K.R.A.S. The Ken Russell Appreciation Society "Fullfrontalnus Illuminatio Mea"
Henry Kenneth Alfred "Ken" Russell 3 July 1927 to Infinity!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Rejoice in Ken Russell while we miss him
For those who want to pay their respects, you can visit Ken Russell's public Facebook page and leave a note. Many of us have been posting photos and sharing memories there. The best obituary so far, by a country mile can be found here at Indiewire, written by Ken's friend, Shade Rupe.
My beliefs entail that one stays as positive and happy about the dearly departed in the first days and weeks. I am of course very disappointed in the BBC (which both my husband I pay for yearly) and their bizarre behaviour in thus far lining NONE of Ken's work up for scheduled programming. Their attempt at a proper obituary was nothing sort of embarrassing. The Times of London also ran two thinly veiled hatchet pieces. Rubbish when The Sun and The Daily Mail actually come out looking better than the "top shelf" (whatever that means...) papers. Had there been no internet, as with Paul Robeson, I sadly belive that the mainstream media would have also erased Ken if they could.
Well too bad because now we have the web and great artists will never be obliterated again!!! HURRAY!
Look at those who have lionized Ken and paid tribute: Pete Townshend, Ann Margret, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Michael Winner, Martin Scorcese, Lord Melvyn Bragg, Roger Daltrey, Twiggy and Ben Kingsley to name a few. Particularly wonderful has been the many technicians, extras and writers who Ken worked with throughout his career who of their won volition are pausing to leave their sentiments and pay their respects on message boards and threads. Even those who took his Walthamstow Tech photography class before he was employed in the industry have paused to toast the man.
Ken Russell's death is the passing of a major and important artist who's influence is inexcusably unacknowledged and underrated.
We miss Ken Russell. We are crying, we reminisce and wish perhaps selfishly that he could have lived for decades longer but we must first and foremost remember his family and his beloved wife Lisi are feeling immense loss and sadness now. They've lost a father, grandfather, uncle, former husband, best friend, colleague, lover, soulmate and life partner. For those of us who are in his extended fan family of millions we have must send love and light to Ken's spirit and those who were nearest and dearest to Ken now-they need it the most.
The past 24 hours have been a blur. I had a feeling something was out of balance before I went to bed on Sunday night via Facebook (actually I knew but did not want to believe). Later I had a dream in which I was in a night time cavernous but beautiful NYC library talking to an old friend Richelle Benway, my late cat Smokey alongside us. In the dream I was giving the concept for a wonderful screenplay in Russel-vision from start to finish. It is so wonderful that I will not divulge the plot because it is such a fantastic idea!
I woke up thinking about the upcoming Devils region 2 release. After so much editing I actually thought of suggesting to Ken that a PG13 version be created for secondary schools and those Christians who do not see R rated or above films like my friend who is a JW.. If the film is now to FINALLY take on its rightful incarnation including what will now be assuredly a long awaited FULL restoration (the cut to be released will not include the Rape of Christ scene or Sister Agnes "solo" but now we know it will be pushed forward) then why not drastically cut it on purpose for younger audiences? This may or not make any sense of course but in my studies of Ken's work I try to exam different concepts. Later I looked at my son's pjs covered in rockets, stars and planets and wondered why it all gets solid colours and taupe around 11 years or so and how Ken always wore bright and wonderful colours like a child his entire life. So I had a few things to tell him Monday morning. I've tried to maintain a friendly but respectful distance on Facebook. it has been an honour to be able to communicate with such a great artist while gleaning as much as I can from his generous spirit. I was just going to make a brief hello.
Then I read the news today. As if by media sanctioned "artistic miracle grow" the tributes and reappraisals have begun* as Ken Russell is "trending". Well he's been trending in our lives for ages folks. I know I'll never stop missing him so I honestly cannot comprehend how his loved ones must feel.
When his essence pours forth within this next week and in the months and years to come though we will all feel collectively proud and protective. We will be the ones to dispel the myths and point out the hidden treasures in Ken Russell's glorious oeuvre when people meet him in their own lives for the first time.
*When longtime semi-foe (after all his best friend Russ Meyer tried very hard but could never be Ken Russell) Roger Ebert was displaying a rather tacky silence I reminded him that he was being rather tacky. A few hours later a sketch (a poor one) appeared of Ken at Cannes in 1987. Apart from Ebert all the tributes have been deservedly loving.
