Mastodon KEN RUSSELL 1927-2011 - The Wagnerian

KEN RUSSELL 1927-2011

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 28 November 2011 | 7:53:00 pm

Ken Russell has died - age 84. His Mahler movie seemed appropriate, especially the funeral scene below - plus a little of his Debussy for the BBC in 1965

From the Guardian:

Ken Russell: Sex, nuns and rock'n'roll

Naked wrestling, religious mania and The Who's Tommy: director Ken Russell transformed British cinema. His closest collaborators recall a fierce, funny and groundbreaking talent

Glenda Jackson
I worked with Ken on six films. Women in Love was the first time I'd worked with a director of that genius, and on a film of that size. What I remember most was the creative and productive atmosphere on set: he was open to ideas from everyone, from the clapperboard operator upwards. Like any great director, he knew what he didn't want – but was open to everything else.

As a director he never said anything very specific. He'd say, "It needs to be a bit more … urrrgh, or a bit less hmmm", and you knew exactly what he meant. I used to ask him why he never said "Cut", and he said, "Because it means you always do something different." They gave me an Oscar [for her performance as Gudrun Brangwen], but I couldn't collect itas I was working. I haven't seen the film since the initial screening for cast and crew.

Working with Ken was one of the great joys of my life. My whole memory of him is infused with laughter. His imagination grew and developed over the course of the films we made together [The Music Lovers, The Boy Friend, Salome's Last Dance, The Rainbow, The Secret Life of Arnold Bax]. I think it's a great disgrace to the film industry that he has been ignored for so long, that people have not respected the barriers he broke down.

The last film I worked with him on was about the composer Arnold Bax, in which he played Bax. He was so frightened as a performer, very nervous. He cast himself in his films because nobody was giving him enough to do.

We were great friends, and I treasure that very much. We used to call him Cuddly Ken. He wasn't this wild director, merely out to shock and discomfort people. This idea that he was some kind of voyeur could not be further from the truth. He was passionately devoted to the screen, and passionate about social justice. Where did he stand politically? I wouldn't know: we never talked about it. But he was one of the two great directors in my life time – Ken, and in the theatre, Peter Brook. Without Ken, I would not have had my career.

Robert Powell

He was both extraordinary and impossible. He was always absolutely immersed in the world of the film he was working on, and he expected the same commitment of everyone: if he thought you weren't up to scratch, he would order you off the set.

With Ken, everything was immediate: he'd suddenly come up with an idea, and want to get on with it there and then. I loved working that way. He was also very trusting. When we worked on Mahler [the 1974 film in which Powell played the composer], we spent two and a half weeks filming in the Lake District, without being able to view the daily rushes. That meant we were working pretty much blind – but he trusted me, the other actors and the editor completely. The editor later said he was worried I wasn't sympathetic enough on screen; Ken kept that from me for a long time.

He could be immensely funny. He once told me that he'd been invited to address a drama school on the subject of film acting. "Why don't you come with me, Robert?" he said. "We'll take a stepladder, a bucket of water, a bucket of leaves and dirt and filth, and a wind machine. We'll put an actor on the ladder, and throw everything at them: then they'll understand how difficult it is." That made me laugh: in one scene in Mahler, I had been required to stand on a stepladder, with an electrician holding me up by keeping a large hand on my bottom.

I met Ken on [BBC arts programme] Monitor, where he was the star turn. He had just done Elgar, which had expanded people's appreciation of what an arts programme could do. It was bookended by two glorious shots: one of a boy riding a white horse across the Malvern Hills; another of men with bandages over their eyes, stumbling across the detritus of war, with Land of Hope and Glory playing in the background. It was shattering.

It was also an area of arts programming that hadn't been explored before, using fiction to make a documentary, and it caused a hell of a row. I was 24 when we worked together on Debussy, and it wasn't done to say: "This actor, Oliver Reed, will play Debussy." People said we were degrading expectations of what BBC documentaries should be.