 flop, “Crimes of Passion,” although he managed one final provocation with “Whore” (1991). A drama about a Los Angeles prostitute, it was the last of his films to get a theatrical release in the United States, where it received an NC-17 rating and was released on video under the alternate title “If You Can't Say It, Just See It.”

    But even with his directing career in eclipse, Mr. Russell kept busy with films and documentaries for British television, occasional acting roles and self-financed low-budget features like “The Fall of the Louse of Usher,” a 2002 horror spoof literally shot in his backyard. He wrote several novels — including a few on the sex lives of famous composers (“Beethoven Confidential,” “Brahms Gets Laid”) —and made his off-Broadway directing debut in 2008 with “Mindgame,” a play starring Keith Carradine.

    In Britain he remained a public gadfly into his 70s and 80s, appearing on television talk shows and writing a column for The Times of London. In 2007 he joined the cast of the reality TV series “Celebrity Big Brother” and left the show after getting into an argument with another house guest, Jade Goody.

    In a column in The Times in 2008 about a critical biography on him by Joseph Lanza titled “Phallic Frenzy,” Mr. Russell reflected on his longtime status as a critical punching bag. “I believe in what I'm doing wholeheartedly, passionately, and what's more, I simply go about my business,” he wrote. “I suppose such a thing can be annoying to some people.”

    Neat that we got to see him in person.
    Alison Jane
    Girl Boss Jane
    Last edited by Alison Jane; 11-28-2011, 07:05 AM.


    • #17
      Sad that he's gone before seeing The Devils get a legit DVD release. RIP Mr. Russell. He came across as such a nice, warm, funny guy when he did the Lincoln Center appearance last year.
      Rock! Shock! Pop!


      • #18
        Some more on his passing from the BBC.
        Rock! Shock! Pop!


        • #19
          And Monty Python's take on it.
          It's not going to suck itself...


          • #20
            So it looks like that is the cover art.

            Amazon UK pre-order is up here.
            Rock! Shock! Pop!


            • #21
              Extras announced for The Devils:
              • DVD premiere presentation of the original UK X certificate version
              • Audio commentary with Ken Russell, Mark Kermode, Mike Bradsell and Paul Joyce
              • Hell on Earth (Paul Joyce, 2002, 48 mins): documentary exploring the film's production and the controversy surrounding its original release
              • Director of the Devils (1971, 21 min): documentary featuring candid Ken Russell interviews and unique footage of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies recording his celebrated film score
              • Original on-set footage with commentary by editor Mike Bradsell
              • Amelia and the Angel (Ken Russell, 1958, 30 mins): Ken Russell's short film, a delightful mix of religious allegory and magical fantasy
              • Original UK trailer
              • Original US trailer
              • Fully illustrated booklet featuring new essays and notes from Mark Kermode, Craig Lapper (BBFC), Sam Ashby, and others
              Rock! Shock! Pop!


              • #22
                The BFI just sent out a new press releases, some slight changes to the extras:
                -DVD premiere presentation of the original UK X certificate version
                -Newly filmed introduction with broadcaster and critic Mark Kermode (2012, 2 mins)
                -Audio commentary with Ken Russell, Mark Kermode, editor Michael Bradsell and Paul Joyce
                -Hell on Earth (Paul Joyce, 2002, 48 mins): documentary exploring the film's production and the controversy surrounding its original release
                -Director of Devils (1971, 22 mins): documentary featuring candid Ken Russell interviews and unique footage of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies recording his celebrated film score
                -Original on-set footage with commentary by editor Michael Bradsell (2012, 8 mins)
                -On-stage Q&A with Ken Russell (2012, 13 mins): an excerpt from a conversation with Mark Kermode filmed at the National Film Theatre in 2004
                -Amelia and the Angel (1958, 26 mins): Ken Russell's second short, made by the BFI's Experimental Film Fund; a delightful mix of religious allegory and magical fantasy
                -Original UK trailer
                -Original US trailer -44-page illustrated booklet featuring new essays from Mark Kermode, Craig Lapper (BBFC), Michael Bradsell and Sam Ashby, plus film notes, biographies and credits
                Rock! Shock! Pop!


                • #23
                  Forty years ago, The Devils caused outrage amongst audiences and critics after one of the longest-running battles with the BBFC was resolved and the film finally opened in cinemas. Now recognised as a landmark in British film history, The Devils finally gets its DVD premiere on 19 March, released by the BFI in the original UK X certificate version, accompanied by a wealth of new and exciting extra features and a 44-page illustrated booklet.

                  The death of director Ken Russell, in November last year, sparked an outpouring of tributes from both the film industry and fans. This 2-disc Special Edition release of what many consider to be his greatest work is a justly fitting tribute to one of Britain's true mavericks.

                  The Devils is based on John Whiting's stage play and Aldous Huxley's novel. In 17th century France, a promiscuous and divisive local priest, Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), uses his powers to protect the city of Loudun from destruction by the establishment. Soon, he stands accused of the demonic possession of Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), whose erotic obsession with him fuels the hysterical fervour that sweeps through the convent.

                  With Ken Russell's bold and brilliant direction, magnificent performances by Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, exquisite Derek Jarman sets and a sublimely dissonant score by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, The Devils stands as a profound and sincere commentary on religious hysteria, political persecution and the corrupt marriage of church and state.
                  Rock! Shock! Pop!


                  • #24
                    The BFI just uploaded this bad boy to their youtube channel:

                    Rock! Shock! Pop!


                    • #25
                      A review of the BFI Devils dvd has surfaced.


                      So it's not the "director's cut", still missing two pieces (the "rape of Christ" sequence, and the bone bit at the end). Still, it sounds like an excellent disc, and the best presentation yet.


                      • #26
                        DVD Beaver had good things to say about it too. Nice to see this FINALLY get a respectful release despite the missing footage.
                        Rock! Shock! Pop!


                        • #27
                          is the missing footage available anywhere?


                          • #28
                            Yep. There's a bootleg of the full uncut version but it's the wrong aspect ratio (it's 1.78.1 vs. 2.35.1).
                            Rock! Shock! Pop!


                            • #29
                              Watched Altered States last night via the new Blu-ray, it looks and sounds very good. No extras aside from a trailer, but I kind of expected that.

                              The movie holds up well, though it ends so abruptly that it does hurt it. The build up is great though. William Hurt is great in the lead and the effects, if dated, are still very, very cool. Just a trippy, weird, smart sci-fi horror mix up, really. Russell's made better films but this is still very solid.
                              Rock! Shock! Pop!


                              • #30
                       posted this yesterday afternoon:

                                "Bel Air Classiques have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray acclaimed director Ken Russell's (The Music Lovers, The Devils) Valentino (1977), starring Rudolf Nureyev, Leslie Caron and Michelle Phillips. The preliminary release date set by the studio is March 1.

                                The world's most celebrated dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, portrays Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen's most renowned lover, in this flamboyant film fantasia that also features Leslie Caron and Michelle Phillips.

                                Note: In the United States, Valentino is currently available only on DVD, through MGM's MOD program."

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