Slight Russsell Deflation

I regret to report that last night’s Film Society of Lincoln center showing of Ken Russell‘s The Devils — a kickoff of a seven day, nine-film Russell tribute — was a disappointment in some respects. Russell attended with Devils costar Vanessa Redgrave, and it was of course delightful to see them sitting together, and to share in the love. But they showed the wrong version of this 1971 classic, the print was less than mint, projection was substandard, and a befogged Russell offered no hard answers about the Devils controversy.


Legendary director Ken Russell, Vanessa Redgrave following last night’s FSLC screening of The Devils — Friday, 7.30, 9:55 pm.

I’m not faulting the 83 year-old Russell for not being a younger man, God knows. What matters is that he’s attending each and every FSLC screening and “making the effort” and so on. But the fact of the matter is that Russell wasn’t very snap-crackle-pop when asked about this and that.

The Devils print looked vaguely cruddy — poorly aligned, underlit, green scratches here and there — and was not the promised 111-minute “rape of Christ” version but the 108-minute version that was originally released in the U.S. This was a massive letdown. FSLC had promised the notorious version, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt burned.

I asked series programmer (and Film Comment editor) Gavin Smith what had gone wrong, and he said it had something to do with Warner Bros. not “allowing” the unrated print (which is sitting in England) into the country due to some legal blah-dee-blah. I’m still not clear on this. A FSLC screening sells tickets, of course, but isn’t a “commercial” screening as much as a museum-type showing. Will Warner Bros. ever stop messing with this film?

In a post-screening q & a Russell offered no inside explanation as to why Warner Bros. has twice offered and then withdrawn The Devils from commercial release over the last two years. (I wasn’t persuaded that he knew the particulars about the DVD and the iTunes versions being yanked after being announced and/or offered.) All he said was that “they don’t want it shown,” and something about their obstructions more or less constituting the same kind of political repression that is depicted in the film. The whole Warner Bros. thing is just infuriating, I swear.

When I say “poorly aligned” I mean that the image projected last night was too large for the screen — that the “throw” was miscalculated — resulting in a significant amount of the film’s image being cropped by the projector’s aperture plate. Throw in the poor lighting and the green scratch marks and it was indisputably a substandard experience. I love film as much as the next guy, but the iTunes version of the The Devils that I rented for my iPhone? Perfect, brightly lit, immaculate.

I asked Russell after the q & a why Song of Summer, the 1968 BBC film that he considers his all-time career best, wasn’t being shown in the series, and he just looked at the floor. (Maybe he didn’t hear me clearly.) When I asked Smith about this he didn’t seem aware that Russell has called Song of Summer “the best film I have ever done.” My impression is that the FSLC never gave the idea of showing this film much thought.

54 thoughts on “Slight Russsell Deflation

  1. Ken Russell was on hand for a screening of The Devils a couple of weeks ago here in Montreal at the Fantasia film festival. As with your screening, Warners wouldn’t allow the original cut to be shown, apparently having thrown a lot of monkey wrenches in the way.

  2. So this is an honest question: why is Ken Russell considered legendary? Honestly? I have only caught some of GOTHIC and found it be pretty boring. What am I missing? Of course I would like to see this Devils, but that sounds more and more unlikely. Educate me please.

  3. Answering cloclwork taxi’s question:

    Russell is considered legendary because of his “outrageousness” in dealing less-than-reverently with sex, religion and historic figures. It looks like only his filmography from WOMEN IN LOVE to ALTERED STATES is being canonized now–with later 80s fare such as GOTHIC (better than you might think if you watch all of it), CRIMES OF PASSION (Kathleen Turner as a prostitute and Anthony Perkins as an off-kilter evangeliist), and the incredible LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM being passed over for re-evaluation.

  4. I like Russell’s combination of outrageousness and quasi-high-brow literacy — particularly the way he treats of 19th century writers/artists/musicians. Gothic and Lisztomania are my favorites of his films that I’ve seen. His films always give the impression of being interesting messes, though. And I confess Women in Love bored me to distraction when I saw it in film school. Maybe I should give it another go all these years later.

  5. My wife and I saw THE MUSIC LOVERS a few months ago at the Aero in Santa Monica when American Cinematheque had its Richard Chamberlain in-person evening. Recommended–particularly Glenda Jackson’s tour-de-force.

  6. Russell’s BBC films are much more humane and inventive than his feature films. His Debussy, Elgar, and Wordsworth films are excellent. Dante’s Inferno and Song of Summer are masterpieces.

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  10. I have always liked Ken Russell. His directed films are very different to what we normally see. I think it is amazing how people can put together there mind in a 1and half hour feature film.

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  11. Ken Russell was in the hands of Satan for the screening of the Montreal Fantasia Film Festival a few weeks ago here. As with the screening of your original cut so that it appears Warner should not have thrown a lot of ways Sarurenchi apparently will not.

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  12. I think direction is one thing that can make or break a movie even if it has a good story line. It takes a lot of good imagination to come up with some decent sequels, I believe. I have just started a new blog on facts about India that a lot of people might want to read. I think Hollywood directors are placing some interest in Indian culture these days.

  13. Russell is considered legendary because of his “outrageousness” in dealing less-than-reverently with sex, religion and historic figures. It looks like only his filmography from WOMEN IN LOVE to ALTERED STATES is being canonized now–with later 80s fare such as GOTHIC (better than you might think if you watch all of it), CRIMES OF PASSION (Kathleen Turner as a prostitute and Anthony Perkins as an off-kilter evangeliist), and the incredible LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM being passed over for re-evaluation.

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  14. Russell’s BBC films are much more humane and inventive than his feature films. His Debussy, Elgar, and Wordsworth films are excellent. Dante’s Inferno and Song of Summer are masterpieces.psychic readings

  15. Absolutely Ken Russell is a Legendary director, while searching on web i found his achievements. And while googling i found how to teach reading has defined great ways of teaching a kid and some effective techniques about teaching a child to read.

  16. Director Ken Russell is a great personality person. His every film is very different and interesting. I admire your description on Russell. Please keep posting.

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