Archive for Ken Russell

Dirty States

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2020 by dcairns

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In ALTERED STATES, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell, Dr. Edward Jessup (a name suggesting both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde) enters a tank of water, doped up on weird Peruvian broth, and emerges as an ape.

In DIRTY WORK, directed by lemme see Lloyd French whoever he might be, Professor Noodle (a name suggesting that which he he is off) fills a tank with weird broth,  possibly Peruvian for all I know, and tries to entice his butler to bathe in them. But before this can happen, Oliver Hardy (for this is a Laurel & Hardy short) falls in and emerges as an ape.

The name of Professor Noodle’s butler is… JESSUP.

The Jessup connection strikes me as significant, given the fact that ALTERED STATES in so many respects is a remake of DIRTY WORK, only with less chimney sweep slapstick. Chayefsky undoubtedly would have seen the L&H film, so he had that in his brain and the whole premise of his script is that nothing is ever lost, all that information is still inside us.

Jessup is frequently pictured STANDING ON THE THRESHOLD.

I’m not aware that Ken Russell was a particular fan of the boys but that’s OK because what’s exciting about the film is what was so displeasing to Chayefsky — Russell’s audio-visual attack comes from a very different direction from Chayefsky’s philosophical science fiction story. Russell’s influences are, in the main, Fritz Lang silents, Busby Berkeley musicals, and bits of Welles and Fellini.

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Here, he’s also merrily sourcing stock footage from Oxford Scientific Films and Fox’s DANTE’S INFERNO and I’m not sure what-all else. Anyone know what the massed ranks of crucifixions are from? I checked SPARTACUS but nope. A shot of twin chargers at a gallop suggested the hallucination from the ’40s JEKYLL where the horses turn into Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but it’s not from there — but maybe the shot was SUGGESTED by that sequence, whose surrealism and sonic assault do suggest Russell’s visions and John Corrigliano’s brilliant, bruising score.

Intelligent design by Richard MacDonald: the squawk box Jessup communicates through when he’s in the tank is shaped sorta like the tank. And has a funny face!

Fiona: “I would KILL to see this on the big screen!”

Me: “It’s one of the tragedies of this life that if you kill someone, you are in fact LESS likely to get to see ALTERED STATES on the big screen.”

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“I have nothing to say!”

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.”