Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Strauss!

Of course this was written about Johann Strauss but Ken Russell let the credits roll to Seven Veils with this Ella Fitzgerald classic-while HE conducts!6:25

This charming Gershwin tune can also be seen performed by Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant in Minnelli's 1951 film "An American in Paris."

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

KEN RUSSELL IN PERSON!! TODAY! Chichester International Film Festival!



UK Flag UK · 1974 & 197 · Ken Russell · 115 & 55min
                                             Sun28 Aug13:00Book


From its stunning opening sequence, featuring Georgina Hale (who plays the wife of Gustav Mahler in this Ken Russell film) isolated in full mummy wrap and writhing with erotic yearning to the lush strains of her husband's music, Mahler distinguishes itself as the most poetic and archetypal of Russell's great-composer works. A kind of cinematic response to Luchino Visconti's 1971 adaptation of ‘Death in Venice’, (showing on Saturday morning - 27 August) Mahler stars Robert Powell as the great Jewish romantic from 19th-century Vienna, drafting enormous symphonic works in the midst of rising anti-Semitism.

Converting to Christianity as a means of survival, Mahler carries on with his work but experiences an erosion of his health and sense of identity. Meanwhile, his self-effacing spouse represses her own creative drives to keep the resident genius afloat, (also explored in ‘Mahler on the Couch’ showing on Mon 29 Aug 18.30 & Tue 30 Aug 15.30).

While the film is the least ostentatious of Russell's movies about music, it is hardly conventional - a mix of lyrical tableaux and comic fantasy that adds up to a stirring, dream-like experience. 
Preceded by:


A Comic Strip in 7 Episodes on the Life of Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Russell regarded Strauss's music as "bombastic, sham and hollow", and despised the composer for claiming to be apolitical while cosying up to the Nazi regime. The film depicts Strauss in a variety of grotesquely caricatured situations: attacked by nuns after adopting Nietzsche's philosophy, he fights duels with jealous husbands, literally batters his critics into submission with his music and glorifies the women in his life and fantasies.

Later, his association with Hitler leads to a graphically-depicted willingness to turn a blind eye to Nazi excesses, responding to SS thugs carving a Star of David in an elderly Jewish man's chest by urging his orchestra to play louder, drowning out the screams. Comfortably his most extreme television film, its broadcast was preceded by a warning about its violent content, though it still caused widespread outrage and has been banned by the Strauss estate! So sue us! Christopher Gable (Richard Strauss), Judith Paris (Pauline Strauss), Kenneth Colley (Hitler), Vladek Sheybal (Goebbels), James Mellor (Goering), Sally Bryant (Life).

There will be a 15m interval between the 2 films with a complementary glass of wine. TICKETS £10 (to include a complementary glass of wine)

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Alex Verney-Elliott

It has been my pleasure to have Alex Verney-Elliott as friend. He's everything you'd expect him to be and 9 million times more. Here are some links to his voluminous work as an artist and philosopher of all things from cultural dissonance to philosophy to Zizek to politics to the power structures manipulation of "HIV and AIDS". As his mundane day job, Alex is also a supreme sculptor and the most sought after authority on the artist Francis Bacon in the world.

Who fans will note he shares what is to me the most wonderful day of all, Keith Moon's birthday.


Alex Alien Art, his website 

A tribute he lovingly created to his late husband, Michael Verney-Elliott

Bacon, Lice & Gorillas  Alex Russell talks about working on Louse of Usher and other matters

Interview with cristiano lova telliravarino news

Reappraising Aids Day Letter to Gordon Brown 2008

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Dedicated follower of fascism: Richard Strauss and Dance of The Seven Veils

 It is banned so watch it while you can. One section, #7 is missing. If you hate Nazis this is YOUR film. Even in pink bootleg sepia this is another Ken Russell masterpiece. The first ten minutes, especially the BBC voice over warning are priceless. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Some of  Strauss' classics sounds like Andrew Lloyd Webber on crack.

Ken Russell - Omnibus: Dance of the Seven Veils (1970)

I was not sure which film to delve into next. I'd been thinking of jumping a decade or so after Mahler to Aria or even further to Lion's Mouth but today Ken made post on Facebook. "Dance of The Seven Veils" this long banned 55 minute film for the BBC Omnibus will be screened as a double bill with Mahler on August 28th at Chichester Cinema at New Park. 

