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Ken Russell Bacon aliens and delius

Ken Russell Song of Summer

Jon Sorensen, filmmaker, writes about the influence Ken Russell had on his work

My earliest memory of an image from television is a Ken Russell one. I was an infant. The image was one of an old man, blind, wearing round-lenses of mirror which reflected the image of a nervous young man who was nervously introducing himself. In strong form, this was Ken Russell coming into my life. In later years, I de-coded this as being from his black-and-white BBC film, Song of Summer, telling the story of a self-sacrificing Eric Fenby who helped the composer Delius express himself musically in the last years of his life. All of Ken Russell's films are about love and sacrifice.

I was born, a seemingly alien being, in rural Scotland. My childhood was far from easy. To survive, I sent a lot of time in cinemas, eaten up by the image. Thus was I introduced to the mythology of Ray Harryhausen which fostered a lifelong interest in visual effects to tell a story. Other film-makers intruded and I fell on their work with an interest which came from God knows where.

 

Robert Fuest
Robert Fuest

tanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick

John Boorman
John Boorman

Nicholas Roeg, Robert Fuest, Stanley Kubrick, John Boorman all displayed the same symmetrical visual style as that of Ken Russell, but none were as razor-sharp as his, and none spoke to me with the same intelligence and humanity as that of Russell's.  About this time, the drive to listen to music whilst mentally cutting to images evolved in me. Again, who knows where that came from. But there it was. I was stuck with it. And I was a stubborn little tike. Carried on legs which were too thin and could barely support my weight, I would walk the many miles to the nearest cinema and stay in there all day. My mother despaired of this behaviour. She worried about me. I used to worry about myself. What was it about Ken Russell's The Devils I found so fascinating, and why was its Director being pilloried and attacked in the British press? It was clear to me what the film was about. It searingly told of an attack on the human spirit.

Years later, after I had put myself through photographic school in Scotland, I had somehow managed to land a job on Ridley Scott's movie, Alien. I had gotten a bus from Scotland, arriving with 60.00 in the world. For two months I slept in a studio dressing room. The studio gates were locked at weekends.

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory I either amused myself by tinkering around with the models I was building, or, I could watch the portable black-and-white television set I had been loaned. On it, I saw Ken Russell's two films Clouds of Glory, about the Lake District poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge. I was devastated by those two films. Here is what I should be doing. But how? Ken Russell Clouds of Glory

By this time, I had gotten a hold of a copy of An Appalling Talent by John Baxter, the only book on Ken Russell I knew of. I re-read this many times, looking for clues both on the man and as to how I might go on. I could not afford film school. I had already turned down a place at one. ( I was never to regret that decision ).

Subsequently, I worked in visual effects and camerawork on over a dozen mainstream feature films, learning much in technique as I went. But why couldn't these visual effects be applied to a human subject, I wondered. Two things happened to show the possibilities in this direction. Both of them indirectly due to Ken Russell.

Ken Russell Altered States The first was Altered States. The second was a chance to work with Derek Jarman who had collaborated with Ken Russell many times. Altered States was a visual tour-de-force but it still managed to focus unerringly on the human condition, despite being science-fiction. This was almost entirely due to Ken Russell. It was inspirational. It was about those themes of love and sacrifice again. It was about people. It was about what Colin Wilson once called "The Strength To Dream". ( I had read Colin Wilson's book of essays, The Outsider, by this time. It had seemed to me that the themes in that converged perfectly with those of Ken Russell's film Savage Messiah. Another clue.)
Derek Jarman Derek Jarman had been trying to set up his film, Neutron, for some time when I was called in by his backers to meet him. Derek arrived in high dudgeon, obviously frustrated at the twists and turns he was having to go through to make his film. I stood there, a stranger, watching his anger. I quietly picked up the materials I had brought with me and made to leave. My reaction in any such circumstances. I was half-way through the door when a hand stopped me. Derek. He took a look at what I had and got very enthusiastic. We had a great conversation and he tasked me with doing visual effects for Neutron. He gave me a script and storyboards. I loved both and showed them to colleagues on Dark Crystal, who pronounced them "crap".

Here it was again. The "establishment" pillorying a tremendous project, and this one not even made yet. Ken Russell territory. Another clue. Neutron was a project challenging common views. It dealt with the aftermath of a nuclear war and was to star Malcolm MacDowell and David Bowie. Derek never gave up on the project entirely. It was never made. When Derek died, I sent the screenplay and storyboards to Britain's Channel 4 television suggesting they mount it in his memory. The people there actually lost the materials for four months, before I finally retrieved them.

By this time, I had relocated myself to the English Lake District. I had managed to produce a half-hour television drama, a supernatural story called A Return to Love. This I had done, alone, with no outside funding. It was shown on television and well enough received. I integrated the independent spirit, visual effects, and beautiful locations into a human story. Ken Russell territory. Then I decided to make my feature film, Alien Blood, in the same way.

In the meantime, I had seen several Ken Russell films commissioned by Melvyn Bragg for British arts programme the South Bank Show. Some were on Ken Russell himself. He was still out there somewhere. It was good to know he was.

Alien Blood My feature film, Alien Blood, (the title itself a play on the "Outsider" themes), was shot in 15 days. I scripted, produced, directed, sound-designed in the best traditions of the independent spirit. Something went right because the film got distribution.

An interesting thing happened when the film was shown to some of the cast and crew in London, shortly after its completion. They looked at it and said, "Oh, it's like a Ken Russell film".

