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Ken Russell the films
Classic Period: Savage Messiah


Ken Russell Savage Messiah

Moving from music to sculpture Russell comes up with Savage Messiah, one of his cult masterpieces about Henri Gaudier in 1972.  The film was largely self-financed by Russell which made its commercial failure a particular blow.  Gaudier meets the much older and prim Sophie Brzeska. They develop a friendship leading to them sharing names (Gaudier Brzeska) though they never married.  Ken Russell's imagery is as always breathtaking.

Ken Russell Savage Messiah Ken Russell Savage Messiah
Ken Russell Savage Messiah Ken Russell Savage Messiah

In one of Russell's best scenes Brzeska waits for Gaudier at a station.

Ken Russell Savage Messiah

The train comes and goes but no Gaudier. Another train leaves and there is Gaudier on the wrong platform, arms full of roses for Brzeska. He runs towards her, jumping from platform to rails. He slips as a train emerges but rather than escape the train he picks up the roses, at the last moment avoiding the wheels of the train and falling into Brzeskaīs arms.

Ken Russell Savage Messiah  Ken Russell Savage Messiah

Gaudier joins the war. The superb line "I have succeeded in making the enemy angry..." is a true letter quoted in H.S. Edeīs biography of Gaudier. The film ends, just as Edeīs book does, with Gaudierīs work.

Ken Russell Savage Messiah

Ken Russell Savage Messiah Gaudier could be seen as Russell's fictional autobiographical character. When Russell read H.S. Edeīs biography he was the same age as Gaudier "I was impressed by Gaudierīs conviction that somehow or other there was a spark in the core of him that was personal to him, which was worth turning into something that could be appreciated by others."

Russell also says (Films and Filming Oct 1972) "I wanted this film to be totally different from the big companies and back into the small studio, back to the BBC sort of style with a small unit".

Ken Russell Savage Messiah


Alex Russell, Ken's son, who plays a role in the film, says "On Savage Messiah, I remember when filming on the sea coast some oil or tar was on the lens of the 35ml camera; but was not discovered till the evenings rushes screening: so a whole days shooting was ruined! Also: the rain seen was done via the fire brigade pumping salt water straight from the sea! Also: the Gaudier Breshka charcoal and pastel drawings (well faked) for the film were later stolen and sold as originals down Bond Street and at Sotheby's!"



Ken Russell Savage Messiah

Scott Antony plays the sculptor and Dorothy Tutin his mistress.

Helen Mirren appears in one of her first film roles.
Photography is by Dick Bush. Editing is again by Michael Bradsell and costumes by Shirley Russell. Derek Jarman provides the sets.

Lindsay Kemp Ken Russell Savage Messiah

The dancer/choreographer Lindsay Kemp makes an acting appearance.


Best Image

Ken Russell Savage Messiah

The opening credit sequence with Gaudier drawing the bones of a hand, the pen scraping the paper.

Savage Messiah Ken Russell


Best Scene

The last but one major scene with the talking heads cut with the dancer. The perfect mix of loud music, sharp cutting and glaring colours.

Gaudier in Savage Messiah by Ken Russell

The last major scene where Russell simply shows the beauty of Gaudierīs sculptures. The Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art has a room of Gaudierīs work including many of the ones Ken Russell shows.



Ken Russell Savage Messiah

The scene with a general in full uniform on a horse inside a room being painted is revived in Prisoners of Honor with the officer in Roman dress.

In one scene it appears as if Gaudier will be killed by a train.
The victory celebrations are very similar to those in Tommy.

Ken Russell Savage Messiah   Metropolis

Gaudierīs studio (left) is almost identical to the workers area in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (right).



Other films released in the same year include The Godfather and Lady Sings the Blues.


More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore * Mindbender * Trapped Ashes/ The Girl with the Golden Breasts


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