Friday, September 30, 2011

Delius Redux Pt 1: That odd feeling you get....

(High on himself: Delius remembers and listens)

If our son decides not to nap then I usually put on dvd from the Ken Russell at the BBC box set; usually Elgar. He then gets to absorb some culture with me as I reach for a 2:00pm cup coffee. Reading more about the making of "Delius: Song of Summer" in Joesph Lanza's book, I re-watched it today and have thus far found my most uncomfortable moment in a Ken Russell film. Why it's effects eluded me previously I have no idea. I think as I digest and learn more about Ken Russell the artist I'm simply seeing and feeling more.

For me there are so far only two uncomfortable moments in Ken's work both of which I'll discuss here. Prior to this it was only the homage to Luchino Visconti's "Death in Venice" in Mahler that concerned me. An ailing Mahler (Robert Powell) looks out the window with a beautific and optimistic look on his face as an older man looks lovingly at a young boy preening around the platform. It just weirds the hell out of me. I think because I was so much older looking for my age when I was 9 to 12ish and had a great deal of adults checking me out that it hits some kind of note in my memory.  The tallest kid always is blamed first. Stared and accosted I was, sometimes with avarice and sometimes with longing and disgustingly with lust. Anonymous adults in public places were like the zombies of my childhood. Thus the platform scene in Mahler  is just simply too visceral.

The in scene Delius: Song of Summer which now eclipses it just smacks for how becoming an adult (and therefore leadened down with so much shit in one's psyche) dictates life. In the scene, Fenby (Christopher Gable) and Jelka all react in their own silent and stunned way as they play Delius' own music for him. It fills and then floods a beautiful sunny room with afternoon light and passionate energy. The composer, despite being paralysed and blind, acts like he's either going to have an orgasm or cry out that he is the Master God of the universe for all eternity as he he sits listening. Many film historians incorrectly state that apart from the trip to Norway sequence (when he is still with his sight) the only time we see Delius with open eyes is when he has finally died. Incorrect. In this scene his eyes are wide open like he's possessed, stunned and most of all incandescent within the knowledge, the UNDYING BELIEF that he is a great artist. It simply makes me uncomfortable that he's so high on himself.

I'm simply too uncomfortable with mortality to not look away.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wicker Girl

Two posts today because yesterday, while our son slept, I had chance to catch a very weird and scary film I have not seen since I was about 11 and the rest of the day was a daze. Let me back track a bit to Ken's wonderful book "Fire Over England" in which Ken Russell gives us an over view of his cinematic influences. I was happy to read that Ken cites "The Wicker Man" as a film he found unsettling. For me the 1977 film "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane", starring Jodie Foster has that same quality despite being a very different story. Take away pagan costumes and this is the the 1970s young adult Wicker Man. Martin Sheen's weirdest, creepiest role. Very bizarre, great, scary film. Jodie Foster is at her best. And the background score has some keen "wah wah pedal" action!

In honour of film history and those like Ken Russell who keep it alive, I MUST recommend this incredible blog about the Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. I am staggered by the sophistication of the collective work done on it.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Phallic Frenzy

I'm almost 2/3s finished. F*ck Pauline Kael- what a slag. The reviews quoted were an eye opener because Kael, Alexander Walker (the Evening Standard critic Ken pelted with a rolled up newspaper) and Roger Ebert especially should have just stopped reviewing his films. Pauline Kael is particularly distributing to read because she sounded so emotionally invested, so timid, vastly unimaginative and stuck in some 1940s middle American malaise.

These proclaimers pre-internet could make or break films. Ebert has the most nerve though as Russ Meyer's best friend and script writer!! I think there was jealously involved because, as much as I truly love a lot of Russ Meyer's work (I am Super Amanda because of Super Vixens) and think he was astonishingly artistic, he's more of an X rated cartoonist than an auteur compared to Ken. That's not a dig as I'm a ONCE AGAIN, huge fan of Meyer who was happily by choice in a mostly one track big boob parody niche as I am on You Tube. I think Ebert hoped Meyer would find more respect in this era the way Ken has but he has not and is still mostly considered Grindhouse. I just expect Ebert to have a bit more respect for the eccentrics and the risk takers if he's worked on film like "Beneath the valley of the Ultra Vixens'! One star for The Devils is just shameful on his part.