AND SO WILL KEN! He'll be there to introduce with his beautiful wife Lisi and to undoubtedly inspire more ballsy film-makers to kick more Nazi composer butt. I won't be able to be there to see what is to me, thee ideal double feature. BUT!  I wish those lucky people who do attend all the best. So I am off to write my own piece on Ken's Richard Strauss film for later this week, till then here is a great take on it.

From the delightful essay The Forgotten Struswitz by David Cairns:

"Russell's composer films draw flack because they venerate and rejoice in the music while frequently ridiculing or exposing the foibles of the artists themselves. Dance of the Seven Veils is possibly Russell's most savage attack on a composer (apart from possibly his treatment of Wagner in Lisztomania, seen as Dracula, building a Nazi Frankenstein monster), but this film is not lacking in nuance, if one can speak of nuance in a movie where a troupe of critics are murdered with trombones (here, at least, Russell may be partly in sympathy with Strauss) and the composer has sex with his wife surrounded by a full orchestra. Russell paints Strauss as naive, hypocritical, sometimes well-meaning, arrogant, confused, talented, genuine in his pacifism, false in his claims to have kept the Nazis at a distance (cue shot of Hitler riding on Strauss's shoulders while both play violins) and generally complex, at least for a comic strip character.

Actor/dancer Christopher Gable, one of several Russell regulars in the show, plays Strauss with a caricature German accent and manner, but really comes into his own in long shot: this is one of the few Russell films where Gable really gets to dance, and he makes the whole film a ballet. Another dancer, Vladek Sheybal (the Fiddler on the Roof himself!) plays Goebbels. A funny thing about Goebbels: he always works in movies. There have been bad Hitlers, but never a bad Goebbels. Goebbels always works. Why is that?"

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mahler Wrap Party or we are going to live forever!!!


As blogging  about Ken Russell's  "Mahler"  comes to close for me, a formal feeling comes. There were radical upheavals in the world this past month, so much so that Mahler at times seemed like a world I longed to be in. Not as a character but simply inside the films colours and locations. The ending was beautiful. Unlike many, the boy on the train platform and the older man watching him with longing was the one highlight I did not care for. I'm not sure why. Perhaps there was too much humanity in it and as a paranoid parent I read "child abduction" into something completely charming.  Just goes to show what the modern world can do to even the happiest person...

(below: what you get when you Gooogle : "Ken Russell Mahler Platform" )

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Mahler's Komponierhäuschens

Don't you want one?

Mahler's first hut at Steinbach, on the banks of Lake Attersee in Upper Austria.

Mahler's second composing hut, at Maiernigg (near Klagenfurt), on the shores of the Wörthersee in Carinthia.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'll TUMBLR for Unkle Ken!!

I'm not sure how Tumblr works...what is it? So far I can see that people get these insanely great photo gallleries going. And here is one about Ken!!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Albeit with a soupçon of envy

(We talk a great deal on Ken Russell's You Tube clips Here are comments and some responses from You tube about Mahler that I really appreciated and enjoyed.)

I actually like slower films, like antonioni or traffaut. But there is something about Ken Russell that is magical. For me he is the closest thing to the bombastic silent film directors to make films in the sound era. I can totally imagine The Devils as a silent film.

Watched this yesterday and I'm still thinking about it. What it does that I've never seen anything else do as acutely is show two people, with the best will in the world, tragically failing to communicate because of the way their personal experiences have shaped their viewpoints. At the start they're so estranged that they seem like monsters of froideur. By the end we understand them and finally, they understand each other – thanks to music. [more]

  • A very interesting movie, combining seriousness with camp. Powell is very good as Mahler, and a few years later he played Jesus Christ in Zeffirelli's excellent "Jesus of Nazareth". I guess if you can play Christ convincingly, everything else becomes a cinch!
    Thanks for uploading this!

    What a travesty. Stupid,banal, tasteless and an insult to Mahler. the fact it's consciously banal doesn't make it any better. Oh yes so over the top it's hilarious but I am somewhere between tears and laughter. Ken Russell is the anti Tarkovsky

    You raise an interesting thought; Ken Russell is the anti-Tarkovsky. By being so excessive at being calculatedly over the top, Russell allows the intellectual cinema viewer to have a good laugh at themselves Tarkovsky, on the other hand, is excessive at being ponderously serious. One arisian shows humanity as something tragic, the other as something laughable.
    Thanks for the post and making me think about those two.

