Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tribute to Ken Russell

I was sad to hear about the death of Ken Russell.  He was one of my tutors when I studied in Southampton. ‘Tommy’ was a film that had inspired me to make some short films of my own so I remember being incredibly excited the first time he came in to take a film production workshop. I couldn’t stop talking – until he told me off!
It was fascinating to see him work, blocking out the scenes and correcting the line readings. People think of him primarily as a visual film-maker and forget that he worked with some of the finest actors, Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Michael Caine, Vanessa Redgrave.  He had enormous skills as a director,  so he was rightly pissed off that no-one would fund his films any more or employ him to direct (this was in 1999). I remember him telling us that he had bought a Canon DV camera and set up a studio in his house. He made a film called ‘Fall of the Louse of Usher’ which is Ken Russell at his most eccentric.

When I was teaching at the Bournemouth film school I took a group of students to the Cherbourg film festival where Ken was the head of the jury. The highlight of the trip for me was a screening of ‘Tommy’ followed by a Q&A with Ken, and then later a private screening of student work with him and Hettie McDonald in attendance. He was very gracious in his feedback and encouraging to the students and afterwards we all got pissed on red wine. It was one of those things that you never forget – getting pissed with Ken Russell!
One thing he said was ‘Just keep making films, buy your own camera – fuck the studios’.  This is what he did.

A couple of years ago I went to an exhibition of his 1950s photography. He started off as a photographer and this exhibition in London was one of the last things he did, so I thought I would put up some of his photos as a tribute.

Thanks, Ken. You will be missed.


Wes M said...

A wonderful tribute Jon. I never get very sentimental about the death of film makers - it's a rare gift that a person gets to live on through their art, and so Ken Russell is now immortalized for all the ages. Having said that, I have been feeling a little sad when I think of Ken's passing away - his health wasn't great in the last few years and he deserved so much more in his twilight years that a stint on Celebrity Big Brother. For me, Ken and Nic Roeg have always represented a certain flavour of British Cinema - wild and idiosyncratic. He leaves behind a fascinating body of work.

Jon T said...

I agree, Wes. He was definitely one of the 'mad poets' of British cinema, and there aren't many of those left. Jeez, I'd forgotten about the Big Brother debacle - the less said about that the better, I think.

Michael Williams said...

Great reminiscences about the man. Thank you for sharing them. I linked to this at my blog.

Jon T said...

Thanks, Michael. Let's hope it leads to a retrospective of his work.