Thanks to Ken Russell, the legendary film *A Taste of Honey, became so much more to me and I discovered the woman behind it; the great Shelagh Delaney. Being only a slight Smiths fan unlike all my friends and hubby who are nuts for them, I had no idea she'd been on the cover of Louder Than Bombs until just now.
This week Shelagh is being remembered and sadly only slightly celebrated here in the press *(TV has been rubbish; nothing at all) for the genius she will always be. To anyone woman who has ever written a play about the real world (especially of the working class) Shelagh flickered subliminally for decades along with Lorraine Hansberry her American compatriot. The GLBT community owes her a huge debt of gratitude as well for it was after sensing the auto pilot homophobia in Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme, that she was moved to write A Taste of Honey at the mind boggling age of 17. Feminists owe her a big debt too but then so does the average man who appreciates a smart and down to earth, earthy woman. It took a concerted group to create the sexual revolution and Shelagh work is the strongest effort waged in British theatre for certain. Nothing as yet has come along to properly take off where she let.
Shelagh will continue to inspire. Bless her.
*introduced to me by a now long lost beloved friend Danny Hardie Hardy last seen working at Boots on Bond Street and living in Nunnhead which is not unlike the Salford of London.
*That's the dumbed down world we live in. Ugly Elle MacPherson snorting Rhino powder and helping them all go extinct to Madonna's 25 million pound anti-Semitic sanitary towel advert. Shelagh Delany is too good for today's rubbish media
There are no discernible dioramas in this scene but then I'd be hard pressed to find one in a medical environment even in an entire episode of Scrubs set to "Waiting For Godot". Hospitals are places that I thankfully thus far have spent little time in and I see them as sterile transition points or film sets for asylums. But Ken's Victory Day NHS has much going for it.
After the showgirls we have two lovely twin nurses and a "Father knows best/ every man doctor". As wasted teens, when the doctor would start to sing "a son" we'd all piss ourselves laughing. What a beautiful and realistic newborn Tommy is!
There certainly is a enough giggle and knock out gas to alter ones mood here.
(The heartbreaking dissolve into Captain Walker crashing with Ann-Margret and new born Tommy will be looked at independently at a latter post.)
Variety Reviews - J. Edgar and references Ken's "Women In Love " Nude Wrestling Scene!
"True to Eastwood's understated nature, "J. Edgar" offers the "tasteful" treatment of such potentially salacious subject matter, though a more outre Oliver Stone-like approach might have made for a livelier film. With the exception of a few profanities (enough to land the pic an audience-limiting R rating) and a lone homoerotic wrestling scene so tame that Ken Russell's "Women in Love" feels like an X by comparison, the film could pass for something Warners would have released in an earlier era -- earlier even than many of the events depicted onscreen, as suggested by Tom Stern's cinematography, desaturated nearly to black-and-white."
Ken posted the Variety review a few days ago. Eastwood is a great director and DiCaprio is outstanding in all he does but they needed opera and burlesque theme here to REALLY show the world how gory J. Edgar Hoover was. (I actually own a hand signed letter (in pencil) hand typed by the late man himself. My much older late boyfriend's Uncle owned a bank in Omaha, Nebraska which was robbed and Hoover looked into it.)
What else to flesh out that classic example of "the guy screaming loudest in church about 'sinners' has the most to hide" dictum but raging colours and Lisztomania style eye candy? (I answer this myself below...) From what I've seen the script writer was simply too kind and yet here was probably the closest to an official US Nazi that the world will ever see!! Hoover would hound people for checking out library books or going to a concert he did not like-even if they had ZERO leftist affiliations. My script would have had Jean Seberg and Paul Robeson show up as avenging angels ( he destroyed both of their lives) and Jean would hold up a mirror to show Hoover's femininity and latent homosexuality and Robeson would show the reflection of Hoover's long rumoured black ancestry. (The fact he did not file his birth certificate until he was 43 is apparently glossed over as well.) Looks like Leo and Clint Eastwood did great with what they has to work with though even if it wasn't Alan Bates or Ollie Reed's phenomenal bodies framed by Ken's genius at understated psychological turmoil. And there I go stereotyping the man as glittery camp "visionary" blah blah blah! The film could have been closer to Ken's understated and comparatively (to some of his other films) sedate vision and benefited greatly as well I'm sure.
"For the first two years of his directing career for Monitor, Ken Russell had exclusively worked with shorter items of typically 10-15 minutes in length. By 1962, his reputation was such that Monitor's head Huw Wheldon was prepared to entrust him with a full-length programme. Elgar, broadcast on November 11, was the best known, but a few months earlier Russell made Pop Goes The Easel, a 44-minute set of variations on a theme of Pop Art.
