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Ken Russell television

1995 Classic Widows

A documentary for Melvyn Bragg about four composers. Russell uses the widows of the composers to tell their tale, but the documentary ends up like the sort of film Russell tried to avoid in his early BBC days- shots of buildings, gravestones, very serious musicians and talking heads. You long for a hut to explode into fire, or for Oliver Reed to capture the essence of the person.

Ken Russell Classic Widows

Susana Walton in Ken Russell Classic Widows Fiona Searle in Ken Russell Classic Widows
Xenia Frankel in Ken Russell Classic Widows Bertha Stevens in Ken Russell Classic Widows

The composers are Walton, Bernard George Stevens, Benjamin Frankel and Humphrey Searle and their widows are Susana Walton, Fiona Searle, Xenia Frankel and Bertha Stevens.

Walton is a respected classical composer who also composed film music. The rest are neglected known only for their lightweight film music with Frankel´s work including the music for The Curse of the Werewolf with Oliver Reed and Searle's music including The Abominable Snowman.

The widows talk to the camera but are rarely natural, being unused to film. The talking heads alternate with performance shots of the works being performed.

The highlight is Humphrey Searle's wife talking of how her husband's work has been neglected, then saying direct to Ken (behind the camera) in an unscripted moment "Ken, what the f*ck do we do about it". Ken reacts to the spontaneity and they go to the pub to discuss it more.  In some countries, for example Australia, this scene was censored.

Ken Russell Classic Widows

Ken Russell Classic Widows  Ken Russell Classic Widows

Russell interviewed 13 widows before choosing the final four. His interest was particularly to promote unknown composers. Disappointingly Bertha Stevens does not tell of the help by Grateful Dead to promote her husband's work.  Russell says (in Neil Evans interview in Classic CD) "I used to get hold of records during the war to accompany silent films... I would play them in my father's garage. Bliss's march from Things to Come went wonderfully with Fritz Lang's Metropolis".

Hetty Baynes, later Russell's wife, appears in a short dance routine.

Classic Widows

Xavier Russell is editor, and Alf Russell (i.e. Ken) is one of the photographers. Director of Photography is Hong Manley.  Russell also presents a CD of the compositions featured on the programme, which helps promote the musicians featured. Earlier in his career he helped struggling composer Peter Maxwell Davies.

1997 In Search of the English Folk Song

Ken Russell directs, writes and presents.  A lightweight piece with Russell explaining to his dog Nipper then his producer Maureen Murray that he wants to find the true English folk song.

Ken Russell In Search of the English Folk Song  Ken Russell In Search of the English Folk Song

Ken Russell In Search of the English Folk Song

Maureen Murray in Ken Russell In Search of the English Folk Song  Donovan

His journey is an excuse to meet people and hear them performing. These range from unknowns to the famous including Fairport Convention and Donovan.  The first performers are a rock band with Russell filming them using a Camcorder. One of them has a father who writes folk songs and so the quest begins.  Barry Lowe writes songs about Native Americans, and Russell would later use him as an actor on Lion's Mouth.

Another folk singer seen through a window by Russell seems to be a witch. He is about to go when she evolves into a blonde girl. She sings naked behind a fence, or on top of a rocking horse (compare with A British Picture).  This leads to Greenham Common with some of the Greenham Common women (who spent years outside a military base protesting against nuclear weapons).  Finally Russell reaches Glastonbury folk festival and the performance of Edward II has Russell at his best, the performance cut with surreal shots of the carnival with human bananas and camels.  And finally Russell is back home with Nipper, singing songs as the dog yawns.

Maureen Murray produces (and appears) and the editor was Sean Mackenzie.

    The performers are:
    So What performing Kick It
    Garry Fenna performing Going to put a Bar in my Car and Drive myself to Drink
    Bob Appleyard performing The Fawley Flame
    Lynne Fortt performing Down at Greenham Common on a Spree
    June Tabor performing The King of Rome
    Fairport Convention performing Seventeen Come Sunday
    Osibisa performing Sunshine Day
    Eliza Carthy performing Good Morning Mr Walker
    Chris While and The Albion Band performing Young Man Cut Down in his Prime
    Waterson Carthy performing Stars in my Crown
    Donovan performing Nirvana
    Edward II performing Shepherd´s Hey
    The Percy Grainger Chamber Orchestra performing In an English County Gard

More television

Click title for film Picture Stories (Charlotte Bronte) * Peepshow * Knights on Bikes * Amelia and the Angel, Lourdes * Poet's London * Gordon Jacob * Guitar Crazy * Variations on a mechanical theme, Two Painters * portrait of a Goon * Marie Rambert remembers * Architecture and entertainment * Cranks at Work * The miner's picnic * Shelagh Delaney's Salford * A house in Bayswater * The light fantastic * London Moods * Antonio Gaudi * Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill * Old Battersea House * Portrait of a Soviet Composer * Pop goes the easel * Preservation man * Mr Chesher´s traction engines * Elgar * Watch the birdie * The lonely shore * Bartok * The dotty world of James Lloyd * Diary of a nobody * The Debussy Film * Always on a Sunday * Don't shoot the composer * Isadora * Dante's Inferno * Song of Summer * Dance of the Seven Veils * William and Dorothy * The Rime of the Ancient Mariner * ABC of British Music * A British Picture * The Planets * Vaughan Williams * The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner * The Secret Life of Sir Arnold Bax * The Mystery of Doctor Martinu * Classic Widows * In Search of the English Folk Song * Stories of Seduction * Prisoners of Honor * Lady Chatterley * Alice in Russialand * Ken Russell's Treasure Island * Tales of Erotica * Dogboys, Brighton Belles * Elgar A Portrait of the Composer on a Bicycle * Lion's Mouth * The Fall of the Louse of Usher * Revenge of the Elephant Man (Hot Pants 1) * the Mystery of Mata Hari (Hot Pants 2) * The Goodship Venus (Hot Pants 3) * Advertisements * Trial of the Century * She's So Beautiful * Phantom of the Opera * Nikita, Cry for Heaven * Diana * Its all coming back to me now * Teenager in Love * The Death of Scriabin


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