    I actually saw the movie several times because of Robert Powell. It brought Mahler to my atention ant I beggined listening to his music. I also got interested in his biography. I came to appreciate both the composer and his music. Since I came to know and appreciate Mahler first of all because of this movie, I believe both Robert Powell and Ken Russel have done a great job, and the movie really reached its goal. To let people know about Mahler and his music.

    Thanks for the upload. I thought is was a pretty crude attempt, frankly. Russell reduces key points in Mahler's like to absurdity. I'm not sure a movie could do someone like a Mahler justice, even if it's one man's "vision" of this genius of late romantic / modern music. His relationship with Alma was for more complex than Russell gives us. Alma was far more than a simple "hausfrau." She was a highly educated and beautiful woman who had notions of a career in music herself.

    I like the campy dream sequence bits, but it's almost a shame they're there because they give Russell this reputation for being a sort of trash king and overshadow the genuine intelligence of his story. Anyway, thanks very much for posting this.


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Monday, August 15, 2011

One Passport to Heaven: Savage Messiah, A Ken Russell site by Iain Fisher

(I made a vow that I'd try avoid posting the work others regarding Ken Russell if at all possible but given our son's sudden aversion to daily napping, the Ken Russell ballet challenge and still recovering emotionally from the riots, I thought today would be a good chance to give a huge thank you to Mr. Iain Fisher who has created and maintained Ken Russell's website for over a decade. As Matt Kent is to The Who, Iain is thee expert.  The Savage Messiah website is fabulous and Iain he has the dedication of a Watusi gun bearer. He's made it possible for devoted fans and the casually curious on seven continents to keep up with ALL of Ken's work. I would not be here having the time of my life without all of his hard work as a fan. Thank you Iain Fisher!)

"With two flops he needed a commercial success, so returned to classical composers with Mahler. Mahler from 1974 is a film about sacrifice and creativity. It starts with a dream sequence which is Russell at his best and most visual.  A train journey provides a rite of passage. Mahler remembers episodes from his life, and on the train itself he confronts jubilant crowds (success), the gutter press (sensationalism), his wife's lovers (infidelity), and the doctor (mortality).

A beautiful film mixing true emotion, the death of Mahler's children, with dancing Nazis. At times Powell seems to be influenced by Dirk Bogard from Death in Venice with the similarities going beyond the direct homage included in the film.
The domestic sequences of Mahler as a child are similar to those in Savage Messiah.
The film cost just over 150,000 pounds and was shot in seven weeks.  The American version was shortened by 30 minutes, mainly by removing the Cosima Wagner sequence.

Robert Powell plays Mahler and Georgina Hale his overshadowed wife Alma who literally buries her creativity.  Oliver Reed appears in a cameo role as the railway guard- in the book Hellraiser Robert Sellers states Reed was given three bottles of Dom Perignon for the role.  Dana Gillespie the singer (she recorded Bowie's Andy Warhol before Bowie did) plays Mahler's mistress, and she wrote the composition she plays.  Photography is by Dick Bush.

Ken Russell includes a homage to Death in Venice.
There is a long train ride. Various nuns.  A crucifixion with Nazis etc. Russell kitsch at its best.
The scenery is around Russell's former home in the lakes.
Mahler makes fun of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto just as in The Music Lovers."

reprinted from  savage
A Ken Russell site by Iain Fisher


The Master and his Bear

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mahler Part Nine: Pork Sword Pas De Deux


"You had better convert to Catholicism quick Gustav or you'll never get laid in Poland..."

So here it is.  Easily one of the best sequences in any of Ken's films.


Here Ken Russell raises the bar (ouch) almost too high for any film-maker whom ever deigned to believe they were camp, surreal and irreverent. There are so many B-film directors I admire with great respect from the 60s and 70s (Herschell Gordon Lewis, Roger Corman ) yet placed in their shoes I'd be very envious of this scene. Here is someone making a crazy film with superb cinematography, natural settings, psychoanalysis and some of histories most magnificent music! No guest spot for Colonel Sanders or 78 Mcup Chesty Morgan boobs in Mahler.

Though not a B film-maker and limited to small budgets, the great soft-core auteur Russ Meyer, borrowed quite a bit from this film for UP! which was up until then his most sexually explicit film replete with naked sex crazed Nazis. Russ, having fought in WWII  HATED them. Henry Rowland the great Teutonic featured character actor who Russ Meyer often cast as the Nazi Martin Bormann, almost seems to have missed his calling here as Cosima Wagner's onscreen wife.

