Archive for Ken Russell

Wouldn’t you just die without Mahler?

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , on March 21, 2020 by dcairns

I have a new essay up at Criterion, a “deep dive” in which writers highlight slightly neglected features buried in the Criterion site beneath the current big pictures. I’ve gone for Ken Russell’s MAHLER because it’s a good opportunity to get a little hysterical.

Here.

Am I Blue?

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 4, 2019 by dcairns

FINALLY, I’m watching Derek Jarman’s BLUE.

In common with Jarman’s collaborator Ken Russell, for whom Jarman designed THE DEVILS and SAVAGE MESSIAH, I loved Jarman more than I loved his films. Russell identified Jarman’s personal joyousness as being the quality somewhat lacking in his films. But the same charge was leveled at Ingmar Bergman, who claimed to be a fun guy. Jarman was a force of life — I was lucky enough to see him speak a number of times, at Filmhouse and the DeMarco Gallery, and each time I felt I’d seen a whole movie.

THE LAST OF ENGLAND marks the beginning of Jarman’s late period — he goes from early to late without a middle, thanks to AIDS. I believe we’d have seen a whole series of films building on the particular strengths of CARAVAGGIO and featuring Tilda Swinton as muse, if not for that terrible illness. When ENGLAND screened at Edinburgh, we were told that Jarman hadn’t even been able to watch it — the shattering music and sound design was too strong for him to withstand.

BLUE comes on as a gentler work — not just because it almost totally lacks an image track, just that luminous blue. Of course, your eyes keep working, and won’t accept such a blank picture.

A friend who saw the film projected remarked that he fixated on a spot of damage on the cinema screen. The version I’m looking at has a fair bit of sparkle on the original print, so my eyes are darting around to follow these little glitterballs. And I don’t have the benefit of a darkened auditorium. But at least the cat has shut up.

For some reason I hadn’t anticipated the effect of natural sounds — initiially, a cafe — in this film, shorn of the usual visual accompaniment. The blue screen — blue was all that Jarman could see at this point — makes us feel blind, in a way that we never do listening to a radio play. Something is less than nothing.

“I have played this scenario back and forth for a year,” says the VO, and Simon Fisher Turner follows it with a discordant recurring set of chimes that perfectly captures the sensation of an unshakeable thought spiralling around in your mind.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

The last time I saw Jarman he was very thin, very frail, and being assisted across the Filmhouse lobby. Though I’d heard he was dying, his appearance was shocking to me since I’d last seen him a few years before in good health.

But he was smiling.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

BLUE is the film where Jarman expresses his joy, his love of life, as it is ending.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

Back to Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2019 by dcairns

The tireless work of the labourer in cinema. Got back from Bologna on Monday and recorded Anne Billson, our celebrity cat-sitter, for a video essay we’re doing on an undisclosed subject. This is our first real collaboration, though we’ve talked a lot about doing a screenplay together. It’s for Masters of Cinema but that’s all I’m saying.

The following day I recorded a VO for another video essay for another company, Arrow Video, title also undisclosed, and the next day we began editing it.

Today there’s a screening of the graduation films from Edinburgh College of Art — many of which won firsts — so I’ll be at Filmhouse later.

With all this going on, I haven’t had time to watch any films apart from those the video essays deal with, so as you may have noticed, I have nothing to say.

Oh, if you have a Criterion Channel subscriptions, you can watch my two video interviews with the great Angela Allen, who talks about her work with John Huston, Tony Richardson, Roman Polanski and Ken Russell (all of them bad boys). Photographed by my longtime collaborator Jane Scanlan and edited by Stephen C. Horne.

The picture at top is not a clue.