Saturday, August 11, 2007


Just when we thought the discussion of lists might be at a natural pause, here comes Ken Russell, who responds to his film class’s request for the director’s top 10:

“’Please, Professor Ken, I’m just starting a serious collection of DVD movie masterpieces. What are your Top Ten recommendations? And please don’t mention any of your own films, as we’ve already got them all, thanks to your generous discounted prices’ (Laughter).

‘And please don’t mention horror films because we’ve got all those, too,’ pipes up another voice in the film studies class I teach at Southampton University.

‘That’s a tough one,’ I reply. ‘I could give you a hundred titles off the top of my head, but ten — that’s something else.’”

But fret not. Russell comes up with a list, all right, and this very amusing piece chronicles his attempt to justify his choices to his jaded, know-it-all students. And since it wouldn’t be a Ken Russell List without some shock or surprise, wait till you get to number 10.

Thanks to Kim and David for tipping me to this one. David also points the way to Tim Lucas’ review of the new biography on Russell by Jospeh Lanza, entitled Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films. Tim’s mixed view of the book is pretty representative of other reviews I’ve read of it—not without interest, but misses the boat in key areas and indulges Russell in many of the same ways he tended to indulge his subjects on film. For a more sympathetic view of Lanza’s work, check out this review at Jim’s Book Reviews.

Russell has been much on my mind again lately, having just last weekend seen a screening of his great film The Devils, which is likely to come up for more detailed discussion in the next week or so as part of my film-by-film attack on my own top 100. But for now, to lead you into and through your weekend, how about a couple of YouTube treats, Ken Russell style.

The first is a nice accompaniment to the Ken Russell Top 10: the director rhapsodizing about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

And finally, just because I haven’t seen it in years, the 1812 Overture as visually augmented by Russell in the movie he made just before The Devils-- Glenda Jackson and Richard Chamberlain (as Tchaikovsky) in The Music Lovers (1970).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Dennis! Since The Devils is also one of my favorite films I look forward to reading your thoughts about it. I just watched it again a couple of days ago and it managed to impress me even more. It's just a perfect film in my opinion.

I also love The Music Lovers a lot as well. Russell is a fascinating director who's not appreciated enough in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I've been thinking about Ken Russell myself, only because I don't believe I've seen any of his movies, and it might have been because of you, but I saw a striking image from "The Devil's" and have wanted to watch it since then. I have to buy a DVD copy over ebay to take a look.

Anonymous said...

The Devils! When I saw it on your top 100 list I hoped that it would be one of the titles you'd revisit later. It's a really wonderful, bizarre, unsettling movie - well worth discussing.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Has anybody got a line on The Devils's availability on DVD? I see a wide-screen version available for I think it was Region 2, and there is attached to it a documentary which has come highly recommended, I think by one of the folk who took one of the recent quizzes. I'd love to get my hands on it, but I'd hate to spend a wad of cash on a crummy-looking bootleg or otherwise botched package.

And yes, The Devils is due for some love real soon, particularly since the screening is still so fresh in my mind. Kimberly, as always, I think of you when the American Cinematheque's
Horror and Sci-Fi Festival
rolls around, which is where I saw The Devils last weekend, with co-feature Piers Haggard's BLood on Satan's Claw. Blood, or as it was known on the print we saw, Satan's Skin, was a distinct come-down from Ken Russell, but it was a lot of fun anyway, with a Lara Parker-esque iconic performance by Linda Hayden as the possessed vixen what leads the children of a village (boys AND girls) astray. This movie's major strength was the gorgeous photography of Dick Bush (another Russell colleague), and it was a thrill to see a freshly-struck 35mm print on that big screen.

But seeing The Devils that big and wide was the real revelation. It is a true masterpiece, and I can't wait to write about it. I wish you could've been there. If you and your hubby ever make it to Los Angeles, I hope you will let me know! There WILL be something good showing that we can all take in together!

By the way, congratulations on your profile on DVD Panache. May it bring you all the readership you deserve, and more!

Anonymous said...

I only know about the DVD you mentioned Dennis and I only have an old VHS copy of the film so I'm afraid I can't help you there. It's really a shame that so many of Russell's best films are not available on Region 1 DVD such as The Devils, The Music Lovers, The Rainbow, Valentino, etc.

I can't believe you got to see The Devils AND Blood on Satan's Claw on the big screen! I'm so damn envious!! I love both those movies a lot. Blood On Satan's Claw is not the masterpiece that The Devils is, but it's a really entertaining creepy little movie and Linda Hayden is perfectly evil as "Angel." The movie scared me to death when I saw it as kid on "Creature Features."

I would love to make it down to American Cinematheque's Horror and Sci-Fi Fest some day and if I do I would love to catch a film or two with you. I just looked at the schedule and almost pissed myself! If I had the money, I would fly down there just for one night to see the upcoming Jess Franco double feature playing on Aug. 23. Venus in Furs and The Awful Dr. Orloff are my two favorite Franco films and seeing them together on the big screen would just blow my mind. I highly recommend attending that event if you can make it Dennis!

Thankfully we're starting to get some exciting horror and fantasy film events in the Bay Area now. The new Dead Channels event is going on now but I only managed to find out about it after it was 1/2 over and I'm so pissed I missed meeting Jack Hill and seeing Miike's latest film there.

I am looking forward to this years Shock It To Me! event which promises to be a good time. If gas, bridge fare, ticket prices and parking in San Francisco didn't cost so much I'd happily attend more events.

Last but not least, thanks for the nice words about my DVD Panache interview Dennis! It was really nice of Adam to ask me to participate.

The Wrong Box said...

I love Ken Russell, even when he is inconsistent, and I think Prisoner of Honor (which even his partisans don't seem to mention) is one of the greatest TV movies of all time. But I was highly disappointed in that list. There nothing wrong with putting a mainstream comedy on your list -- indeed, I sppreciate the gesture -- but the whole point of the article is to EXPLAIN and DEFEND your choices. And the more unexpected a choice is, the more it needs to explained and defended. To simply name it and then ignore the question of "Why?" is highly annoying.

Also, most of the defenses have a straw man quality to them. Are we really to believe that Russell's students had a whole host of criticisms of Gone With the Wind but not one mentioned its most objectionable aspect: the stomach-churning racism? Or are the English really that uninformed about American history?