It is upsetting. I'm now almost 2/3s finished. Critics and studios were so spoiled with talent and so fascist like the way record companies became. And they wonder why everyone is file sharing now! On a happier note, reading about Derek Jarman and Glenda Jackson has been delightful. I know now never to second guess myself or be ashamed of my rage towards convention again. "Phallic Frenzy" and "A British Picture" should be required reading for all artists. And if "required reading for all artists" sounds oxymoronic it is meant that those books serve as a reminder of how much hard work it really is, how you will suffer and go nuts and how many haters line the procession to make sure you're locked away if you indeed really do want to set the stage and create a scene.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Phallic Frenzy is HERE!

Yes, I said "no books on Ken by other people" but the man has lived longer than Stalin and one of the Popes combined! He has a history and what is a study of history going to be with no book selection? At first I thought this was going to mostly rehash a British Picture but not at all after reading a few chapters. I now have to own every Ken book!

Here is a rare early unfinished film by Ken called "Knights on Bikes".
Here we see the greatness he would assume.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Let's Rebuild London!! One solid glass tadger at a time!

Ken and his wife Lisi visit a quaint shop while on tour in the states that may well serve as an inspiration for new businesses being encouraged to sprout up and grow after the London riots.

NSFW...but so fun!

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

On the face of it

As mentioned, the Encyclopaedia Britannica set from 1977 has Ken Russell listed as an "author" before filmmaker. I'm not sure why but as I'm still reading up on all he's done he may well have written many books in the 50s and 60s I have yet to discover. Why the term author would precede film director still puzzles me though. Perhaps the voluminous amount of screen and teleplays Ken has penned constitute author for EB. It certainly does for me anyway. I do think Ken Russell is a fantastic writer of both fiction and non-fiction. So many of the greatest performers and film makers are. You know when a huge star you admire has reached 40 odd or so and has yet to write anything, including a biography that they are truly dullsville with the pen.

So I'm breaking my vow and getting loads of Ken books as I can afford them. A British Picture, Ken's autobio (pictured) is with me now and his volume on directing and writing for films plus Lanza's Phallic Frenzy are both taking FAR too long to arrive in the post! Here is a great review of the latter from The Times of London a few years back:

Phallic Frenzy, Ken Russell and his Films by Joseph Lanza
This delightful biography of the eccentric British film director could be the most fun you'll have with a book this summer.

The Sunday Times review by Antonia Quirke
Ken Russell was born into a lower middle-class family in Southampton in 1927. When he was little he went to see Pinocchio and was fondled by the man in the seat next to him. Ken marched out and complained to his Aunt Moo, but she didn't really listen. Neither did Mum or Dad, but then they weren't particularly switched on.
Ken was definitely switched on: he thought that a gorilla resided next door, and longed to live in a puddle. Mum loved the cinema above all else and forced Ken to go with her every day to watch ghastly romances. ("You said there wasn't going to be any love in the film and they're kissing already!") So Ken converted the garage into a cinema, adding extension arms to his Pathescope 9.5mm hand-cranked projector, renting Die Nibelungen and Metropolis from the local chemist (some chemist), and screening them for whoever would watch.
Soon Ken was sent to a naval college where he dressed the other cadets in drag, using rolled-up rugger socks for boobs. And he hadn't even noticed real girls yet. Plus it's only page 12.

I could go on. In fact I will, because nothing I could invent could be any more interesting than the things Ken Russell has actually done. Simply, Joseph Lanza's passionate, witty bow to the director is the most fun you'll have with a book this summer. Taking us through Russell's oeuvre of more than 90 films (for small and big screen, some familiar, others rarely seen), it pummels the reader with detail and anecdote, using interviews with actors and producers, reviews, bombastic description, academic theories, personal opinion, and the occasional, tantalising photograph. Although Lanza never actually clapped eyes on Russell himself, the whole thing manages to back-flip off the page, fresh and unlikely.
So. Dad wanted Ken to be a shoe salesman like him, but back home in Southampton his son literally had a nervous breakdown at the thought, and was incapable of moving off the settee except to pee, until one day Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 came on the radio and Ken understood that he must be a ballerina. Aunt Moo immediately made him join the RAF.