I had no time in 15 days to consciously copy Ken Russell's style. When you are running that fast, thinking on your feet, what you get is entirely your own making. So, what were they talking about? I puzzled over this for a long time.

The most recent South Bank Show on Ken Russell, televised long after I had put Alien Blood to bed, gave me more clues. It also gave me hope.

In this programme, we saw Ken Russell working on his latest project. Financed with what he says is his last 20,000, and shooting on camcorders, this an adaptation of Poe which he has titled The Fall of the Louse of Usher. He admits to being "unbankable" in Hollywood. No British agent will represent him. He will not apply for Arts Council funding, he says, because he simply would not get it. Most notably, he admits to making mistakes. Who hasn't? He says he was offered two science-fiction films in Hollywood on the back of Altered States. Having turned them both down, which he regrets, he says finished him in America.

Ken Russell is an independent spirit and a powerhouse talent. His example has followed me all of my conscious life. He has been derided in Britain for his "operatic" style and "difficult" subjects. Such things have always been unfashionable in Britain. I am told by British agents that my own visual style is "too strong for television". With soap-operas being treated as high art in Britain these days, that is no loss. We also do not have programmes like Monitor, which in Ken Russell's early days, gave him his first chances to express himself as a Director. Thank heavens he had that, otherwise we might have been without many of his finest projects. Many of today's budding British film-makers have a complete disregard for their own British film heritage. Not me. But it is notable that all of the strongest British visual talents immediately head for America at the earliest opportunity. Ken Russell has said that it you make a film in Britain, you can be treated in the U.K. "like the scum of the earth".

I myself have had to look to the States for opportunities and am on the verge of embarking on projects with another talent, another rare spirit, another living example of the kind of bravery and spirit Ken Russell has always shown me through his life and work. Like a moth to a lamp we are brought to each other. Standing together creatively like governments against terrorism. Creativity, Love and Sacrifice. Ken Russell territory.

The scenario in Song of Summer was brought home to me in reality some years ago. The young man nervously introducing himself to a great talent. Only I was wearing the mirror sunglasses when I crossed paths with Ken Russell in an hotel foyer whilst he was being pilloried, again, for Gothic, (the story of Byron and the Shelleys, more independent spirits). Only this time Ken Russell's face would have been reflected in the mirrors, wearing a puzzled expression wondering why the young man in front of him couldn't bring himself to speak. I walked away, not knowing how to begin thanking you, I thank you now, Mr Russell.

Jon Sorensen

 

Jon Sorensen has worked on many of the best known films around (Alien, Time Bandits, Outland, Dark Crystal, The Empire Strikes Back). You can see his film credits here www.imdb.com

Recently Jon has directed his own films, which show a significant Ken Russell influence. A Return to Love is a television film, and Alien Blood is an ambitious cinema film distributed by Troma. Shot in the Lake District, it is at times like Song of Summer meets X-files meets Lair. It is recommended. It was recently shown on Film 1 television in Europe.

Alien Blood   Alien Blood   Alien Blood

Alien Blood   Alien Blood

Alien Blood   Alien Blood..

You can buy the film on DVD (region free) from Amazon by clicking on the image click for Amazon USA DVD
You can buy the film on video (VHS NTSC American format) from Amazon by clicking on the image click for Amazon USA video

Jon Sorensen

Jon is currently working on his next film. The image, of UFO's over the Charles Bridge in Prague, has location special effects by Jon himself.

 

Some reviews of Alien Blood

Michael Anthony Brenton, Amazon:
"At one point I actually forgot this was a Troma film! Actually, this was an English import by Troma, which sort of proves somebody at that studio has decent taste in films! The story is about a bunch of white-masked assassins who relentless pursue a mother and daughter across rural England! To make things even more interesting, Helene (Francesca Manning) is pregnant and plagued by terrifying visions!...This one has science-fiction, vampires and a whole lot of violence in this 1999 film from director Jon Sorensen! "Alien Blood" gets a bit arty at times, but you have to admire the way Sorensen blends so many disparate elements! An above average alien/vampire/splatter flick!"

Vince Bonavoglia
"Alien Blood, hailed as the first independent science fiction film to come out of Britain in ten years, succeeds largely due to the Herculean efforts of its jack-of-all-trades director, Jon Sorensen. In addition to his keen compositional eye (a one-time special effects artist, Jon pitched in to assist cinematographer, Peter M. Rowe), Sorensen imbues the proceedings with MTV-style visual trickery (lightning-fast edits, stunning slow motion sequences, frequent dissolves, and hyperkenetic camerawork abound), an amazing assemblage of lens filter effects (bathing his sprawling vistas with an appropriately dark and brooding alien ambience), and an inordinate amount of eerie ambient sound embellishments (ranging from invasive, unsettling white noise to the deafening rumble of the approaching spacecraft, Sorensen has digitally manipulated virtually every audible portion of his premiere effort). Topping it off, the film's sporadic CGI effects are tastefully rendered and, unlike those featured in the horrific Spawn, mesh well with the surrounding footage. While all of the above may very well be the product of the fledgling filmmaker feeling out his chosen medium... Alien Blood is nonetheless a very promising first step in a career that will undoubtedly yield spectacular results."

The Cutting Edge
"Written, produced, directed and edited by first timer Jan Sorensen, Alien Blood mixes Matrix-styled action (and remember, it was completed a year prior to that flick) with Ken Russell-esque outrageousness...

ALIEN BLOOD isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it must be counted as one of the most promising debuts of recent years. I can only imagine what Sorensen might do with real film stock and an honest-to-goodness budget."

 

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