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Foundation work of an iconoclast
on September 29, 2008
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.
I hope that this release presages the official reissues of this director's great 70s work, most of them biopics, that have been long out of circulation: The Music Lovers, The Devils, The Boyfriend (all 1971!); Savage Messiah (72); Mahler (74); and Lisztomania (75).
For more on Russell: read Joseph Lanza's excellent book, Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films, Chicago Review Press, 2007; and visit Iain Fisher's website at [...] . To see what Russell has been up to in this decade, check out his bit of guerrilla filmmaking, The Fall of the Louse of Usher, 2001.