The film was nominally a portrait of Peter Blake, Peter Phillips, Derek Boshier and Pauline Boty, who had all achieved substantial reputations in the art world despite still being in their twenties (Blake was the oldest at 29). But Russell's approach was far more visual and musical than verbal: although brief snippets of the artists' opinions are conveyed on the soundtrack, they're a relatively minor part of the overall texture, which seeks to hurl the viewer into their universe (much of it is shot in their own self-decorated flats) and drink deep from the wellspring of their influences.
As one would expect from the finished artworks, these were drawn from the contemporary world around them, and Russell duly constructs an elaborate, rapidly-cut rhythmic kaleidoscope of images of film and pop stars (Brigitte Bardot, Buddy Holly), fashion magazines, fast cars, politicians, the space race, guns, girls, American culture in general, and anything else that could be made to convey a similarly vitality. Jean-Luc Godard had been attempting similar film-collages in France, though Russell had arguably gone further by 1962.
He thinks nothing of cutting to a nightmare sequence featuring Boty pursued by a sinister wheelchair-bound villain down endless circling corridors (anticipating similar scenes in Bela Bartok two years later), or a dynamically shot and edited wrestling match enjoyed by all four artists, which in retrospect looks like a dry run for the equivalent scene in Women in Love (1969). It also marks the first appearance of a pinball machine in Russell's work, which would become an iconic object in Tommy (1975).
If Pop Goes the Easel looks dated to present-day eyes, that's both understandable and unavoidable, but in 1962 it was as cutting-edge in both content and form as anything the BBC had ever considered for broadcast on what was then its sole television channel. Accordingly, it was greeted with widespread controversy, something else that would become a familiar Russell trademark over the following years."
A biography of four pop artists (art not music). The title is a pun on the expression pop goes the weasel. This was the first documentary to treat pop-art as a serious movement rather than as a joke. Unfortunately the four artists Derek Boshier, Pauline Boty, Peter Blake and Peter Phillips and have not stood the test of time with only Blake retaining minor acclaim*. The four artists, who seem to live in a sort of commune, play with cowboy guns (edited with a cowboy firing back) or try and fail to look natural in front of the camera as they discuss their work. The programme is introduced by Huw Wheldon and after this formal beginning it moves into mixtures of art and music (Buddy Holly etc), the film itself very much in pop art style. The only really good scene is a dream sequence where Pauline Boty is chased round corridors by a woman in a wheelchair. The dark glasses and hands pulling the wheels forward (compare Tommy) are genuinely menacing.
Restricted by black-and-white Russell handles the colour artworks well, but compared with for example Savage Messiah the subjects are just too boring to carry the film and end up looking very pretentious. Tony Hancock's The Rebel from 1961 covers the same material satirically (with Oliver Reed as one of the artists). The party sequence is copied later in Song of Summer and there is a scene playing pinballs (Tommy). Glimpses of the future: Pauline Boty looks out the window like Glenda Jackson at the end of The Music Lovers, and sings I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles as if she was in The Boyfriend. All four go to a wrestling match which presages Women in Love. The photography throughout is beautiful, black and white atmospheric imagery reflecting Russell's background as a photographer.
Camera is by Ken Higgins (Elgar, French Dressing), editor is Alan Tyrer (Elgar). Derek Boshier would later appear in Dante's Inferno playing Millais, and Pauline Boty would appear in Bartok, more painters turned Russell actors. In a revival of the film twenty years on, the three male artists discuss the film- Pauline died a few years after the making of Pop Goes the Easel.
* A response to Fisher from a site visitor named Adam Smith:
You mention the 1991 revival which was orchestrated to coincide with a big Pop retrospective exhibition. One result of all this was a modest Pauline Boty revival, granting her long-overdue recognition. Not a star yet perhaps, but certainly recognised in the Pop world. Peter Blake has always enjoyed a wider currency, and is certainly no has-been. Peter Phillip's work is better-known than you might think (the cover of The Cars' Heartbeat City album is typical of his highly distinctive and collectable work). Derek Boshier was refreshed thanks to a big 60s exhibition at the Barbican in 1993, but appears in all the textbooks. So I think you can afford to rate them all a little higher in your episode summary now."
Copyright Savage Messiah: A Ken Russell Site Iain Fisher
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