RIP Ken Russell, You Old Devil

Ken Russell passed away in his sleep yesterday afternoon, here we pay tribute to the delightfully demented genius behind Women In Love and the most shocking British film of all time, The Devils.
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Ken Russell passed away in his sleep yesterday afternoon, here we pay tribute to the delightfully demented genius behind Women In Love and the most shocking British film of all time, The Devils.

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Devilishly good

Like many a Sabotage Time contributor and/or reader, I was saddened to read about the death of John Sullivan. A man responsible for so many hours of joyous television, it seemed painfully unfair that the 64-year-old Sullivan was denied, at the very least, another decade of fun and happiness. Equally sad was the way the Only Fools creator's demise seemed to get lost amidst all the talk of Libya, the Easter heat wave and the imminent nuptials of Middleton and Wales (can't decide whether they sound like a '70s crime-fighting team or an East Midlands building society). When someone of John Sullivan's stature dies, they deserve more than a brief mention between the fifth story and the football results. And in a perfect world, we'd have made them aware of how loved and valued they were before they shuffled off this mortal coil.

One man who could easily disappear without receiving sufficient praise is that most outrageous of octogenarians Ken Russell. Right up there with Nic Roeg in terms of uniqueness and originality, Our Ken is the creator of such brilliant movies as Women In Love, The Music Lovers (due to debut on DVD this summer), Mahler, Tommy and The Boy Friend. He also appeared in season five of Celebrity Big Brother. And since much of his success was achieved decades ago and his time in the BB house was relatively recent, when the man once described as "Britain's Orson Welles" goes to the great movie house in the sky, there’s every chance he'll be best remembered for falling out with the Goodys (Jade and Jackiey, not Garden, Oddie and Brooke-Taylor).

Of course, you only need to go on Amazon to realise what a crime this would be. Russell's list of important films is really long and while he his share of misfires – Altered States, Gothic and The Lair Of The White Worm to name but three - you couldn't blame their failure on lack of invention.

The Devils upset more or less everybody on its release. Christian group The Festival Of Light picketed the film without first waiting to see it, and The Evening Standard's Alexander Walker criticised the picture in such unfair terms that Russell set about the esteemed critic with a copy of his own newspaper.

Sadly, Ken's finest film is currently unavailable in the UK. This might have something to do with copy write issues. Then again it could just as easily be due to The Devils being one of the most full-on feature films ever produced. An adaptation of Aldous Huxley's The Devils Of Loudon, the film features production design by the young Derek Jarman, a superb score by Peter Maxwell Davies and the greatest performance of Oliver Reed's career. The Devils also showcases Vanessa Redgrave as a hunchbacked, sex-crazed mother superior, a horrific torture device misleadingly called 'The Bootikens' and Dudley Sutton and Brian Murphy up to the sort of things we never saw them do in Lovejoy and George & Midlred.

It sounds rather sensational - and this isn’t even the half of it. Currently celebrating the fortieth anniversary of its release, The Devils remains excruciatingly difficult to watch - like Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, age has not blunted its impact. But while it might appear tawdry and exploitative, The Devils couldn't be more commendable, its violence justified by Russell's determination to explore the appalling ends of religious prejudice.

The Devils upset more or less everybody on its release. Christian group The Festival Of Light picketed the film without first waiting to see it, and The Evening Standard's Alexander Walker criticised the picture in such unfair terms that Russell set about the esteemed critic with a copy of his own newspaper. Would that modern-day filmmakers would defend their work so stridently - but that would mean making better films in the first place.

When asked for his opinion of the film, Festival Of Light press officer Peter Thompson said, "The Devils is offensive, obscene, repugnant and likely to injure the moral standards of society." If you can think of a better advertisement for this extraordinary picture, we'd love to hear it. And if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see The Devils, perhaps you'll agree that the honours system’s failure to acknowledge Sir Ken is right up there with the ongoing unwillingness to recognise the likes of Keith Richards and Lord Richard of Starkey.

Short but far from sweet - it's the theatrical trailer for The Devils:

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