The Filmmakers’ Picnic

My local library has a limited selection of film books, which I know well, but I picked up Alexander Walker’s Hollywood England for the nth time and leafed through it, and was struck by a utopian vision quoted from Walker’s old adversary Ken Russell ~

“What I’d really like to do would be to get my own little film unit together… And we could all go down to the New Forest and maybe I’d film a story about a composer, or a Dostoevsky story, and all the unit would bring down their families and I’d put them up in caravans or a hotel, and if it was fine we’d work, but if it rained, well we’d just got off and have a party.”

Walker quotes this in order to sneer at it, basically — “Russell’s curiously naive longing to be the rebel at odds with the system et indulged by it — to be the free spirit operating inside his own empire” and “The dejeuner sur l’herbe aspect of film-making, the Renoiresque aspirations, the commune conviviality are all part of a popular and usually unfounded conception of how the Great Artists work” — but doesn’t it sound divine? And the commune conviviality of film-making is perfectly genuine, though of course there’s moaning and bitching and tantrums too, and Russell was no stranger to that. But in, essentially, lecturing Russell on what great art is really like, Walker seems to be doing so from a position of far less practical experience.

The poignant thing, or one of many, really, is that Russell was so close to having this ideal arrangement at the BBC, when he made his wistful remarks. The BBC used to employ everybody you needed to make a drama, year-round. Like the old studio system. They could totally have given Russell his own small unit. A small sound stage or a large shed would have been good too — to cut down on the partying on those rainy days.

Perhaps the other time Russell was closest to attaining his dream was the last years of his life, when he returned to the home movie/art movie system he began with, making films in his garden. “No human being who ever lived ever had a happy ending,” Dorothy Parker told Sam Goldwyn. But Ken came close, I think.

I wrote this last night, not realising today is the anniversary of his passing.

Used Ken’s early still photography as illos because — they’re beautiful.

Coming soon — The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon.

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