Friday, 30 December 2011

A tribute to the late Ken Russell

I wanted to write a tribute post to Ken, closer to the mark of his passing, but time did not permit.

Of all the few filmmakers that have in some way marked me, Ken Russell has deftly cleft an incision across my imagination. It has been a long journey for me, grasping the unique nuances of Ken's work. When I first watched a Ken Russell film, it was Lady Chatterley's Lover. I was intrigued by D.H. Lawrence at the time, and knowing Ken's freedom of ideas in representation, I thought the match would be sublime. The viewing left me disappointed. Ken's approach to character and narrative I found defiant of what I had experienced with other directors who craft cinema in such a way as Gilliam and Greenaway.

After many years, I decided to investigate properly the work of Ken Russell, and I realised the context to his his style. Ken began with photography and moved into television, then onto feature cinema films. Ken's feature films are exactly where television content should have arrived at today but didn't. The medium of television could have really pushed the boundaries of show, the content could have become repertory with local artists creating television that was what theatre was to the minds of the community in its heyday. Television could have been cheaper and more spectacular, it could have been driven by sharp writers with profound ideas on contemporary practice and ideology. However, television sought to become more like radio, and that is where it rests.

Ken shoots like television but chooses composition subjects like still photography. Then I could finally sit down and begin exploring his body of work. I was fixated by his 'theatre of film', I use that expression because the symbolic transitions in his work are 'larger than life', they disrupt the story and blossom into the abstract of the imagination.

The symbolism, theatre and phallicism are moments of crescendo in Russell's narratives, he exposes parts of the body just as much as he exposes parts of the mind, it all fits, and those who remark that a certain lewdness is revealed in are often missing connecting devices, and would be the first not to notice the crescendos marked by other means - some of Russell's dialogue is extended much longer than many film narratives, but you wouldn't have someone say "Russell's work is full of prolonged conversations". Yet, always people focus in on what they feel unnerved about.

His passing was a moment of a sigh for me because I was awaiting his next film, Madame Bovary which was to feature Barry Humphries in drag. It was to begin shooting in Croatia a few years back, I was really looking forward to it, but I'm hoping something will arise from the Alice and Wonderland film he was working on before signing off from this planet.

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