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Monday, July 5, 2010

KEN RUSSELL AT THE BBC (1962 - 68)

While these modest BBC bio-pics from Ken Russell are not without touches of incipient hysteria, the vice that would undo his considerable talents, the consistently high quality of the six docu-dramas in this DVD set make it hard to understand the self-indulgent mess Russell made of his career. The first film, on British composer Edward Elgar (ELGAR/’62), is more of a straight documentary essay than the later films and makes a fine & moving starting point. The next four (DEBUSSY/’65; ALWAYS ON SUNDAY: Henri Rousseau/’‘65; ISADORA/’66; DANTE’S INFERNO: Dante Rossetti/’67) are more like tour-guided biographical dramas with the first three making fine use of Russell’s OTT stylistics and only the fourth suffering from it. The last (and best) is the fiercely effective, terribly moving SONG OF SUMMER/’68 which dramatizes how the young Eric Fenby was able to help the blind & paralyzed Frederick Delius complete his life’s work. Eclipsing scores of other films that try to deal with classical music, SONG features remarkable perfs all around, especially from the late Christopher Gable, winning & immensely sympathetic as Fenby. These wonderfully intelligent films are now four decades old, but they stand as a rebuke to most of the art bios you'll currently find on PBS or cable. And there's more like them in the BBC vault.

1 comment:

Divicenzo said...

Don't like your disparaging remarks about Ken's career after the BBC. He is the finest film director oh his/ our generation. Even his 'flops' have genius in them. You may want to have a look at this 'blog' to find out more.

http://www.mountainx.com/movies/screening_room/2008/cranky_hankes_screening_room_happy_birthday_ken_russell/