Here is the kosher version to watch as the sequencing on You Tube is cut. But of course


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Saturday, August 13, 2011

"For some the strain is too great..." Mahler Part 8

Mahler Part Eight

So much beautiful photographs in this scene. More of Chatsworth including a long shot of the Cascade Steps, foreskin role call and Alma Mahler buries her music in some of the most beautiful deep sea blue twilight ever captured on celluloid. Ken's deep greens and blues in Mahler are the stuff dreams and vintage fairy tale books from the early 20th century are made of.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Riots, Race and Ken Russell

 "I don't want to be permanent shit." -Oliver Reed

When the mainstream credits the value of Ken Russell's work __and only a few reviewers ever do__they usually cite his  "iconoclasm",  his insistent challenge to "regimes of the normal," especially in regard to art, stylism and sexuality. Like other outsiders who to a significant degree have been "let in,"  ( in other words treated by the mainstream as an acceptable representative of an otherwise weird freaky group) Ken Russell is so much more than his non conformity.

If there was more (actually any) of Ken Russell's work on weekly rotation on the BBC or the ITV3 nightly film you'd have less violence like we are seeing all over England and London this week. People who are out of work, alienated, young, old, confused, curious and/or verging on primitive violence-they all watch television. You can't really value the world around you and  the history that surrounds you in the UK, if EVERY single thing you watch is either the Family Guy, Embarrassing Medical Conditions or Reality TV. Even the Oliver narrated World at War which is to British Telly what PG tips is to tea, won't get you on a path, not any more. War stories and heroics which can never be duplicated and which make the past an impossible to recapture faded seaside postcard has bred Post modernism, new style anti-Semitism and revisionist history, into daily life and politics of younger working class people.

Ken's films gives one pride in Great Britain without any nationalistic wanking. Famous people, unknowns, places, music, fantasies etc all born of the UK and which sadly are not being talked about or taught in UK state schools, allow one to question everything. Most importantly they illuminate history. The great composer was a bully and raving egomaniac and yet he was still great. Another great composer converted to Catholicism because his music and his fame came before religion and ideology and he too was still great. The wealthy and elite are actually really messed up and while they aren't as great as the composers just look at how beautiful England is! This is your country.

A few people I've blogged with on many anti-racists websites have pointed out that while they appreciate the non-conformist aspects of Ken Russell's work that disappointedly there is "very little racial diversity in his films" so how could his work really "speak to a person of colour" living in today's Britain. Firstly, this simply is not true nor important nor will I waste my time pointing out like some bad 1990s diversity coach which person of colour appears in which Ken Russell film. What I will say is that watching Tina Turner in Tommy it is clear that she is without equal as a female rock singer (not pop, not soul but rock). Her videos in the 80's and 90's, while fiery, never came close to capturing what  Ken Russell did. This is important because Tina Turner has received about a 10th of the credit that others with little talent to no talent like Madonna have. It is important that every artist gets that one moment that lives forever, where they are at their peak; Acid Queen is Tina Turner's defining moment where she becomes almost supernatural and on big screen no less. Watching it at the now closed UC theatre on University avenue in Berkeley, California, the entire multi-racial audience applauded after Tina's scene was through-and I mean applauded.

And while we are on the subject,  I must ask why is featuring a racially diverse cast a prerequisite for creating art meant for the masses to interpret for themselves? Isn't it ignorant to assume that a "person of colour" has to be given art with a certain set of conditions to enjoy and get something out of? Ken's work is part of much larger group of creative artists who have refused to comply with conventional standards set by the narrow definitions of mainstream. His work opens doors to other all artists and possibilities. All great artists-even people crazier than Ken- are part of a common good that enriches and can potentially inspire all races, all classes and all genders. Give the public more of those creative forces and less of the garbage pedallers and you'll witness a brighter world-illuminated by knowledge and art not fire and destruction.

(The riots here in London knocked me way off schedule in my Ken Russell studies. We have not slept properly for about a week and things are finally (hopefully) settling down. Thankfully on Monday, August 8th, only a bin was set alight outside KFC and the packs of 40 and 60 looking for trouble in Bethnal Green did not find it. Dalston was different. We take the 236 often to visit family so it was very disconcerting to see that area hit. I realized through all of this how much I need the daily stability of this blog and how much this country needs the cultural intelligence apparent in Ken Russell's work.)

