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Ken Russell themes    

 

The elements

Ken Russell Mahler The primal elements (fire, water, earth, air) crop up regularly in Russell films. Like painting in primary colours, the elements allow powerful images. Objects suddenly burst into flame. A favourite image by Ken is of the reflection of sun on water. Waterfalls are almost always used for sex. He also uses locations around the lake district. Kites in the air often appear.

In Tommy, while singing I'm Free, Daltry runs through fields, over and then under water, through fire and in the air.

Ken Russell Tommy Daltry Ken Russell Tommy Daltry Ken Russell Tommy Daltry Ken Russell Tommy Daltry

 

Fire

Things catch fire in Russell films. Most dramatic is the start of Mahler with the hut exploding, but Dante's Inferno also begins with Oliver Reed jumping over fire. In Tommy and Gothic the flames test the characters. The end of Don't Shoot the Composer has the piano in flames.

.Ken Russell Mahler Ken Russell Gothic Ken Russell Lair of the White Worm

Ken Russell The Music Lovers

Ken Russell The Planets Ken Russell Mahler
  Lisztomania  

 

Water

For someone who lived in the Lake District it was inevitable that water would play a large role in films. But as well as providing dramatic backgrounds, water provides Russell with imagery. Death by drowning features in The Music Lovers, Women in Love, Isadora and Gothic, and even baths are images, with Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Tommy all tortured in a bath.

Ken Russell Gothic Ken Russell Song of Summer Ken Russell Gothic Ken Russell The Rainbow
Ken Russell The Rainbow Ken Russell Tommy Ken Russell Women in Love Ken Russell Gothic

 

Air

Russell had to fight to be allowed to show Elgar flying a kite, but he would later use the image in Martinu and Mindbender (the kite bursting into flame). Tommy of course has Daltry flying through the air, and the Rainbow is the symbol of hope for the heroine.

Ken Russell Amelia and the Angel Ken Russell Elgar Ken Russell Tommy Ken Russell The Rainbow
Ken Russell Mindbender Ken Russell Mindbender Ken Russell Elgar

 

Earth

Russell both digs into the earth, with both Gaudier and Elton John writing messages into the earth, and goes under, with caves appearing in many films from Altered States and Mahler to Lair and Vaughan Williams.

Ken Russell Lair of the White Worm Ken Russell Savage Messiah Ken Russell Mrs Kirsch Ken Russell Nikita Elton John

 

The following films feature the elements:

Fire French Dressing
Billion Dollar Brain
Tommy
Mahler
The Devils
Dante's Inferno
Martinu
Aria
Lair of the White Worm
Mindbender
Don't Shoot the Composer
Altered States
Il Mefistofele
She's so Beautiful (video)
Its all coming back to me now (video)
Water The Rainbow
Tommy
Women in Love
Gothic
The Rainbow
The Debussy Film
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Bax
Martinu
French Dressing
Billion Dollar Brain
The Music Lovers
Song of Summer
Isadora
Altered States
The Devils
She's so Beautiful (video)
The Fall of the Louse of Usher
Water- rowing boats French Dressing
Elgar
Song of Summer
Gothic
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Lair of the White Worm
Gothic
Water- death by drowning The Music Lovers
Women in Love
Isadora
Gothic
Billion Dollar Brain
Water- drowning in a bath The Music Lovers
Bax
Tommy
Gothic
Air Portrait of a Soviet Composer
French Dressing
Tommy
Gothic
The Rainbow
Song of Summer
Air- kites Portrait of a Soviet Composer (balloons)
Elgar
Martinu
Mindbender
Amelia and the Angel
Earth French Dressing
Altered States
Women in Love
Gothic
Song of Summer
Earth- caves Lair or the White Worm
Altered States
Mahler

 

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