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November 28, 2011


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RIP one of cinema's last true crazies. His horror output is in many ways unmatched. Love Lair of the White Worm, Altered States and the under-appreciated Gothic are genre classics in my book.


While I understand that most of today's attention will be towards his iconic '70's work, I've always been amazed that there hasn't been a revival of interest in his more mature work of the '80's, much of which isn't even available on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray.

I'll speak up for Crimes of Passion, Gothic, The Lair of the White Worm, and The Rainbow.


Awww - that's terrible news. RIP you Dangerous Madman you.

An indirect personal anecdote about Mr. Russell: when managing a SoCal video store back in the day, one of the regular patrons was at-the-time current porn performer Barbara Dare and one Saturday she came in with a bevy of chums and asked for something "really good and really weird". So I hied myself to the Staff Favorites rack and plied her with THE DEVILS and Roeg & Cammell's PERFORMANCE. Out the door they went with my recommendations but sadly, it never worked out that I ever knew what she and her posse thought of the pictures. Memories...


The original, X-rated UK theatrical cut of 'The Devils' is finally, belatedly, being released as a R2 special edition DVD early next year. (Blame Warners for holding back the Blu-ray rights, as well as the infamous 'rape of Christ' footage that Russell cut to make it 'only' an X-rating in the first place.)

The Siren

Lair of the White Worm is my idea of a great horror movie.


@The Siren - Not to break the silence too all-of-a-sudden-like, but I thought your idea of a great horror movie was THE UNINVITED or DEAD OF NIGHT or so on, and quite right too, if that's the case.


A lot of people hate it but BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN is my favourite of the Harry Palmer movies. Over the top pop art sure, but the bloke did know how to shoot ice and beautiful women.


He was highly amusing for the four days he managed to stay on Celebrity Big Brother.

David Ehrenstein


James Keepnews

It is a shame about KR, though let's allow for a pretty dodgy batting average where quality work is concerned. For every DEVILS or ALTERED STATES there always seem to be a couple few batshit LISZTOMANIAs or (to draw from my own period as a "working" film critic) WHOREs, for which I could not find nearly enough derisive pejoratives in my review to properly articulate my disdain. I'm actually most curious about some bookends to his career I never did see, viz. some of his early music documentaries for the BBC MONITOR series, e.g. those on Debussy and Bartok, and his work this century like THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER, which he described in his game SHOCK CINEMA interview as having shot in his backyard.

And, coincidentally, something I've wondered off and on of late: now that she's lost the election for mayor of London twice, can't our CBE Ms. Jackson step before the cameras once more, already? She remains one of my favorite actresses ever, and really not for anything she did with Mr. Russell. OK, WOMEN IN LOVE, maybe. OK, THE RAINBOW, maybe, too, briefly (and, to be sure, too briefly).

Michael Dempsey

Ken Russell was a masterly, devastatingly original filmmaker.

Though I'm tired of the promiscuous use of "masterpiece" in film comments, it will do for "The Music Lovers," "The Devils," and "Savage Messiah".

Though it's no substitute for the novel, "Women In Love" has great things in it. "The Boy Friend" is indeed a delightfully cheerful self-reflexive musical fantasia. "Mahler" falls down somewhat in its fantasy sequences, but not in the harsh performance by Robert Powell in the title role and the blindingly poignant portrayal of Alma Mahler that the exquisite Georgina Hale provides.

"Altered States" is full of muscular brio -- especially considering that Russell replaced Arthur Penn on short notice as its director and apparently worked at sword's points with Paddy Chayevsky, who also deserves massive credit for this underrated Jekyll and Hyde modernization.

"Crimes of Passion" is genuinely batty but also passionate in its over-the-top fearlessness, and it contains a magnificently outrageous performance by Anthony Perkins.

Russell's autobiography, also entitled "Altered States", shows that he knew how to transfer his unique perspective to writing as well.

Just imagine a wild, unstable talent like this finding the faintest chance to flourish in the near-graveyard of creativity that is today's Hollywood studio scene. Regardless of Russell's failures (see the sadly sour "Valentino", for example, although Rudolph Nureyev is effective in this venture's title role), we should be grateful to have seen his like.


You nailed it Glenn with Ken Russell films as the forbidden fruit of cinematic youth. He was his own genre. I have Indelible memories of cathching up with those fabulous Russell double features in seedy art houses as a teenager. Francis Ford Coppola paid the ultimate compliment when he said his goal was to film APOCALYPSE NOW in the Style of a Ken Russell film! The man exploded the whole notion of biopics. He used Strauss' "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" five whole years before Kubrick. The brilliant structure split of THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN was done two decades earlier by Russell in THE DEBUSSY FILM. He whacked fucking Alexander Walker on the back of his fucking head on British TV! He told Chayevsky where to put his freakin' Sanka! Come on! The man was a GIANT! And I agree with London Lee that THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN rules. RIP Uncle Ken.

David Ashton

By a strange co-incidence I bought and watched Tommy last week.

I know it's a cliché, but they really don't make films like that anymore.


As a current graduate student at William Paterson, I envy the idea that not only was there a film club once on campus, but that The Devils was such a popular movie to be shown!

I had the opportunity to see The Boy Friend and The Devils at last year's Ken Russell retrospective at Lincoln Center, cementing my love for the man's work. The audacity of his films made it is to be entranced by his work even when the stories fell short. I'm glad to see a few of his films have finally become available on DVD(Burn on Demand, though). I suppose it would be asking too much for TCM to do a tribute night, considering the content of his work.

Damien Bona

Hard to believe but there was a time when the likes of Ken Russell and Eric Rohmer were household names in America (at least in middle-class-and-above households).

Like Glenn, I was too young to see Women In Love et al in theaters, but I did see Valentino, and it remains my favorite Russell. And Crimes of Passion was such a welcome anecdote to the Spielbergization and teen comedies that dominated the Reagan years.

warren oates

For me Russell was an undiscovered and nearly unfulfilled genius of character actor. At least based on his outrageous performance as your crazy uncle of spymaster in THE RUSSIA HOUSE. I wish he'd acted more.

Chris O.

Yeah, you're not going to see a lot of Oscar season biopics in the playful vain of "Mahler." Anyway, the Guardian has some nice coverage on Russell today. This one, in particular, is a good read: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/nov/28/ken-russell-tributes?newsfeed=true

And I keep thinking we should check and see how Nicolas Roeg is doing -- he's only a year younger than Russell.

The Siren

@Bill: I contain multitudes. Lair of the White Worm is my idea of a great COLOR horror movie.

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