Soon after, marrying young and living on gooseberries, Russell took an eye-catching series of photographs of Teddy Girls on bomb sites and landed a job at the BBC making films about famous composers — this was 1958, when showing even the traces of an actor's hands or feet while depicting the lives of historical personages was thought of as a perversion of the truth.
But perverting the truth was Ken's whole bag. "TV audiences are asleep in armchairs," he reasoned. "It's a good thing to shake them up — if only to reach for the phone." Ken showed a child actor playing Elgar riding a horse across the Malvern Hills, thus changing the definition of verisimilitude on British screens for the rest of time. The public went potty with enthusiasm, voting it the best thing they'd ever seen. Before they knew it, Ken was giving them Isadora Duncan gyrating naked on a grand piano in advance of being rescued from suicide by a one-legged man (Ken in a cameo). As they say, be careful what you wish for.
The rest — the rise, and fall, of sorts — is a matter of public record. By 1978 Ken had found mucho notoriety and wealth with films such as Women in Love, The Devils and Tommy. Alan Bates and Oliver Reed had wrestled naked in front of a fire in a scene the Argentinians found so worrying they cut it to just the two actors shaking hands. Gabriel Byrne's Shelley had tongued Julian Sands's Byron, Hugh Grant had passed out in the lair of a gigantic white worm, and Sean Bean had had Lady Chatterley up against trees lined with flower-strewn corpses. Some people (the British censor John Trevelyan) loved what they saw, others (the American critic Pauline Kael) despised it. Friends and colleagues croaked, years passed, marriages exploded. One wife recalls that the only way she could calm Russell during a career-busting phone call to Hollywood was to douse him head to toe in Pimm's. Today the "unbankable" director makes films in the back yard of his new house (his last one burnt to a crisp) with his neighbours and the fourth Mrs Russell, a sensible American he found on the internet.
And yet, when Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni died last year, the BBC immediately scurried to Russell for comment. Their cameras regarded him — this 80-year-old infant, this apparent monument to unashamed hysteria — but were unsure what to make of him. Well, here's what to make of him. Ken Russell is an artist. He knows in his bones that cinema is the delirious form. He understands that the last thing we need are adults behind the camera, and that the greatest directors — Orson Welles, for starters — have essentially been children. At their best, Russell's films feel as if they are ferociously warding off death itself and have inspired enough sweat and wowzow tears to float a fleet down the Thames. At their worst they are merely out to lunch. We love and need Ken Russell. This exhilarating book reminds us how much.
Phallic Frenzy, Ken Russell and his Films by Joseph Lanza
Aurum £18.99 pp384

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Saturday, September 24, 2011


 (Gilding the Lily.  Ken Russell has final touches to his hair make up by Scott Miller for his film "Boudica Bites Back" 2007 made with the Swansea University Film School)

( So at the inception of this Ken quest, I vowed to blog each daily about Ken Russell. Bogging daily can be quite a commitment but I'm  keeping my word, so below are links to all my make up days which I still have to fill. For 365, not one day will be blank by July 3rd. 2012, Ken's 85th birthday. Thus far I'm giving myself a C+ grade. C for so many days missed and for not delving into more details like music scores and locations and a plus because I think so far I've tackled unique subject matter. I did breakdown and order "Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films" by Joseph Lanza and Ken's own book on film making because reading about Ken is a very nice past time. Please check below for my make up days as I put them up.)

July 17,
July 20,
July 23 us Brits!
July 24
July 28 A great blogpost on Mahler
July 29,
July 31,
August 7
August 9   British Cinema Comes Full Circle
August 10 Mahler at The Mondavi Centre in Davis
August 11
August 20
August 24,
August 25,
August 26,
August 27,
August 29,
September 1 The Debussy Film
September 2
September 3,
September 4,
September 5,
September 7
September 11 ELGAR
September 12
September 13
September 14
September 15
September 16
September 17 Isadora
September 18
September 19
September 20 Dante's Inferno
September 21

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Friday, September 23, 2011

This train is going into a tunnel aka Madonna is a rip off copy paste

Firstly, I'm back from a dusty slow internet connections, brutal muscle strains and cultural crusades that tore me away from the true artist's journey.


