Moving from music to sculpture Russell comes up with Savage Messiah, one of his cult masterpieces about
Henri Gaudier in 1972. The film was largely self-financed by Russell which made its commercial
failure a particular blow. Gaudier meets the much older and prim Sophie Brzeska-
she says "If only we had met 20 years ago". She has an ordered mind,
compared with Gaudier's spontaneity.
They develop a friendship leading to them
sharing names (Gaudier Brzeska) though they never married. "I am
your brother... I am your sister".
Ken Russell's imagery is as always breathtaking.
Gaudier in the rain looking through the
art gallery window, and a dancer in the Vortex Club. Gaudier was one
of the Vorticists along with Ezra Pouund and Wyndam Lewis.
In one of Russell's best scenes Brzeska waits for Gaudier at a station.
The train comes and goes but no Gaudier. Another train leaves and there is Gaudier on the
wrong platform, arms full of roses for Brzeska. He runs towards her, jumping from platform to rails. He slips as
a train emerges but rather than escape the train he picks up the roses, at the last moment avoiding the wheels of
the train and falling into Brzeskaīs arms.
Gaudier joins the war. The superb line "I have succeeded in making the enemy angry..." is a
true letter quoted in H.S. Edeīs biography of Gaudier. The film ends, just as Edeīs book does, with Gaudierīs work.
Gaudier could be seen as Russell's fictional autobiographical character. When
Russell read H.S. Edeīs biography he was the same age as Gaudier "I was impressed by
Gaudierīs conviction that somehow or other there was a spark in the core of him that was personal
to him, which was worth turning into something that could be appreciated by others."
Russell also says (Films and Filming Oct 1972) "I wanted this film to be totally different from the big companies and back
into the small studio, back to the BBC sort of style with a small unit".
"In a scene that burns itself on the brain, Helen Mirren, as
Gosh, descends a staircase of magnificent Jarmanesque grandeur. It is
perhaps the finest nude scene in film history" (Chris in Eye for Eye
Alex Russell, Ken's son, who plays a small role in the film, says
"On Savage Messiah, I remember when filming on the sea coast some
oil or tar was on the lens of the 35ml camera; but was not discovered till the evenings rushes screening: so a
whole days shooting was ruined! Also: the rain seen was done via the fire brigade pumping salt water straight
from the sea! Also: the Gaudier Breshka charcoal and pastel drawings (well faked) for the film were later
stolen and sold as originals down Bond Street and at Sotheby's!"
In the film Gaudier says "If people can't tell the difference
between a genuine Gaudier and a genuine Gainsbrough they deserve to be
cheated. One day someone will be forging my work".
One review states "Although the performances are full of hysteria,
"Savage Messiah" is so tame that it almost makes one long for the excesses
of the earlier Russell films, which so overwhelmed the senses as to become
anesthetically soothing, like loud rock. At one point in the film, I had
the feeling that perhaps Russell was really taking stock of his career to
date." (Vincent Canby, New York Times, 9 Nov 1972).
"... Russell presents a sharply etched portrait of the bohemian
community of opportunistic dealers and arty types who like Gaudier better
than the vulgar woman. The convincing atmosphere of pre-war France is
presented with Russell's eye for careful compositions in wide-angle lenses
mixed with exuberant moving camerawork and flashy cutting. So much
of this is pure Russell, such as a shot of the naked Helen Mirren (as a
spoilt aristocratic turned bomb-throwing suffragist) posed in the middle
of a lavish set designed by Derek Jarman. One of the most remarkable
sequences shows Gaudier carving a marble sculpture, uttering various
observations while he chips and chisels. All at once, we see a serious
artist at work. The final sequence is a dazzling parade of some of the
museum pieces he left behind, that we can finally understand how this
cliched "artistic temperament" got around to producing something real."
(Michael Barrett, 6 May 2011, Pop Matters
"There's no such think as an artist who
doesn't need an audience"