#RIP: Ken Russell

Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell:
3rd July 1927 – 27th November 2011

with sadness we note the death of one of the greatest directors, photographers, music lovers and patrons of the arts to grace our times.

anima eius et animae omnium fidelium
defunctorum per dei misericordiam
requiescant in pace

Russell is best known for his adaptations of D.H. Lawrence’s Women In Love (1969), which stands as one of the all-time great British films, his dramatic, theological masterpiece The Devils (1971), and the film version of The Who’s rock-opera Tommy (1975).

despite being a keen fan of these great films, it is for another entry in his portfolio that i will best remember Russell. while it wasn’t until my late teens that i saw the films listed above, it was as a child of eleven that i sat transfixed by a late-night, BBC 2 broadcast of his techno-coloured, psycho-sexual odyssey, Altered States (1980).

in this hallucino-sci-fi classic, William Hurt plays a University research chemist (based on John C. Lilly) who takes first LSD, then a tincture made from Mexican Caapi vines, suspends himself in a flotation tank and attempts to record and reflect on the results.

apart from opening my eyes to the possibilities of the human mind, the human body and Drew Barrymore (who debuts), that night marked a key point in the development of my passion for films. as well as the strange wonders worked by Russell and Hurt in Altered States, a not-insignificant part of my love for it comes from John Corigliano’s superb (and superbly used) soundtrack.

Russell’s influence on the evolution of the modern film soundtrack is widely under-appreciated, yet profound. not only were the two films he released in 1975, Tommy and Lisztomania, two of the first motion pictures to feature Dolby-encoded soundtracks (something for which he fought hard), but also his passion for and superb use of music is evidenced throughout his back-catalogue.

those who only know Russell from his recent, eccentric appearances on reality TV are unlikely to be reading this blog, but if that’s true of you, i urge you to rent his films and therein encounter a true genius of the cinema.

i will leave you to seek out Altered States and Coriglino’s score, and instead conclude this eulogy with one of Russell’s favourite pieces – used expertly in a great performance scene his 1970 Tchaikovsky biopic, The Music Lovers.

Rafael Orozco with The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by André Previn – Allegro Non Troppo E Molto Maestoso
from Piano Concerto #1 In B Flat Minor by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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