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Ken Russell at the BBC (DVD) (2008)

Huw Wheldon , Peter Brett , Ken Russell  |  NR |  DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Huw Wheldon, Peter Brett, Rowena Gregory, George McGrath, Max Adrian
  • Directors: Ken Russell
  • Writers: Huw Wheldon, Ken Russell, Eric Fenby, Melvyn Bragg, Sewell Stokes
  • Producers: Ken Russell, Humphrey Burton
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: September 23, 2008
  • Run Time: 477 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0019MFY40
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,799 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Ken Russell at the BBC (DVD)" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Includes: The Debussy Film (1965), Dante's Inferno )1067), Always on Sunday (1965), Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), Song of Summer (1968), Elgar (1962)
  • Ken Russell in Conversation
  • Late Night Lineup: Russell at Work

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Ken Russell at the BBC (DVD)

Many American fans, like myself, who have seen most of Ken Russell’s films, probably don’t even know these biopics he did for the BBC prior to his feature film career exist. And these six hour-long documentaries collected on Ken Russell at the BBC may be his finest works. Russell is well known for narrative features with revolutionary undertow such as Women in Love, The Devils, and Tommy, a rock opera about the Who. The films included on this three-disc set, all shot in black and white, are clearly those in which Russell established his affinity for portraying iconoclastic eccentrics, and each has its own experimental merit, stylistically and conceptually. Though it is unfortunate that there is a proliferation of cheesy re-enactments in today’s film and television, one will be surprised to see how brilliantly this pioneer did it. Each documentary, here, enlists actors to portray the artistic luminaries of various historical periods. But the films so keenly observe their characters’ behaviors, factually and poetically, that one learns about Russell’s subjects on the sly, being entertained all the while. Occasionally narrators tease their subjects by pointing out absurd moments, reminding the viewer of documentary’s subjective nature, and of the humorous potential in many historical tales.

The documentaries heighten their subjects’ flair for drama, and take interpretive liberties to recount the lives of those on screen. Impassioned explosions, nervous breakdowns, and tragic calamities are the norm. Always on Sunday (1965) studies how genius is manifest at great cost in Henri Rousseau, after the death of his wife and a friendship with Surrealist colleague, Alfred Jarry. Dante’s Inferno (1967) depicts the Pre-Raphaelite set, focusing on Dante Rosetti’s fiery persona and its negative effects on his muse, Elizabeth Siddal. In Isadora Duncan: Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), the arts and crafts-era mistress of movement maniacally travels the world in search of funding for her dancing schools. Though the characters depicted are wildly different, they share blinding passions and melodramatic means of achieving their ambitions. Many of these films are narrated in the third person, but occasionally their subjects share dialogue, elaborating the dramatic sense. Song of Summer (1968) is the breakthrough, starring young composer, Eric Fenby (Christopher Gable), who moves in with blind, paralyzed elder musician, Frederick Delius, to help finish his scores. Third-person narration fizzles out early on to allow the characters to speak about the need to create, even when handicapped. Delius and Fenby’s relationship strengthens as the two develop their music together, and gorgeous landscape scenes, or scenes depicting high human emotions, roll as soundtrack to the composer’s works as the film progresses. Heavily dramatized, the only documentary aspect to this film seems to be Russell’s dedication to tying film to music, by showing how Delius visualized his music. Ken Russell at the BBC says as much about the quality of BBC programming during the era as the director’s unhinged imagination, and it’s a wonder to view these films as precedents to what the BBC also pioneered a decade later in the 1970s, namely the much more fact-based documentaries, hosted by scientists and scholars like nature man, David Attenborough. —Trinie Dalton

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation work of an iconoclast September 29, 2008
By Snort
Verified Purchase
Product correction: This set does not include The Dance of the Seven Veils (70), the controversial bioassassination of Richard Strauss. Presumably the Strauss estate has blocked the release of this film as it has done in the past. I would appreciate correction on that statement if I am wrong. In its place is Russell's earlier work, Elgar (62).

This set presents 6 of the films that the British auteur made in the 1960s for the BBC television programs Monitor and Omnibus that move from narrated documentary - Elgar (62), to interpretive biopic - Dante's Inferno (67), and straightfoward drama - Song of Summer (68). In these films we meet 6 great artists - 3 composers: Elgar, Debussy, Delius; dancer Isadora Duncan; primitive painter Henri Rousseau; and Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. All are on display with flaws intact whether struggling for recognition or sponsorship or with their own self-destructive personalities. Russell's sometimes ambiguous feelings for his subjects is evident in that he avoids polite and safe hagiography, which is realistic -- [...] may often be lurking behind works of great beauty. The casts of these films will be familiar faces to those familiar with Russell's troupe in his 70s films: Oliver Reed, Christopher Gable, Max Adrian, and Vladek Sheybal.

The films presented are fairly crisp with many an evocative sequence both in natural settings and in studio. The only flaw is inherent to the quality of the audio of the time, particularly in respect to the soundtracks of the composer films, i.e. tinny. The contemporary interview of Russell describing these films is enjoyable and insightful.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
'Ken Russell at the BBC' is an extra-ordinary dvd box-set. In it are some of the great man's greatest works, scandalously only released in the US on R1(in one fell swoop, the obscene amount I paid for a multi-region dvd player has been rendered money superbly spent).