You really want to know? Let me give you a little story, once upon a time, the public met Madonna and Madonna met the public but the problem was the public was not attracted to Madonna unless she continually created a huge media scene and because Madonna was also not talented she had to rip off everyone in sight while making a huge media scene and making hardcore porn a Wal mart style mainstream brand. The public had never before seen anyone who would devote four hours a day to working out and even more time to hair, clothing and makeup. But unless the photos look interesting no one will look and all that "work" will be in vain. Even pre-Fame Madonna was stealing looks and poses from EVERYONE. Do you know that that makes her?

A copy paste. Madonna is a rotten plagiarising thief who has stolen from over 70 different people BLATANTLY . REPEATEDLY and WITHOUT ANY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. AND SHE STOLE FROM KEN! THE MEDIA HAS NEVER CALLED HER ON THIS ONCE.

See for yourself  HERE.  You will never call Lady Gaga a "madonna copy again".

As for this? It is simply so offensive that I could stomp some romp. I don't keep up with mandonna unless she does something vile in the press so I missed this down to the medallions from Ann-Margaret's dress!She is such a conniving snake that most of her rip offs of Ken Russell went into Tour programmes or the background films in her shows.If Ken was also getting 36 million to make a film as she is for her latest turkey, this might be more pitiful than offensive. Shirley Russell created all you see here as well. Ken once said seeing Shirley's creations and vinatge finds turn up in films by other directors was like "seeing old friends.  Madonna in clothing ripped off from Tommy is like knowing your stolen antique wedding dress was sold on Gumtree in exchange for two expired IKEA gift vouchers and a BJ.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ken Russell in Encyclopaedia Britannica-Old School Style

So I'm talking about OLD school Britannica, not the online edition which includes Britney Spears and ASDA. I'm going to reference a 1977 edition which was so narrow in their definition of notable subjects,  that not even The Who warrant a mention. Ages it seems before the internet, these reference guides could define or erase entire careers and recreate events. Despite an obvious imperialistic feel the EB is still great reading. Even just copying the three entries below proved oddly addictive, like my own personal "Red Headed League"!

A classic set of EBs always features two sets of books; one for ready reference and another for knowledge in-depth. Oddly enough Ken is mentioned as an author first and filmmaker second. (Ironically, his indepth mention shares the same page as Paddy Chayefsky whom went to war with  in that same era (provoked) over Altered States.)  Ken has mentions in both sets while Sir Edward Elgar only gets a mention in ready reference. Granted, it is a longer than average reference but it seems odd that his life was not given an longer appraisal and biography or that he was not at least mentioned briefly elsewhere. It is almost like he had to know his place even thus. Interestingly enough they mentioned Sea Pictures which is the only song cycle I ever seriously studied as a contralto.

Here is how Ken Russell was considered and how he was entered in the reference guide to end all guides. For contrast I've included the two Russells that he randomly falls in-between. Like Elgar, it seems that EB wants Ken in a hidden niche yet were he is situated is nonetheless quite illuminating. The holographic nature of the universe at play as Ken's wife Lisi would say.

(All print is exactly how it is published in Encyclopaedia Britannica. The asterisk takes you to Ken mention in Knowledge in-Depth)

Russell, John (b. March 29, 1745, Guildford Surrey-d April, 1806, Hull Yorkshire), pastel artist. amateur astronomer, and literary scholar whose brilliantly coloured chalk portraits were highly appreciated in 18th century England. For a decade his works were priced equal to those of  Sir Joshua Reynolds. An evangelistic Methodist, he preached at his sitters while he drew them. Although his militant religious views aroused antagonism in some quarters he was retained as a painter to George III. He also wrote several atheistic and technical treatises on literature and painting. For 50 years he kept a diary on his religious exercise and he laboured for 20 years with telescope and engraving tools on a lunar map.

Russell, Kenneth (1927-    ), British author and film director
 Biographical studies for television 18:126f

18, Page 126: Television and Radio, Arts of  In Britain, Ken Russell's idiosyncratic biographical studies of composers (Debussy, Elgar, Delius, Strauss) caused controversy with their experimental, impressionist approach, a technique Russell later developed in his feature film The Music Lovers.

