Russell’s muscles

Electric Sheep were having a Ken Russell celebration and of course I just had to join in, with this piece, which attempts to tie together the critical opprobrium hurled at The Great Man with an appreciation with the deep peculiarity that is the Ken Russell sense of humour…


10 Responses to “Russell’s muscles”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    To understand the hostility of British film critics to Ken Russell, all you have to do is look at the contemporary UK film makers that mainstream critics appreciate…Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Michael Winterbottom, Lord Dickie Attenborough.

    What does everybody on this list have in common? A complete lack of talent, imagination or visual flair – coupled with a bogus social significance that flatters the smugness of your average hack.

    Talented but uneven film-makers with even a spark of creativity (John Boorman, Robert Fuest, or even Alan Parker) have been consistently patronised and marginalised by UK critics.

    Russell, the one authentic film-making genius this country has produced since The Archers, will forever be persona non grata with critics because his work is the living antithesis of their own dull, drab, dreary and parochial view of life

  2. Alexander Walker was a truly loathesome sack of shit on par with Marty Peretz of “The New Republic.” He went so far as to ask Lindsay Anderson if he could deliver Malcolm MacDowell to him as a quid pro quo for a favorable review.

    Derek Jarman’s gayness was a critical boon in the respect that it placed him “beyond the pale” of “serious” (ie. heterosexual) regard. Being “for the gays” he was someone straights could disregard (a situation that persists for much of gay cinema today — like pullingteeth to get people to see Weekend) Russell — easily the gayest heterosexual in the history of the cinema — was a genuine threat. Sexuality was everywhere in his films, in all forms never easily pegged and therefore controlled. Nothing was Beyond Our Ken.

    That he had the great run that he had from Women in Love to Savaga Messiah remains a miracle. One masterpiece after another, produced at a breathless pace. Had he never made another film after that he would still merit a place of High Cinematic Honor. His subsequent films, less lush for the most part, are deserving of closer scrutiny. I especially love the Bruckner biopic.

    I don’t see anyone around with his energy any more. But Terence Davies, in his own idosyncratic way has much of his spirit. Terence of course has “better manners.” But he’s a real mixer underneath .
    His rendition of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea is as tumultuous as Women in Love

  3. Paul Duane Says:

    Interesting the way Walker uses “Roman Catholic” as a term of abuse. I was told once (on very uncertain authority and God knows what provenance) that Walker served in the British Army in Northern Ireland and was a real bigot. The latter part, at least, seems inarguable.

  4. I’m not sure if it’s criticism or affectionate parody, but I can’t resist bringing up the very short Monty Python sketch “Ken Russell’s Gardening Club”:

  5. Heh!

    Walker was certainly exposing something nasty in his character there, wasn’t he? Of course, Ken Russell never had a Catholic childhood anyway, since he converted as an adult.

    I’m not aware of any modern filmmaker with the energy of Russell either, certainly not coupled with his skill and artistic ambition.

  6. For some reason, when Aria played the Edinburgh Film Fest, the audience took to cheering or booing the various episodes. Nobody ever boos at Edinburgh, so this was weird. The Jarman got rapturous applause, which I didn’t quite understand (it’s NICE, but still…) and the Russell got an equal admixture of cheers and raspberries, which seems kind of the intended effect.

  7. Watching Jarman’s films you see an artist who loved sex. Watching Russell’s you see an artist who hated it. Ideas of outrage, pornorgraphy and the rest of it play no part in our detraction, whatever Russell’s intent. And ‘What would really offend the British public?’ is just an incredibly stupid starting point. What even is “the British public”? The jokes are often awful, the ideas often lazy, and yet there is a joy in these films. But I can’t blame any critic who doesn’t find that joy infectious. I mean, what’s your natural response to somebody who sets out to offend you?

  8. Speaking of which, those critics do seem to have relished the license Russell’s work gave them to be incredibly unpleasant. They should thank him.

  9. I don’t think Russell’s attitude to sex is that simple: in The Music Lovers and The Devils it’s inflected by his subject matter, in which sexual desire is regarded as unclean. His enthusiasm for tit-and-bum imagery elsewhere I would characterize as “lusty”.

    Setting out to offend is probably not a very productive direction to take, but Russell never actually followed that impulse to its conclusion, as the anecdote shows. We can see it as a reaction to the abuse he was getting from the critics and Mary Whitehouse etc. I certainly don’t think it played any part in his thinking at the start of his film career: the critics threw the first stone.

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