Ken Russell television
Tales of Erotica, four short films by different directors for German TV. Russell contributes The Insatiable Mrs Kirsch, 1996, 24 minutes. The other directors were Susan Seidelman, Melvin Van Peebles and Bob Rafelson though none produced anything interesting.
Hetty Baynes, Russell's third wife, stars as Mrs Kirsch. She also appeared in Russell's Lady Chatterley, The Secret Life of Sir Arnold Bax and Treasure Island and was a dancer in Classic Widows. Simon Shepherd co-stars as the stranger hut is not convincing as a Don Juan type seducer.
This is possibly Ken's worst ever work. The story is ridiculously clumsy
and improbable, and the acting of Shepherd is pedestrian,
though the use of voice-overs, meaning he has little
dialogue, can't have helped. Baynes comes out better,
but has little scope to show her acting ability. The
filming is routine.
Shepherd spots Mrs Kirsch on a cliff top and becomes infatuated with her.
She however seems obsessed by eating erotically, going to a sex club, and behaving provocatively.
He hears her seemingly using a vibrator.
Obsessed he stalks her.
The set piece with Baynes dancing on the Cerne Abbas Giant chalk drawing in Dorset is the only interesting episode.
She is again stalked.
Eventually it all turns out to be an innocent, but improbable, misunderstanding. Another film tackling a similar topic is Woody Allen's All You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex... with the vibrator scene being funnier- in Allen's film the vibrator catches fire- and the Italian sequences more erotic.
Russell has a cameo in the photo at the end. Presumably the boy is Ken and Hetty's child Rex.
Xavier Russell, son of Russell, is editor, Hong Manley is photographer. Russell themes that recur are the hill top view of the lake/sea, walking along a dark corridor with light at the end and the use of caves.
Music is by Mitch Dalton and Graham de Wilde with titles such as The Great Outdoors, On The Edge and Jungle Journey but it is pretty nondescript.
All images from the DVD of the film. Note: some videos have only three of the films, missing off Russell's film.
Dogboys, a prison drama from 1988 with all the usual characters: the sadistic prison warder, the gang of gay black convicts looking for a "girlie" and the fresh faced new inmate who can fight and take care of himself.
The opening sequence is of an old rusted prison van but this realism is soon forgotten. The prisoners´ uniforms are neat despite it being a hell on earth, the guards´ uniforms look unworn (Russell made the same mistake in Prisoners of Honor) and the sleeping quarters look quite attractive.
Prisoners wake up in the middle of the night clean shaven, and they have neat haircuts.
To stop escapes there are guard dogs and as training the convicts run through the grounds and are tracked by the guard dogs. These prisoners are Dogboys. The Australian guard is being investigated for tax fraud and an agent is put in the prison. When the agent gets too close to the truth he is mauled to death by a dog and the hero (a convict) discovers a part of a photo in the pools of blood he has to clean up. The photo is of a prisoner with his hands above his head, but the pose is not natural and the expression is strange.
Tia Carrere, of Wayne´s World, is the prim DA investigator who put the agent in the prison posing as a prisoner.
Later she sees a photo of a captured deer strung up and realises the photo of the prisoner with hands above his head is upside down, it is actually a prisoner strung up: prisoners are being hunted and strung up as game. This mystery and the explanation are the only real element of suspense in the story.
The warden, Captain Brown, was improbably married to a famous classical musician but she was murdered, along with their dog, by an escaped convict. Brown moved from Australia and is now taking his revenge in the prison.
The dogs are amiable: when the prisoners walk through the compound there are no barks and snarling. Only in short scenes do they snarl and bark. And given that the dogboys wear protective clothing to avoid being hurt it makes the fear improbable. Compare with the menace present in films like Wolfen or even the dogs in Altered States.
Before I had seen the film, I asked about it in an Internet newsgroup: people couldn't believe Russell had directed it: "an entirely undistinguished Southern prison B-flick. Sad to see Russell reduced to cranking out such routine fare". Russell's name only appears in the end-credits. His second ever action film, after Billion Dollar Brain.
Xavier Russell is the editor. The cinematography is by Jamie Thompson and script by Robert Stork& Hugh Martin, David Taylor and Ken. Stork&Martin are also executive producers. The film is also called Tracked.
Some good images, above neat shot of star Dean Cain in his cell, and below the prison governor and his cigarette smoke.
There are a few Russell motifs: a video within the film, a reference to The Shining (Honey I'm home) and music (J.S. Bach). The solitary confinement is similar to the sensory deprivation of Altered States but it is unconvincing. The scene when the prisoner is being lowered into the pit is at times similar to Glenda Jackson lying on the grill above the prisoners. The film is a professional TV film, not too bad as such but way below Russell's capabilities.
A documentary by Russell on professional female soccer players in Brighton.
It was broadcast on BBC regional television as part of BBC2's Southern Eye series. Here is a review by Ray Allen (thanks Ray):
At the end of Brighton Belles, Ken mentions that Fulham FC are the only professional women's football team in this country. As a season ticket holder of that club and a resident of Brighton (as well as a lifelong enthusiast of Ken Russell) I may, therefore, be seen as having a particular interest in Ken Russell meets the Brighton Belles.
For me, much of Ken's recent work has been spoilt by a tendency to wish to appear like one of his characters from Lisztomania when acting as narrator. I am delighted to say that here he appears rather like a paternalistic grandfather to two young American women football players currently 'over here' to gain experience of playing in another country (at the highest level.) It remains a mystery as to just why they should wish to come to Britain to gain this experience when only three clubs, Fulham, Arsenal and the 'Doncaster Belles' take the women's game at all seriously. The film charts the girls' early experiences of playing for Brighton Ladies at Tranmere in front of a mere handful of spectators whereas at home they might expect crowds larger that the average third division match in this country.
Uncle Ken cajoles and encourages them as they wander around the sights in Brighton 'having fun.' He cooks for them 'Mushroom Risotto a la Russell' (as Ken says "looks like dog sick") but is probably not a match for Ken Hom (certainly not sartorially!) Sitting on a bench (not far from the nudist beach - which is thankfully not mentioned!) Ken shows considerable ability in being able to tease out, in a wonderfully natural way these young ladies' thoughts and aspirations. I doubt these young women will be taken on by Fulham, as the limited footage of their football skills failed to suggest particular ability; but who knows, the evidence of their playful vocalising to guitar accompaniment is surely dreadful enough to suggest a career in pop music!
Ken's homely homily leaves this viewer with the desire to know what becomes of these two obviously delightful young people. Perhaps the BBC would allow Ken in future years to follow Sean and her friend across the pond. I, for one, would be really interested.
2002 Elgar Portrait of the Composer on a Bicycle
"Cynics who presume that Russell lost the plot years ago should watch his lovingly restrained return to Elgar for Melvyn Bragg's The South Bank Show in 2002. It raises the disturbing question as to whether the director's decline was hastened by a refusal to allow him to do the work that he does best" (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent, 5 Jan 2007)
Ken Russell's second attempt at Elgar is brave considering the high regard for his original version.
The documentary has no dialogue, rather a voice-over by Ken. But actually the music dominates the film, with the Enigma Variations used as a link with the variations being unraveled.
There are some references back to the original Elgar film: the war wounded and the kite on the hill. And the film ends in the present with Ken looking at a statue of Elgar.
An accomplished work, showing that Ken can still adapt his style to his subject.
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