Ken Russell reported dead
You often hear about the idea of a director being an artist.
Ken Russell defined that.
You can watch a minute of a Ken Russell movie and recognize his hand, his eye, his heart, and his mind.
Like Kubrick, Cronenberg, and de Palma, you know you are seeing his vision, not yours. With Russell, you may be simultaneously drawn in and repulsed. It’s visceral and intellectual at the same time.
I sometimes suggest a marathon of the works of a fallen filmmaker, but in this case, I wouldn’t suggest more than a movie in a day…maybe in a week. You need time to process one before moving on to another.
If you do want to take that journey, here are a few essentials:
The Devils (1971)
Oliver Reed (an elemental force himself) and Vanessa Redgrave star in this R-rated vaguely historical drama about Cardinal Richelieu’s literal witch hunt to destroy Reed’s Grandler.
The Who’s rock opera is certainly best experienced purely aurally. This version, though, is so over the top it’s an experience in its own right. Not only does it start The Who, but features Elton John, Tina Turner…and once again, Oliver Reed.
Altered States (1980)
When people refer to a “trippy” movie, this is still one of the most mentioned. William Hurt stars in a movie based on Paddy Chayefsky’s novel about a research scientist exploring the human mind.
The Lair Of The White Worm (1988)
Hugh Grant (yes, that Hugh Grant), Amanda Donohoe, and Catherine Oxenberg star in Russell’s own adaptation of a Bram Stoker (Dracula) work. Russell’s work as a screenwriter may not be sufficiently recognized, due to his uniqueness as a director.
Other notable works by Ken Russell include: The Boy Friend (a 1920s musical starring Twiggy); Lisztomania (Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt); Gothic (Natasha Richardson and Gabriel Byrne in a movie about Mary Shelley); and Mindbender, a TV biography of Uri Geller.
Good-bye, Ken Russell…we may not have always lived in the same world, but this one will miss you.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.