A Ken Russell Interlude

Ken Russell

Just taking a brief break from putting the final touches on the last half of my Favorite DVDs of 2008 list and wanted to point out a few Ken Russell related reading and viewing suggestions.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ken Russell is one of my favorite directors and with the recent unfortunate death of actress Natasha Richardson I’ve had his 1986 film Gothic on my mind a lot. In the film Natasha Richardson does an incredible job of bringing Frankenstein author Mary Shelley to life. Marilyn Ferdinand has just written a nice piece about this often under-appreciated Russell movie that you can find on her blog, which I highly recommend reading: Gothic (1986)

I also thought it was a good time to mention that I’ve recently watched some great interviews with Ken Russell that are available online. The BBC Film Network site has a interesting and lengthy video interview with the director on their website right now that you can view here: Ken Russell: Interview. And on Youtube I highly recommend the Media Funhouse video interviews with Russell, which you can find here and here.

And last but not least, in 2008 Ken Russell updated his autobiography and the paperback version of the book will be published in April. It’s a great read if you’re a fan of the director or just want to know more about one of British cinema’s most original artists. You can find more information about the book at Amazon: A British Picture: An Autobiography by Ken Russell.

9 thoughts on “A Ken Russell Interlude

  1. Thanks for the link. It really piqued my interest. I’ve seen the video in a few local shops for years now, thought it looked interesting, never rented it.

    I really love The Devils, but I must admit to not having seen much more of Russell’s work–other than Lair of the White Worm, which I saw over 10 years ago now and was not terribly fond of at the time. One of these days I’ll have to see more of his stuff.

  2. Glad you found the links useful!

    As I mentioned over at Marilyn’s blog, Gothic is one of my favorite Russell films, but it’s hard to recommend. I often wonder if I just enjoy it so much because I’m fascinated with the historic events it portrays? I think you’d find it interesting to watch even with its problems and it does have some problems. I hate the way Dr. Polidori is portrayed for example, but it works in the movie.

    The Devils is definitely my favorite Russell film but I also like The Lair of the White Worm a lot. A few of my other favorites are The Music Lovers and his excellent D. H. Lawrence adaptations Women in Love and The Rainbow. Russell seems to understand the subtle aspects of Lawrence’s work better than any filmmaker.

  3. Thanks for the link, Kimberly, which is helping to spread the word about Gothic. I would have no trouble recommending the film to people, albeit with an explanation that it’s basically a hallucination with not much plot. I think it’s beautiful.

  4. No problem Marilyn!

    The events that took place at the Villa Diodati that summer were fueld by drugs, passions and fears so I think the surreal aspect of the film really works in its favor. Knowing the history of the events would probably make the film easier for many to appreciate, but by most accounts the behavior of Percy, Claire and Byron in the film was pretty typical of them. Percy occasionally had visions of future events as well so I like the way Russell passed that ability onto Mary. I also like the way the film portrays the historical events it touches on and manages to compound years of history between the characters into a couple of hours.

    Russell has never really been a director who was interested in conventional plot so I hope anyone who watches the film will be aware of this. He often seemed much more concerned with the visual aesthetics (as well as sound over story) and Gothic is a great example of this.

  5. Over at Coosa Creek Cinema, Rick Olson was talking about what is meant when someone says a film is “cinematic.” There may be as many definitions as viewers, but to me, Russell is the quintessence of cinematic of the type that I like. You can discern a coherence in the often chaotic goings-on he commits to film – visually interesting, yet thematically intelligent as well. For me, he exercises the mind and the senses, not afraid of either intellectual or intuitive intelligence.

  6. Strange – I watched “Gothic” this weekend. Nothing to do with Richardson’s death, I just happened to find a copy in a charity shop for £1 the other week.

    I always have a kind of love/hate reaction to Russell’s films: on the one hand, I respect him hugely for his approach to filmmaking and always enjoy his films’ ambition and visual imagination, but on the other hand… my enjoyment is always marred by his failure to ever make a film that isn’t essentially a load of sleazy old rot, if usually a pretty unique and entertaining load of old rot.

    It wouldn’t bother me so much if he made straight trash/exploitation movies, but the literary origins, classical themes (not to mention prestige casts and lavish production design) of his films always seem to raise the promise of engagement with the material/themes at hand that goes somewhat beyond the level of a drug-crazed public schoolboy, and that never really emerges sadly.

    Nonetheless though, I can’t help but love the guy, just… because.

    In fact, “Ken Russell’s Guide to Directing Film” was another great charity shop find last year; a slim volume sadly not featuring many practical insights on how the hell he managed to make.. ALL THAT STUFF.. happen in front of his camera, but a lot of amusing anecdotes, bitching about the British film industry, exceptionally bad language – all the stuff you’d expect.

  7. Marilyn – Cinematic is definitely a word I used to descrivbe Russell’s films!

    Ben – Obviously I totally disagree with you on Russell since what you see as failings in his work is what draws me to it. I love the fact that Russell is able and willing to tackle big ideas in his films even when they might appear exploitive to some. I also think his understanding of D.H. Lawrence’s work for example in films like Women in Love and The Rainbow goes way beyond the “the level of a drug-crazed public schoolboy.” But that’s just me! I haven’t read Ken Russell’s Guide to Directing so I don’t have an opinion on it but I should give it look. It sounds like a good quick read.

  8. Yes, fair point – apologies for brash remarks in previous comment, I was just thinking out loud really.

    “Women In Love” is probably my favourite Russell film in fact – or at least, I was sufficiently impressed with it to immediately go and read the novel, only to discover that all my favourite aspects of the film were Russell’s additions/interpretations! (Not that it isn’t an extraordinary novel in it’s own right of course.)

  9. I’ll have to watch Gothic.

    The Devil’s is my favourite Ken Russell movie, although I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Savage Messiah.

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