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R.I.P. Ken Russell

November 28, 2011

Word out of England is that director Ken Russell, the seemingly eternal enfant terrible of hedonist cinema, has died at the age of 84. My ex-Two Cranky Guys colleague Bret Watson and I had the pleasure of seeing Russell (left) in person last year at a Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of The Devils. With its orgy of religious violence—including images of nuns masturbating with crucifixes—the 1971 movie still retains the power to shock after 40 years. And while he hobbled to his seat with the help of the film’s star, Vanessa Redgrave, Russell still flashed the grin of a naughty English schoolboy.

Though his exercises in kitsch (Lisztomania, Lair of the White Worm, Salome’s Last Dance) outnumbered his “serious” films (Women in Love, Altered States), “Unkle Ken”—as he was known on Twitter—was truly one of a kind. My favorite Russell film, his whacked-out adaptation of the Who’s rock musical Tommy, combines the two sides of his cinematic personality. I first saw it in a midnight screening when I was in high school—and no, I wasn’t in an altered state at the time—and the visual, aural and acting pyrotechnics blew me away. Despite its dated wardrobe and production design, it still moves me to this day. Get an eyeful of this scene, in which the Oscar-nominated Ann-Margret writhes in a sea of champagne, chocolate and baked beans while wearing a white pantsuit.

Rest in peace, pinball wizard.

What’s your favorite Ken Russell movie?

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One Comment
  1. Gothic. Because I am a Mary Shelley freak. The film was very well cast. But the script was a mess. Still, I enjoyed it.

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