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Sunday, June 18, 2017

SAVAGE MESSIAH (1972)

‘Too much’ was never enough for Brit filmmaker/ provocateur Ken Russell. But this largely overlooked bio-pic, on the intense, if platonic, relationship between manically gifted young artist Henri Gaudier (1891-1915) and older novelist Sophie Brzeska, finds purpose in excess, and far surpasses his better known/plusher films on Liszt, Tchaikovsky & Mahler.* Not that it’s without major faults of its own, starting at the top with fresh-faced ‘discovery’ Scott Antony, all wrong as Gaudier. (See self-portrait of the real Gaudier.)

Trying for artistic bliss & untamed spirit, he’s merely unfocused, ultimately exhausting. Dorothy Tutin's Brzeska gets closer to the maddening core of their odd partnership, but the real excitement shows up in stellar support from actors playing various avant-garde intellectual types (hilariously pretentious &/or insufferable), particularly young Helen Mirren as militant suffragette, bed partner and full-frontal nude goddess. Some superbly grungy sets from future ‘Queer Cinema’ pioneer Derek Jarman (putting the have-not into hovel) and resourceful lensing from Dick Bush reflect what must have been a real starving artist’s budget in a positive way. Maybe that very lack of funds helped keep Russell more on-track than usual, capturing something normally missed in artist bio-pics between his usual crudities & knee-jerk iconoclasm.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Russell’s at his very best in his early tv films, topped by SONG OF SUMMER/’68 on composer Frederick Delius. (And one on Edward Elgar, not seen here, has a fine rep.)

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