Tuesday, November 29, 2011

RIP Ken Russell

The year was 1998. The Department of English, University of Pune had a seminar hall of its own, called Goley Hall (it’s still there), which housed, apart from the round table and chairs and sofas, a colour TV and a video player. The department also had a modest collection of video cassettes, most of these films based on classic English novels. That year D H Lawrence’s The Rainbow was in the syllabus. So, on that Saturday, we organised a double bill of two Lawrence novels in films: ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Women in Love’ both directed by British filmmaker Ken Russell.

Most of us students who attended the screenings were from small towns, good boys and girls, who were not really open about discussing sex, let alone see it on screen, especially on a classroom environment. Ken Russell’s visualisation of D H Lawrence’s frank sexuality was something of a shock, with the men and women in the films running naked in the English countryside without any apparent reasons. When the screening ended, nobody said a word, they just got up from their seats and left the department. It was a shocking revelation.

As for me, it was revelation indeed. I was mesmerised by the power of cinema to reveal, reveal to me experiences which I cannot experience otherwise. I cried when the Oliver Reed character died. It was perhaps the first film that fuelled my interest in sexuality studies. And, ‘Women in Love’ became a film I’d watch often in the years to come, especially certain scenes, like Glenda Jackson’s Gudrun dancing before the herd of buffaloes, Alan Bates’ Birkin running naked in the forest, the infamous wrestling between Bates and Reeds, and the last death scene. ‘Women in Love’ is one of the memorable cinematic experiences I ever had.

I thank Ken Russell for that experience.

Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell (3 July 1927 – 27 November 2011) was an English film director, known for his pioneering work in television and film and for his flamboyant and controversial style. He attracted criticism as being obsessed with sexuality and the church. His films often dealt with the lives of famous composers or were based on other works of art which he adapted loosely. Russell began directing for the BBC, where he made creative adaptations of composers' lives which were unusual for the time. He also directed many feature films independently and for studios.

He is best known for his Oscar-winning film ‘Women in Love’ (1969), ‘The Devils’ (1971), ‘The Who's Tommy’ (1975), and the science fiction film ‘Altered States’ (1980). Classical musicians and conductors held him in high regard for his story-driven biopics of various composers, most famously Elgar, Delius, Liszt, Mahler and Tchaikovsky.

British film critic Mark Kermode, attempting to sum up the director's achievement, called Russell, "somebody who proved that British cinema didn't have to be about kitchen-sink realism—it could be every bit as flamboyant as Fellini. In the final period of his directing careers he makes what have been described as very strange experimental films such as Lion's Mouth and Revenge of the Elephant Man, and they which are considered to be as edgy and out there as some of the work he made in the 1970s".

More Here.
The Ken Russell Obit from The Guardian.

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