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

From the Mondavi Centre in Davis, California. The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, University Chorus, and Alumni Chorus present Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), with Arianna Zukerman, soprano, and Zoila Muñoz, contralto. D. Kern Holoman, conducting.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Full Circle for British Cinema

Ken's sci-fi novel "Violation" is a very violent future-shock tale of an England where football has become the national religion. I have yet to read it but it seems to be in the same realm as Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed, another Dystopian tale of England. For that type of book, ground zero is "A Clockwork Orange.

And that aforementioned classic in British cinema came full circle tonight. After an almost thirty year ban in Great Britain due to fears of "copycat violence" Stanely Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" was shown in 2001 uncut on Sky3. And in the wee hours of this very morning, as a Clapham fancy dress (aka costumes) store was raided and burnt to the ground by men in funny masks, ITV3 ran the film uncut as well. Fiction?

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Mahler Parts Six and Seven: "I'm not dead yet!" and Cascade House

Mahler Part Six
Mahler Part seven

Yes, this segment contains the funeral scene! Georgina Hale is astonishing and you feel as if you are going right into the Columbarium with Gustav. The precision and choreography is fabulous. The fab funeral sequence should not take away from the fact that there are also two very important scenes that flesh out the film here; Mahler's discussion with his two young daughters about God and Alma's rebuffed attempts at her own compositions.

Highlight: 6:54 Chatsworth House considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the English country estates serves as the Austrian palace grounds as Mahler and his sister try to gain acceptance as Jews. Addressing the Emperor as he sits in the Cascade House, Mahler does not seem so super human anymore. For him this is grovelling as he tries to convince the Emperor that he's actually goy enough lead the Vienna Opera and bring his unparalleled artistic brilliance to Europe's highest heights. Chatsworth's Cascade is a 300-year-old river of water gushing over 24 groups of steps. When I dreamed of coming to the UK no other heritage/landmark site apart from Big Ben held my interest more. I think I have never before seen something this beautiful on screen.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Mahler Part Five: In The Wilderness


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Death of the pitiless enemy

My enemy has always been Trophy hunters, poachers and wildlife extermination in the name of corporations, fur trade and moneyed interests. The past few days or so saw me pulled away from Ken's Mahler and raging against this. I'm now catching up after missing a solid four days of Ken-ness.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Tiger 1913

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Mahler Parts Three and Four: Look back in Skiddaw

00:40, Powell looks more like Mahler than Mahler. Beautiful, cameo in deep pine green that becomes daylight on a moving train-just gorgeous. The crowds and their brass bands await Gustav at the station like a war hero but he's sick and can't be arsed. A flashback in the loo takes Mahler back to his years as a child; his large Jewish family having come up from working class to middle class in one generation; the kindly swim instructor slash mentor slash Joe accordion and the freakiest piano teacher since Dr. Terwilliker in the "5000 Fingers of Dr.T". Yet, Skiddaw, the great mountain of the Lake District steals this section. In my mind I know I'm looking at England yet how and why I can only see Eastern Europe/Germany/Austria is a mystery. Ken is a master and that is why he can create such cinematic alchemy.

Highlight: The supine swim scene and parental rage was ripped/paid homage to in "Immortal Beloved."

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Time for a Ken Russell Challenge!

I've started Ballet lessons five days a week after a few years lull and after not seriously studying since I was about seven. I had nearly four years, stopping right before secondary school. This will be an ongoing challenge with updates. I'm in so much pain I could swim in Nurofen. One can't really delve into Ken's work without having at least some rudimentary knowledge of the Ballet. He trained in Ballet religiously for four years in his 20s and the discipline (in my opinion the most difficult to master of ALL the arts) and dancers are in nearly all of his films.

So onwards and upwards, grand battements and Fouetté rond de jambe en tournant we go!

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Mahler Part Two aka "How I had plenty of tunes until you killed them all!"

The writing chalet that we saw metaphorically ablaze at the film's opening is now as calm and cool as an Andes thin mint bar on ice. Don't you want one?

Mahler's wife Alma was a spurned composer and yet she's still willing to silence all the cow bells, the men in lederhosen and even the lonely goatherd to get Gustav some peace and quiet. What a joy it must have been for Ken to work on this film. What a beautiful sequence. Dirndl and trachten come true in the Lake District. As Blondie once sang, my dream is on the screen.

Highlight: Is the Pumpkin man straight out of The OZ books an allusion to what Mahler faces as an outsider in Vienna?

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