Monday, 28 November 2011

Our Ken, Beyond

So sad to hear this morning of the passing of film director Ken Russell. One imagines him now in some gothic Valhalla surrounded by Elgar, D.H.Lawrence, Mahler and Oliver Reed. Who is leading him to a heavenly champagne bar staffed by seventeenth century nuns. Ken was an enormous influence on me in the sixties and seventies, first with the groundbreaking television films- Elgar (after which my father, on seeing the director credit said "We must watch out for him), Song of Summer (the last days of composer Delius); and then the superb feature films- Women in Love, The Devils, and later Gothic and The Rainbow. A flawed (thank goodness) genius, I had always meant to track him down to his cottage in the New Forest where he ended his days alone. Now of course, he is largely forgotten by most of today's audiences who, if at all, will only remember his ill-judged but mercifully brief stay in the Big Brother House. I'm glad, though, that his work, in particular The Devils, was championed by critic Mark Kermode, and that this masterpiece is now finally going to be very belatedly released on DVD. I shall hook-up my videotape player tonight and give it a spin, raising a big glass of something good to a true master of English cinema.



(That's Ken in the middle of the photo above, with Lady Chatterley (Joely Richardson) and camera left his third wife Hetty Baynes.)

15 comments:

The Vintage Knitter said...

My first introduction to Ken Russell's films was via The Boyfriend, which I saw on tv in the early 80s. Its such a wonderful film and Twiggy shines in it. Watching it at a young and easily influenced age probably fuelled my love for all things vintage.

Wartime Housewife said...

I didn't always like the films that he made but I was extremely glad that he was out there making them.

In these homogeneous times we could really do with film makers of truly intelligent and iconoclastic dispositions who aren't afraid to take risks and do extraordinary things.

I'm keen to see his funeral though. Apparently he wanted a Viking style do with his mortal remains burnt on a raft and pushed out into a lake (can't remember which one). I bet they won't let him do it.

Peter Ashley said...

Ken had a big row with Ambleside District Council because he wanted the burning ship to be pushed out onto Lake Windermere. It was enough of a shock for them when he decided to premiere Gothic in the local cinema.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Although I admire some of his feature films, I'm especially fond of his early films (for TV) about Elgar and Delius, the ones he did for the Monitor series. He did a number of other composers (Bax, Prokofiev), but I've not seen these: are they available? Must find out.

Jon Dudley said...

I knew this would get you out of the phone box. And with good reason. Michael Winner described him as a 'nutter' on the box last night...that's a bit rich coming from him, and in any case we need more nutters if they're of the calibre of Ken Russell. I do hope the funeral can go ahead as he wished.

Peter Ashley said...

You're right Jon, this news did get me pushing against the peeling door. Funny old month this November so apologies for absence. And you're also correct in thinking that we could do with another Ken livening us up. In these days of anyone being able to put together films the opportunities are there, but he will be a very hard act to follow. Any aspiring filmmaker should study every frame of his early films. And keep the camera still until it has to move, I would urge. Kubrick knew this too, another irreplaceable loss.

Peter Ashley said...

Philip: I was lucky enough to get Elgar and Song of Summer when the Bfi released them on DVD a few years ago. They must have produced about 9 copies, because they're very difficult to find now at a reasonable price. As for Bax and Prokofiev I imagine the BBC can't remember where they put them. I'm so glad I managed to tape his Ken Russell's ABC of British Music, where he illustrated Scottish dancing by having a girl do a sword dance whilst taking her kit off; and Welsh dancing by her putting it all back on again.

Sue said...

Memories of film club at University and naked wrestling are surging up, I'm afraid! But yesterday, I actually saw "Song of Summer" for the first time via Facebook (it does have its uses). Must look up Elgar, too.

Peter Ashley said...

Sue: Glad you've seen Song of Summer. Did you spot Mr.Russell in a tiny cameo role as the local priest caught on top of Delius's housemaid on one of the pews in the church? But my favourite scene is Percy Grainger throwing a ball over the roof of the house and then running through to catch it on the other side.

Sue said...

Hah! Good excuse to watch it again...

Ron Combo said...

Did he do one (as it were) on Bruckner?

Peter Ashley said...

Don't think so Ron, but somehow it does ring a bell amongst late stuff he did for Melvyn Barg's South Bank Show.

Philip Watson said...

Ken Russell is also fondly remembered for his photographic essay on the Teddy Girls of East London. Sadly, the original set of pictures seems no longer to be available on the internet, although a selection may be found here.

ChrisP said...

I interviewed him once when I was doing consumer gadgets for the Telegraph. He had just discovered that the latest digital video cameras gave excellent results for a few grand, and was busy shooting feature films and editing them on his PC. Still incredibly avant-garde and he must have been in his 70s.

Prestidigation said...

This may be a small point, but he certainly did not end his last days alone! Are you kidding? He died peacefully in my arms during a nap, at home, after twelve gloriously happy years. I don't think anyone could have been more personally loved, adored and cherished. In his last twelve years he made 9 films, a play, many TV docs, designed furniture and wrote novels, scripts and an arts column in the TIMES for 4 years. He had a travelling show with Humphrey Burton and others with Mark Kermode. He was a film professor at two Universities. He was adored by his actors, his neighbours and by me.