Friday 17 November 2017

Flamboyant Russell was eccentric genius on the wild side

Chris Moncrieff

Ken Russell, who has been described as the enfant terrible of British cinema, was one of the most acclaimed and controversial film directors of his generation.

He made his name with his sexually-graphic 1969 adaptation of D H Lawrence's 'Women in Love', which earned him an Oscar nomination and international recognition.

The success -- and notoriety -- of 'Women in Love' enabled Mr Russell to cast aside any inhibitions and to embark on outlandish pseudo-biographical films which helped to earn him the reputation which he craved: that of an unconventional eccentric on the wild side.

Ken Russell was born on July 3, 1927 in Southampton. At the age of ten, he was given a film projector which sparked off his love of movies.

He was sent to Pangbourne Nautical College at the age of 15, but found the discipline irksome. Even so, he entered the Merchant Navy as sixth officer on a cargo ship bound for the Pacific.

After World War Two his family assumed he would enter the shoe business, a prospect which horrified him.

Mr Russell tried without success to enter the film business, and in his early 20s he turned his attention to ballet. For five years he attended dance school and toured with dance troupes.

Then he turned to fashion photography and started to make some black and white silent films. He took one of these films, 'Amelia' to the BBC and as a result he landed a job on the 'Monitor' arts programme.

He continued to make films and his film on composer Edward Elgar became one of the most popular shows on TV.

Overall, Mr Russell made some 32 films for the 'Monitor' and 'Omnibus'.

He was then given the opportunity of directing outside TV and his film 'Women in Love' was not only a landmark in British cinema but for Mr Russell as well.

In the 1970s his talents blossomed and over the next two decades he was to direct a succession of remarkable films.

These included 'The Music Lovers', 'Savage Messiah', 'Mahler', 'Lisztomania' and 'Valentino'.

In 1971 he moved from the X-rated 'The Devils' to 'The Boy Friend' which he turned into a homage to 1930s movie musicals.

In 1975 he turned his attention to The Who's rock opera 'Tommy', but later returned to small-budget, but no less flamboyant fare.

Later, he was to revisit DH Lawrence for a straightforward adaptation of 'The Rainbow' followed by the gritty 'Whore'.

And his performance as the tea-pouring secret agent in 'The Russia House' (1990) was a welcome bit of comedy relief.

The following year he was to direct Richard Dreyfuss in the TV movie 'Prisoner of Honour'. And he also tried a music video, making 'Nikita' for Elton John.

Mr Russell was always vulgar and outrageous but seen, too, as a master stylist. He published an autobiography 'Altered States' in 1992 and a broad-ranging collection of film critiques, 'The Lion Roars' two years later.

One of the most unlikely chapters of his career was a stint in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2007. He lasted just four days. Mr Russell had earlier started in good spirits. But as he left he spoke about the divisiveness created by being in the house, saying: "I don't want to live in a society riddled with evil."

In later years his film-making efforts were rather low-budget affairs such as his 'The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher'.

Four-times married Mr Russell also took a number of cameo roles in the past decade, appearing in his own films as well as movies such as 'Brothers Of The Head' and 'Colour Me Kubrick'.

Irish Independent

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