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June 01, 2015


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I'm fully with you on the 'very watchable, but...' takeaway, though I admittedly haven't seen the flick in a long time, and have little desire to re-visit.

But I'd like to make my semi-annual point that Ken Russell is criminally neglected these days. An uneven career, but his good films are far too good for him to be as ignored he is. And even his misfires are quite, as you say, watchable. Glad to see you helping to correct that oversight.


This is the next Russell I planned on seeing, having recently checked The Devils, Women In Love, and The Music Lovers off my list. I'm going in with measured antici....pation, but I've loved everything I've seen of his so far.

My favorite is easily The Boy Friend, a brilliant meta adaptation with multiple levels of reality portrayed, a fantastically deep cast (headed by Twiggy, who couldn't be more disarming), and imagery that's consistently jaw-dropping. Russell was equally adept at the intimacy of moments between friends/members of a theatrical company as he is at the over-the-top flights of fancy. And the latter material does Busby Berkeley proud, and there were also some images reminiscent of Powell & Pressburger's more ethereal work in Tales Of Hoffmann.

A shame it's only on the Warner Archive label, but at least we have it.


I remember a comment by the then-head of Vestron Pictures, which hired Russell to direct several movies in the '80s (including GOTHIC and LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM).

He said: "When Ken Russell is your house director, you know things have gotten weird!"

I'll check out LISZTOMANIA, which I've never seen.

Michael Brooke

The most obvious companion-piece to 'Lisztomania' in Russell's oeuvre is the 1970 TV movie 'Dance of the Seven Veils', which is technically banned (or rather, the Richard Strauss estate won't permit any further screenings, and their copyright lasts until 2020), but there's a timecoded copy on YouTube with rather faded colours - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7r2JHq7LMs . (The BFI has a much better copy in their archive, sourced from Russell's personal 16mm print, but they can't do anything with it commercially because of the Strauss situation.)

I completely agree with Petey that Russell is criminally neglected, not least in his native country. One of the most stimulating research jobs that I've ever had was ploughing through almost the entirety of his 1959-70 BBC output, which consists of over thirty films, very few of which have had a commercial release since what was often a one-off television broadcast. (I wrote up my research at http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1030140/ )

A DVD box collected most of the feature-length pieces (although unsurprisingly omitted 'Dance of the Seven Veils' and, more sadly because it's one of my absolute favourites, 1964's 'Béla Bartók') but the shorts are still largely terra incognita, although they do very occasionally pop up as DVD extras (for instance, his film 'Antonio Gaudí' turned up on Criterion's release of the eponymous Hiroshi Teshigahara film).

The real miracle is that they virtually all survive, given the BBC's notoriously cavalier approach to preservation in the 1960s, but I suppose it helped that they were shot on film and dealt with "high culture" subjects. Also, Russell was something of a public BBC star ever since 'Elgar' was broadcast in 1962 - one of the very few TV directors to achieve that kind of acclaim. Indeed, you'll see at the start of 'Dance of the Seven Veils' that the BBC announcer describes it as "a new film by Ken Russell", as opposed to "the latest Omnibus arts documentary".


I haven't watched Lisztomania yet, but your post (and the description of the rivalries) makes it seem like a wackier version of the relatively more sedate Amadeus!

The other key 'Little Nell' film that comes slightly after these ones is as Crabs in Derek Jarman's apocalyptic anti-punk, anti-musical Jubilee! She gets the rather pushed into the background and doomed 'quest for a man' subplot

Rand Careaga

There was a certain kind of bad moviemaking of the guilty-pleasure variety that required a kind of genius to deliver. Ken Russell was such an artist. The first time I sat through "Gothic" I declared it a masterpiece, but my critical faculties were seriously compromised that afternoon. It still reminds me, though, of certain undergraduate all-nighters circa 1970.

Gordon Cameron

Masterpiece it ain't, but I still dig Gothic.


"There was a certain kind of bad moviemaking of the guilty-pleasure variety that required a kind of genius to deliver"

Jeez. You're a Worse Monster than Justine Sacco.

Neither Gothic nor Lisztomania are "bad moviemaking". Neither Gothic nor Lisztomania are a "guilty-pleasure".

Rococo is not bad art. Baroque is not bad art. Over-the-top is not bad art. Bad art is bad art, but that a separate category.

I share Glenn's reservations about Lisztomania. But Gothic is a fine movie.

You could play the same schtick with Hitchcock.


"The first time I sat through "Gothic" I declared it a masterpiece, but my critical faculties were seriously compromised that afternoon."

Y'know, (all due respect to our host), I've always believed in Better Living Through Chemistry. And I've had the luck of avoiding addiction / habituation / problematics in my usage, with the exception of the Demon Goddess Nicotina.

So, (all due respect to our host), I spent multiple decades trying to see films for the first time in cinema with some chiba freshly flowing through me. Breaks down the transference from the audience pit through the screen, at least for me. And if I liked the movie, I went back to see it stone cold sober, first to see if it still worked, and more importantly, to see THE MECHANICS of how it worked.

And oddly enough, my initial judgment was proven out 98% of the time stone cold sober.

I first saw Lisztomania that way, and had no desire to see it again, though I wouldn't warn folks off it. And I first saw Gothic that way, loved it, and went back to see it stone cold sober. It worked again, and I paid attention to how Russell's tricks were played. I even saw Gothic a third time, years later, and it was still digable.


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