 Russell, Lillian (b HELEN LOUISE LEONARD, Dec. 4, 1861, Clinton, Iowa-d. June 6, 1922, Pittsburgh Pa.), singer and actress in light comedies who represented the feminine ideal of her generation. Probably the most photographed women of her time, she was a striking beauty with a Gibson Girl figure. Though she sang in burlesque and light opera for almost four decades, she was as famous for her flamboyant personality as for her beauty and her voice. She made her début as member of the chorus in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore. She received her stage name in 1880 from manger Tony Parsons, and she apprised frequently in his Broadway variety theatre. She achieved stardom the following year in Edmund Audran's Grand Mogul at the New York Bijou Opera House. She also won acclaim in 1890 for her role in Jacques' Offenbach's Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein. From 1889 until their partnership dissolved in 1904, she appeared in England and the United States with the burlesque company of Joe Weber and Lew Fields. After her fourth marriage, in 1912, she wrote a syndicated newspaper column on health, beauty, and love; she also lectured on these topics before vaudeville audiences.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Ken Russell at The BBC and Stendahl Syndrome in the Kitchen

 The Debussy film

We've really putting our nut down  (saving)  for many plans but my beautiful husband splurged anyway and bought me my long desired, "Ken Russell at The BBC". A logical segue from "Dance of The Seven Veils" which, alas, cannot be included in my new dvd set due to copyright issues from the poopy Struass family.
I want everyone to own this!  I want this shown in all UK schools and as many US schools as possible.

I watched Elgar today and was in for the shock of my life. I of course got the camera out, hoping our baby bumblebee would shyly pose with the box but he instead threw it to the floor and wanted "Barney Sing and Dance". He did warm up when he saw Elgar on the white pony though. Like I said, I was in for a shock. I finally experienced, what I believe to be a mild form of  Stendahl syndrome. I somehow thought the film would be a light 20 minute affair with kites and ponies, instead it was a very beautiful and profound film with archival footage of 19th and early 20th century Britain. It felt it was a tad over 75 minutes but I need to check. Each scene was textured, layered on so carefully and the music was beyond belief.
Elgar has his own throne in the pantheon.

Tears seeped out of my eyes for an hour afterwords (not sobbing but seeping). I can't  believe the way Elgar and his hopes and despairs just came to life. This was the first work of Ken's in which the WORK artists go through became clear to me. This seems to be the recurring theme of all seven films; Elgar, Duncan, Debussy, Rosetti, Delius, Rousseau and yes, even Reeck-hard Strauss worked, lived and were their art to extent that I don't think exists anywhere today. If it does it is isolated with a few people globally and we must find them. I could have easily named two dozen other artists within each film, connected to the seven, who were working as hard. Comparatively, Earth was once a world of artists. These films are STUNNING.

Once we were naked bodies dancing on a hill at midnight and now we are two eyes staring at Oliver Reed...

And I'm not complaining!

Ken  with Mark Kermode who narrated the  2002 Devils Channel 4 special.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ken Russell's 20 Beautiful Feature Films List

This list is so beautiful. I tried to find stills that were very unique for even his most colourful works. The more I delve into his work the less I feel I know but art, music and history that's actually to be expected and why I'm here. I also begin to see where Russell works can be categorized. As this is feature films only, I will create BBC, opera, telly and music video list as well.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"My public I carried all before me..."

Omnibus now presents a new film by Ken Russell, Dance of the Seven Veils. It's been described as a harsh and often violent caricature of the life of the composer Richard Strauss. This is a personal interpretation by Ken Russell, of certain real and many imaginary events in the composers life. Among them are dramatized sequences about the War and the Nazi persecution of the Jews which contains scenes of considerable violence and horror.
(As far as disclaimers go that is actually fairly mild for what is about to come)

Dance of the Seven Veils: A Comic Strip in 7 Episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864-1949

Voice over:
Alas the time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. 
The dead end of mankind is approaching.
(Cue bombastic cheese music)
Into the squalid helpless men of that epoch, I will the reveal the Superman!

Watch this folks. You'll feel twenty feet taller and fifty bucks richer!

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