Madness of King Ken

I’m sorry if this annoys fans of the late, great Ken Russell, but he never made a better film than…you thought I was going to say Song of Summer, right? I mean Women in Love (’69), the last and only theatrical Russell film that got it more or less right — sensually crafted, high-toned, erotic, impassioned — without going over the top. I love his artist-bio wacko period (Mahler, Savage Messiah, The Music Lovers) and I’m a huge fan of Altered States, but Women in Love was/is the pinnacle.

  • Terry McCarty

    Russell’s later D.H. Lawrence adaptation THE RAINBOW should also fit your criteria of “not going over the top.”

  • Kakihara

    I wonder if Warner will now feel obliged to release The Devils on DVD now. Why don’t they just release it through their on-demand service if they don’t think it’ll sell?

  • Kakihara

    Saw the clip. Wow, I figured the one joke in Borat which worked was probably stolen from a better filmmaker.

  • Bob Violence

    I wonder if Warner will now feel obliged to release The Devils on DVD now.

    they’ve just licensed it to the BFI in the UK, but they’re not letting them release the 2004 restoration and they’re not letting them release it on Blu-ray

  • Bob Violence

    also Russell’s TV work is the real pinnacle, ironically more of this stuff is available in the U.S. than in the UK

    hopefully the BBC will do a more comprehensive retrospective so we can get some good-quality digital TV rips of the rarer films

  • Bob Violence

    also D.Z. is still dumb

  • Markj74

    “Somewhat? This guy’s a fucking gorilla!”

  • corey3rd

    The Devils with the “rape of Christ” and the “bone finale” is Ken Russell at his peak.

  • MickTravisMcGee

    The be-all, end-all Ken Russell moment — for me — is William Hurt’s back-lit, Doors-scored entrance to the party scene in “Altered States.” All it needs is for Blair Brown to mouth, “fuuuuuuck,” as she’s reacting to his glow.


  • Tristan Eldritch2

    I love Altered States – its so much fun watching the cast literally SPRINT through Chayefsky’s insanely unwieldy dialogue.

  • cyanic

    I want to make non-pornographic movies littered with scenes like this.

  • Gaydos

    Ken Russell was not the Messiah, he was just a very naughty boy.

    But seriously, thank God there was a Ken Russell.

    He truly charted his own course and he definitely shook up the UK film scene, which always needs a good shaking.

    He embodied in film the dionysian impulse of the 60s to confront social stasis and cultural-political morbidity.

    Swingin’ London gets another mile farther away in the Bentley rear view mirror. RIP.

    PS: Was “The Girl With the Golden Breasts” his last film credit? Wouldn’t that be the perfect Ken Russell obit line if it were?

  • corey3rd

    You can’t talk about Ken Russell’s cinema career without the numerous TV documentaries he made. There’s a reason the Strauss family despises him.

  • patches23

    I enjoyed the bits of acting he did, too. Especially his mischievous MI6 guy in THE RUSSIA HOUSE. He was one of the best things about that movie.

    “Dear old, bloody old, school.”

  • markj

    “Somewhat? This guy’s a fucking gorilla!”

  • Ken russel is great !!

  • dkaye

    I went to the Egyptian’s double feature of TOMMY and LISZTOMANIA in September 2010, with Russell in attendance. He wasn’t mentally connecting very well but seemed to appreciate the audience love. TOMMY was glorious on the big screen and in the original “quintophonic” sound, and LISZTOMANIA is just one of the most batshit insane movies ever made. A great night.

  • adorian

    I wish The Boy Friend could get a DVD release. Most people consider it minor, but I really liked it.

    I recently watched Salome’s Last Dance, and I was shocked at how daring it is. Russell had a visual flair and an ability to make it look like millions of dollars up there on the screen, when the budgets were usually very low. Fabulous costumes. Wicked line readings. A good time had by all.

  • The Hoyk

    adorian: THE BOYFRIEND and SAVAGE MESSIAH finally got release on DVD from Warner Archive; they’re MOD burns, to be sure, but they’re available.

    Death often finally loosens films from a cold corporate grip, so perhaps this will finally be the kick in the pants for a domestic release of THE DEVILS.

  • moviemaniac2002

    Favorite guilty pleasure….Ken’s “Billion Dollar Brain”, the third Michael Caine/Harry Palmer dry-wit spy thriller…..probably one of his last “linear’ films before he embraced the crazy…..but you can see Russel-mania to come in the film’s climax, a demented parody of “Alexander Nevsky”…in which a power-mad Texan(Ed Begley) and his private army literally sink into oblivion when they try to invade Russia by charging across a too thinly frozen lake…..(what an off-the-wall concept…a nutball Texan trying to invade a country just for hell of it…hmm….)

  • Gaydos

    I actually have “Lair of the White Worm” on DVD.

    Boy oh boy oh boy: if you haven’t seen it, you are in for one of the great hoots of all time.

    Over the effin top? YOU THINK!?!?!??!?!?!

    Ken Russell’s oeuvre in one tart phrase:




    I know one thing, if ole Ken had directed “The Tree of LIfe,” we would have seen A LOT MORE of Jessica Chastain!

    And a whole lot more LIFE!

    Malick and Russell had two different reactions to LSD.

    Terry decided he needed to sit in the corner and be alone and try to understand the universe.

    Ken said, “Can we take more acidwhathaveyougottodrink and where’s the party, mate????”

    One last question: did anyone ever see Ken and Benny Hill together?


    New theory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    RIP, though I suspect that’s highly unlikely.

    Ken’s probably already got D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley COMPLETELY ANNOYED!!!!!!

    Silly wankers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!