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Ken Russell television



More commissions by Melvyn Bragg, mainly on composers, and including some of his best later work.


1984 Vaughan Williams, A Symphonic Portrait

Ken's leisurely filming of the life of composer Vaughan Williams.  The script is by Ken and Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer's wife.  Camera by Mike Humphreys and Les Young.  Xavier Russell is the film editor.  Ken produced and directed and Melvyn Bragg edited and presented.

Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell
Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell

Ken tells his daughter of Vaughan Williams, and the films proceeds as documentary, reconstruction and film of the filming, with some recollections of The Debussy Film, though this has nowhere near the insight of the earlier film.

Ken Russell  Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell  Vaughan Williams by Ken Russell


1990 The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner

Ken Russell calls Anton Bruckner a simple man with complex music- his symphonies needed so many players they were rarely performed.

Bruckner by Ken Russell

A good Russell film for three actors. Bruckner arrives at a rest home to be greeted by Hansel and Gretel, the two nurses. The scene is reminiscent of the arrival to the house in Hitchcock's Rebecca. Bruckner is obsessed by numbers throughout the film, counting the spokes on the carriage and the number of spoonfuls of food he is fed. He is also deeply religious "music is a true reflection of the almighty". Bruckner seems to be in a hospital but when he asks for a doctor he is always told the doctor will come later.  Some Russell themes come back, in particular Bruckner being forced into the cold bath by the two nurses refers back to The Music Lovers. The nurse feeding Bruckner has parallels with Delius. A dream sequence to the music of Wagner, with fire, comes from Mahler and the cows from Women in Love.

Ken Russell Bruckner  Ken Russell Bruckner

And there is another sexual-chaste relationship (Savage Messiah, Clouds of Glory etc) as the nurse lies naked on Buckner's bed and he caresses her body, seeing only the glory of god in her body.

Ken Russell Bruckner

 Subtle scenes include Hansel and Gretel following Bruckner, always together and always a short distance away, as Bruckner sits in the sand as the sand falls from his fingers like time slipping away. And in a confessional as a penance for his (chaste) sins Bruckner is told by the priest to play Bach.  The organ playing scene edits from the fingers playing, to Bruckner and then back, making it obvious the actor is not really playing the organ. This demonstrates the power of Richard Chamberlain actually playing the piano in The Music Lovers.

Ken Russell Bruckner  Ken Russell Bruckner  Ken Russell Bruckner

At the end when Bruckner is discharged and drives away, clearly unchanged, it turns out the nurse is actually the doctor and the disguise was part of the therapy, but she decided to stop since if Bruckner is had been cured he "may never have written a note of music...he is a happy celibate".

Television actor Peter Mackriel plays Bruckner with Carsten Norgaard and Catherine Nielson playing Hansel and Gretel. Both would also appear in Prisoners of Honor.  The editor is Brian Tagg, director of photography is Robin Vidgeon with some camerawork by Ken under the name Alf Russell, Victoria Russell is responsible for costumes (as her mother did previously for Ken Russell) and the script is by Ken.  It was filmed in Hampshire and Kent, and the initial sequences in The Rhinefield Hotel.


1992 The Secret Life of Sir Arnold Bax

Having used Bax´s music in Clouds of Glory, Ken moved on to a biography of the composer himself. Most interesting is that Ken himself plays the role of Arnold Bax. . It is his only serious acting role in his own films, and he carries it off well, looking unexpectedly distinguished, hair combed down, like a later Graham Greene.  The film has a good performance by Glenda Jackson, her last film before she gave up acting and devoted herself to politics as a member of the British parliament and government. She won an award for her acting.

 Ken Russell Arnold Bax  Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell Arnold Bax

In a smoke filled club Bax (in the background) sees a dancer, Annie played by then wife Hetty Baynes.  The film poster of Obsession reveals Bax's state of mind.  Later Annie performs the same dance before the passion of the waves.

Ken Russell Bax  Ken Russell Arnold Bax  Hetty Baynes in Ken Russell Arnold Bax

On the commentary to the Salome DVD, Russell says he was the same age as Bax in the film, so just decided to play the role himself. Part of the story deals with Bax as a major artist who has lost his public, which would appeal to Ken.  The film is reasonably conventional, some episodes from the live of Bax, but misses the vivid imagery of Russell. A nice scene has Bax sneaking into a cinema to watch the end-credits of David Lean´s Oliver Twist to hear his own music.

Other actors are Melissa Docker (who would work on Russell's next film Martinu) and Russell regular Kenneth Colley.  As on the Bruckner film, the Director of photography is Robin Vidgeon (who also did Lady Chatterley), camera by John Vidgeon and costumes are by Victoria Russell. Xavier Russell edits, producer Maureen Murray makes a brief appearance (she would appear more in In Search of the English Folk Song) and regular Kenneth Colley also appears.


1993 The Mystery of Doctor Martinu

Subtitled "A celebration by Ken Russell" this is Freud meets Bunuel´s Een Chien Andalou meets Hitchcock (Spellbound and Vertigo).

This biographical film of Czech composer Martinu is in two parts: the first part a recurring dream, the second a Freudian analysis of the dream. Ken Russell Martinu The dream is without real dialogue, starting with stock Russell themes: a kite, wartime lovers dancing (Mindbender), children in sailor suits.

Martinu, played by Patrick Ryecart (also in Prisoners of Honor), wakes and his hand is covered with ants. He brushes them off and heads towards a (phallic) lighthouse. A nude girl is always before him as he climbs the steps. This image repeats itself in various forms.  Other imagery includes Picasso images of dancing circus players and the menacing minotaur. When Martinu and wife exchange gifts he is given a tiny piano, and she is given a sewing machine which is of course a Singer make. Later he sits legs astride the tiny piano composing.  And the actors filmed through the lighthouse lens.

The Mystery of Doctor Martinu   The Mystery of Doctor Martinu

Best scenes: an airplane lands, and it turns out to be a toy plane; the girl dressed in Czech colours on top of the steam train; the same girl with a Czech flag dancing nude; looking out the skyscraper at the traffic and people below- but they are toy cars and ants.

The Mystery of Doctor Martinu  The Mystery of Doctor Martinu  The Mystery of Doctor Martinu

The children are similar to those dancing in Isadora Duncan, and of course there is a Nazi- but no nuns.  There is much good Russell work in this film, and it improves with repeated viewing. Surprisingly however the music does not come out. Martinu is a superb composer, but in the film it could almost be film music: there is little of Russell's ability to match the music to the image.  Producer is Maureen Murray (who appears in English Folk Song), editor is Xavier Russell, camera work is by Ken himself (credited as Alf), costumes are Victoria Russell and director of Photography is Robin Vidgeon.  Russell's project Angels, which was never made, was based on Georges Neveus´s play Julierre which Martinu made into an opera.


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