'Song of Summer' is probably the finest, most inspiring film ever made about a composer; 'Dante's Inferno' and 'the Debussy Film' both have a simmer/bellow/simmer/bellow performance from Oliver Reed; 'Isadora' is better than the Vanessa Redgrave film version; 'Always on a Sunday' has a real-life French realist painter being played by a real-life Yorkshire realist painter(!), and 'Elgar' was the first music bio to feature actors, though compromised by them only being allowed to appear in long-shot.
30 seconds to read ~ 477 minutes to look, listen and be hypnotically immersed.

Possibly the most essential collection of BBC films ever assembled in one place (outside of their vaults of course). Imaginative, unique, mystical, lyrical, anti-cliché, anti-intellectual, funny, sad, moving, haunting - and not one frame could've been shot by any-one else.

Not one blistering, believable, fevered performance could've been prised out of the superb casts by any-one else.
Not one film-maker in the history of tv OR film has been SO on the side of his audience.
No other 80 year old man could sit on a park bench and be so mesmerising and deliriously enthusiastic about films he made over 40 years ago, and if I was to type 'til I was 80, I would not come close to properly assessing his work on this dvd set.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible bargain for what you get. October 28, 2008
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Six films on DVDs, including one never released on any home medium before--the superb, "Always on Sunday". Includes two excellent interviews with Ken Russell: one in 1966 during the making of "Isadora", the other one made just for this DVD. For those who want to experience some of the greatest television films ever made, this collection is a bargain at the quoted price.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime Ken Russell January 11, 2009
By Boffin
Verified Purchase
I bought this collection in order to get my hands on the "Debussy" production starring a rather dreamy Oliver Reed. The benefit of getting the collection is the other BBC films from Russell, which are terrific. His telebios on Delius and Rousseau are fantastic. Great buy!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Set---But don't sell your BFI versions August 14, 2009
It's lovely to see these BBC films FINALLY available in America, but for those of you who may have already purchased the Region 2 PAL Elgar & Delius films which the British Film Institute released a few years ago don't be too hasty to get rid of the duplications: The BFI releases both contain DIRECTOR COMMENTARIES which (sadly) this new BBC set does not. STILL--don't hesitate getting this new set as your friends who don't have all region players will finally understand the fuss you've been making over these gems!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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Despite the omission of The Seven Veils" which, alas, cannot be included in my new dvd set due to copyright issues from the Struass family who does not want Richard shown for what he was, this set is SUBLIME!I want this shown in all UK schools and as many US schools as possible. These works are the artist's journey personified.

I watched Elgar today and was in for the shock of my life. I somehow thought the film would be a light 20 minute affair with kites and ponies, instead it was a very emotionally moving and profound film with splendid archival footage of 19th and early 20th century Britain. Each scene was textured, layered on so carefully and the music was beyond belief.
Elgar has his own throne in the pantheon.Tears seeped out of my eyes for an hour afterwords. I can't believe the way Elgar and his hopes and despairs just came to life. The archival footage of WW1 was particularly sad. Why were no lessons learned from the "Great" War?" This was the first work of Ken's in which the BLOODY HARD WORK artists go through became clear to me. This seems to be the recurring theme of all seven films; Elgar, Duncan, Debussy, Rosetti, Delius, Rousseau and yes, even Reeck-hard Strauss worked, lived and were their art to extent that I don't think exists anywhere today. If it does it is isolated with a few people who are not well known. I could have easily named two dozen other artists within each film, connected to the seven, who were working as hard. Comparatively, Earth was once a world of artists. These films are STUNNING for that realization alone and so much, much more.

The US issue contains two bonus interview with Ken; one from back when he making these works and one from present day. I wanted many bonus features but I'm still VERY, VERY happy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Portrayals of some of the greatest composers as miserably unhappy - it...
I don’t doubt, as others have stated, that some segments are better than others, but to me they are all too dark, picturing some of the greatest composers as essentially... Read more
Published 1 month ago by George Goldberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection, both for the artistry and the treatment ...
Great collection, both for the artistry and the treatment of the subjects. For any lover of classical music interested in the personalities and their times, I highly recommend... Read more
Published 3 months ago by L. Spradlin
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
These short films on the lives of composers like Debussy are brilliantly directed and acted. It's Ken Russell at his best.
Published 5 months ago by sgordonmark
4.0 out of 5 stars a look at Ken Russell's roots
An excellent collection of biopics of late 19th and early 20th century artists, far better than you might expect of the 1960s BBC. Read more
Published 7 months ago by James F. Housel
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive Insight Into a Remarkable Musician
This collection includes "Song of Summer," a haunting, informative, and enlightening black and white movie about Frederick Delius, composer of remarkably beautiful... Read more
Published 19 months ago by The Wordcrafter
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough overview of Ken Russell's BBC work
Wanted to know more about Ken Russell.'s work and was not disappointed.
Thorough and interesting overview with interesting excerpts from his work.
Published 19 months ago by Mrs Bohdanna West
5.0 out of 5 stars kenquality
Not for review purposes this, rather a little warning to potential future purchasers of this fine collection (far cheaper than the BFI's charge for "Elgar" alone). Read more
Published 21 months ago by alanh
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russell at the BBC
Okay - this nearly blew my mind when I saw this set and it included Isadora with the supberb Vivian Pickles - This was done as a "news reel documentary" - There was NO... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Thomas R. Anoe
4.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russel at the BBC
This anthology should be most rewarding for Ken Russell fans, covering his early years spent doing dramatically staged docs about composers for the BBC. Read more
Published on January 1, 2012 by Tom P. Bullock
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Russell at the BBC
Excellent! I enjoyed these presentations when they first appeared on the BBC and I have enjoyed them once again and hope to continue to do so. Read more
Published on January 17, 2011 by Execelsior
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