"Other film-makers might have found their creative impetus in novels or plays; Russell's inspiration was surely primarily in music. His ideas, his images, his rows, his career itself were all one colossal, chaotic rhapsody." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Ken Russell, one of the most innovative, bizarre, and controversial directors in film history, died yesterday at his home in the UK. He was 84. Just last summer, Russell was in New York to present nine of his films - several of which had never been screened here before - during the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Russellmania!" retrospective.
Among his many various obsessions, Russell had a keen interest in classical music: early in his career, Russell directed BBC documentaries on composers as diverse as Prokofiev, Debussy and Edward Elgar. Later on, he migrated to feature-length films that took considerable liberties with the lives of composeres such as Tchiakovsky ("The Music Lovers”) Mahler, (“Mahler”) and Liszt (“Lisztomania”), all of which he saw as his way of making high culture accessible to a popular audience.
In addition to classical music, Russell also was fascinated by the glam rock world of the 70's, as demonstrated by his most popular film, Tommy (1975), based on The Who's rock opera of the same name. The film, which starred a who's who of 70's musicians - including all four members of The Who, Ann-Margret, Elton John, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton - was a box-office smash, playing to full movie houses for over a year.
Whether he'll be remembered as a visionary or a mere curiosity, Russell's love for music and musicians was unequivocal. If nothing else, anyone that's ever experienced one of his films will never quite hear - or see - this music the same way again.
More clips of Russell's films below.