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.)