Customer Reviews: Ken Russell at the BBC (DVD)
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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.
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on October 31, 2008
'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.

There are other's involved: Melvyn Bragg writes a couple of creditable scripts, Huw Wheldon writes and narrates the excellent commentary for 'Elgar' and there's some fine work from Dick Bush - the greatest ever British lighting cameraman - but it's Russell's genius.
Emblazoned and embellished on every edit; every rising symphonious dawn, every artistic tantrum, every slightly alien look at a European city from an English South Coast perspective, every beautiful girl fighting a futile battle against art AND temperament, every achievement, gain and much, much pain - the eye on the lens and the ear at the stylus is Russell's.

'Ken Russell at the BBC' is the ultimate review.
A legacy that will last and grow in appreciation, even when we're all dead and gone for as long as the subjects of Russell's mini-masterpieces.
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on October 28, 2008
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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on September 9, 2011
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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on 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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on March 23, 2013
This collection includes "Song of Summer," a haunting, informative, and enlightening black and white movie about Frederick Delius, composer of remarkably beautiful orchestral music, and the selfless help of a devoutly spiritual gentleman named Eric Femby. I had seen this movie on PBS about 30 years ago, and have searched for in on and off ever since. I am grateful to have found it on Amazon.
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on January 11, 2009
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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on December 4, 2012
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 REASON why Ken Russell had to do the movie Isadora - there was no way he could outdo the BBC version in a million years. Thank you for making this available to me for my personal collection. Vivian Pickles performance as Isadora is worth the purchase of this set - buy it - watch it! You will not be disappointed.
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on September 5, 2009
This is a wonderful set! The superb Elgar and Delius films have long been favourites of mine and are undoubted television classics. I had missed the Debussy film previously but it was worth the wait; Oliver Reed is superb as the composer.
The visual quality is generally fine while the sound is adequate though obviously limited as far as the music is concerned. There is one major irritant. Why on earth was the decision taken to remove the charming Laurel and Hardy introduction to "Song of Summer"? This sequence, very typical of Russell, features Eric Fenby improvising on the cinema organ to a silent film of the comedians doing a dance routine!
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I have always loved the "Dante's Inferno" but had forgotten about the Isadora Duncan film. Both these are included. I wish the Richard Wagner bio was included. Never had a chance to see that.

When I was a college student, some professor showed us "Dante's Inferno" and I have never forgotten it. I loved the PreRaphaelites, and was familiar with both Dante's and Christina Rossetti's poems. The movie is about Dante's very private hell of regret and guilt, and the imaginative style of acting and symbolism really adds a lot to the story. It also provides an excellent intro to 19th century bohemian life. Oliver Reed's brooding style fit the character perfectly.

The Isadora Duncan: the Biggest Dancer in the World story is also excellent, providing both information, and conveying personality, and something of the mood of the era. I had forgotten the movie, but immediately remembered Vivian Pickles, who was excellent as Isadora.

Elgar was a bit of a disappointment, but the Rousseau Bio was excellent, and one I had never seen. Debussy was interesting as well, but not as successful, as some of the other films.

Still, for the price, I am pleased to have found Inferno and Isadora again. Russell is underrated and forgotten.
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