Twiggy in The Boy Friend, Russell, 1971
Along with Hitchcock, Welles, Vigo, Buñuel and Godard, Russell was one of the first directors I was aware of as such, because, really if you were alive in the late '60s, how could you not be? I was too young to have been able to see the likes of Women In Love, The Music Lovers, and The Devils first time around, but good God, reading about them just made my head swim. I recall Jackson discussing her nude scenes in The Music Lovers and talking about how her early pregnancy during the shoot enhanced her breasts' photogenic qualities and I practically swooned in forbidden reverie. (I was, you know, eleven.) Russell was the supposedly mad, supposedly truculent, white-haired supposed gnome responsible for all this sex and sex and sex and sex, with classical tunes and literary pedigree. But there was more to his eccentricity than that, as I learned at the first Russell movie I could actually go see by my own self, the above-pictured The Boy Friend, a genuinely clever slice of affectionate post-modernism that toggled between delicacy and grotesquerie more purposefully than many other of his films ever would. Damn, the things he got away with, as I discovered once I was able to see, say, The Devils. (That was a very popular choice with the cinema program at William Paterson College, where I ran the projectors sometimes. Derek Jarman did the production design!) Nowadays I find myself nostalgic for the time when such excess could conceivably be studio-subsidized, and I bet a bunch of other people do, too. I'm grateful to him for quite a bit—including his standing Davy Graham up against a brick wall and shooting him playing a guitar—and I regret never having met him (far from being mad or truculent or what have you, he was reputed by many of those who did know him to be both a swell fellow and a real hoot), and it's a sure thing we won't be seeing his like again in our lifetimes.