Ken Russell, who died Sunday at age 84, was a British movie director whose name was a household word a few decades ago. No more, I guess. But people are writing about his life in interesting ways, noting that he was a “provocateur,” that he pioneered male frontal nudity in the movies (Women in Love), and that he popularized a passionate and boldly specific approach to telling the story of musical lives on film (Song of Summer, the best ever film about a creative person). Among other things.
Personally, I’m fascinated by obituaries, and in particular, obits of people about whom I knew little or nothing, though in Russell’s case I followed his bizarre career closely after falling for that early BBC film on Frederick Delius. The NY Times obit of Russell is worth reading. It takes us back to another era in movie-going, one now celebrated, as well, in recent books that collect the criticism as well as tell the life story of the film critic Pauline Kael. Kael, by the way, could barely tolerate Ken Russell’s movies. His films “cheapen everything they touch,” is how she put it, as only she could. For more on this, see Todd McCarthy’s Russell piece in Hollywood Reporter.
That’s what made it all so interesting, of course. That anyone should have risked so much and poured so much extravagance onto the screen –and that it should have so deeply offended so many in places high and low.
Now that he’s gone, read all about him. See the films, from remarkable to ridiculous, and often both at once. Still crazy, still vulgar, still might get a rise out of you one way or another.