Ken Russell Pop Art Film Maker Dies Aged 84

The Oscar-nominated Film director Ken Russell, has died at the age of 84. The death was announced by his son, Alex Verney-Elliott, who said he died Sunday following a series of strokes.

His career, included the controversial film Women In Love, which featured Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling nude.He also directed the infamous religious drama The Devils and The Who’s Pop Art influenced rock opera, Tommy, in 1975. Geoff Andrew, Head of Film Programme at BFI Southbank stated,”Ken Russell was a brave and fearless film-maker who didn’t mind, and even enjoyed, raising the hackles of people. He was fiercely devoted to making films about the arts, and made some wonderful work for television. At a time when British television was dominated by kitchen sink realism along came Ken who was into symbolism and metaphor. Glenda Jackson, who gave an Oscar-winning performance in Women In Love and starred in a number of Russell’s other films including Music Lovers, told the BBC it was “just wonderful to work with him and to work with him as often as I did”.”He created the kind of climate in which actors could do their job and I loved him dearly.”Jackson added that she believed the director had been overlooked by the British film industry, saying it was “a great shame”.”It was almost as if he never existed – I find it utterly scandalous for someone who was so innovative and a film director of international stature,” she said.

Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell was born on July 3, 1927, in Southampton, England, the son of a shoe store owner. He described his childhood as a lonely one, with many an afternoon spent at the movies, alone or with his mother. As a teenager, he attended nautical school, where he claimed to have won over the bullies by putting on amateur productions of Dorothy Lamour musicals. He served briefly in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Air Force, then moved to London, where he studied dance before turning to photography in his late 20s. His work as a freelance photographer and filmmaker led in 1959 to a job at the BBC, where he made dozens of arts documentaries, most notably a 1962 piece on Elgar, unusual at the time for its use of re-enactments. His other subjects included the composers Prokofiev and Debussy, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the painter Henri Rousseau.

The fascination with genius, ambition and the creative process — and the project of making high culture accessible to a popular audience — continued in Mr. Russell’s later fictional features. Many of them take considerable liberties in exploring the lives and works of composers and artists: the Tchaikovsky biopic “The Music Lovers” (1970);“Savage Messiah” (1972), about the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; “Mahler” (1974); “Lisztomania” (1975), which imagined Franz Liszt as the original pop superstar. He is probably best remembered for his 1975 film hit “Tommy”, based on the Who’s rock opera. Russell used his knowledge of the Pop Art movement to create an original production which merged art with music and film. His 1980 film Altered States was a departure in both genre and tone, in that it is Russell’s only foray into science fiction however it contained beautiful psychedelic sequences that was pure visual art candy. .

Photo: Creative Commons  Ken Russell and Twiggy on set of The Boy Friend, 1971. Licence

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