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Ken Russell television


Clouds of Glory and other commissions

A wide range of documentaries by Russell. The commissions by Melvyn Bragg, dramatised documentaries, are especially interesting. The other non-dramatised documentaries are more forced, though some are worth watching. These commissions helped Russell survive as he sought financing for full length films.


1976 William and Dorothy
1978 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Melvyn Bragg, the novelist and television arts presenter, has often commissioned Russell to produce television documentaries, recreating some of the Monitor days but this time for commercial TV, not the BBC. Bragg co-wrote with Russell. Clouds of Glory were a pair of films, the first on the (possibly) incestuous relationship of the poet Wordsworth and his sister.  David Warner plays Wordsworth.

David Warner playing William Wordsworth

Ken Russell William and Dorothy Ken Russell William and Dorothy

The Rime is about drug addicted Coleridge and David Hemmings plays Coleridge.

Both ideal subjects for Russell. There was to be a third film, King of the Crocodiles, about the poet Southey but it was never made because of budget problems.

In Phillips´ book Ken says "Clouds is the first film I have done for twenty years in which there are virtually no tracking shots. Yet the film does not look static...I have discovered that there is something to be said for this sort of simplicity".

The best scene is when Dorothy places a shell on her finger as if it is a wedding ring, and shows it to her brother who can never marry her. The relationship between the two is like a more restrained version of the relationship in Savage Messiah.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth

William framed in the face of Dorothy,


Ken Russell's ABC of British Music

For each letter of the alphabet Ken appeared in caricature costume, for example for "D" in sailor costume singing "There ain´t nothing like a Dame Janet Baker".

Ken Russell ABC of Music   Ken Russell ABC of Music

Ken Russell on the Royal Albert Hall   Ken Russell the conductor   Ken Russell in South Pacific

Linzi Drew was hired to striptease while doing a sword dance.  She learnt to sword dance the day before, but on filming realised she couldn't do it looking at the camera rather than looking at her feet.  When after many shots she said her knees were bleeding, Ken answered "It doesn't matter, we can't see it".  Ken later used her to star in Aria.  The film is tiresome.

Linzi Drew in Ken Russell ABC of Music   Linzi Drew in Ken Russell ABC of Music


1988 A British Picture

A British Picture

Ken Russell A British Picture   Ken Russell Enfant Terrible

Ken uses his son (in a multicoloured wig) to play Ken in his autobiography. A voice-over takes us through Ken's life- all the usual suspects: the child discovering the film Siegfried, the navy and ballet, the first amateur films, Monitor, the famous films through to being sued )and winning) for Moll Flanders and making a Cliff Richard video. It also includes some home movies: when Ken has no budget he keeps on filming. And ends with the family on a rocking horse singing "We'll all be riding on a rainbow".

Ken Russell A British Picture

Ken Russell A British Picture

It was commissioned by Melvyn Bragg who appears in the film phoning Ken with the commission and coincided with the release of Ken's autobiography of the same title (in the UK but not America).  The film is highly enjoyable and includes excerpts from many films including the early television and amateur work. My recording from television was eaten by my video from continuous use.  The film is also called Portrait of an Enfant Terrible.

Ken Russell A British Picture


1983 The Planets

Ken Russell The Planets    

Holst´s musical suite about each of the planets (except Earth, and Pluto which had not been discovered when Holst wrote the piece).   "Russell films using archive footage of space shots, Red Square celebrations, fashion shows etc. reflecting Ken's eclecticism and weaving a theme in accord with each of the music's movements; Red Square being Mars and fashions being Venus etc" (thanks to site visitor Frank for the summary).

Russell themes include the elements (air, fire, wind and earth), trains, a crucifix and Catholicism.  The fire sequences are similar to those in Don't Shoot the Composer.  But overall it is not particularly good or insightful.

Revised opinion: I have changed my mind.  More viewings show how inventive Ken is.  The film is a compilation of existing stock footage, similar to how Ken started in television, making films about composers and because he was not allowed to use actors, he relied on existing footage.  The narrative and link between the images is not particularly profound, but the power is the match of the image to the music.  Some shots- horses on fire running from a blaze, a building collapsing under flames- are spectacular.  Ken brings over the power of Holst's music.

Ken Russell and Holsts Planets   Ken Russell Planets

Ken Russell and Holsts Planets

The programme was for The South Bank Show, Xavier Russell was the editor, Melvyn Bragg was the editor and Ken produced and directed.

More television

Click title for film Picture Stories (Charlotte Bronte) * Peepshow * Knights on Bikes * Amelia and the Angel, Lourdes * Poet's London * Gordon Jacob * Guitar Crazy * Variations on a mechanical theme, Two Painters * portrait of a Goon * Marie Rambert remembers * Architecture and entertainment * Cranks at Work * The miner's picnic * Shelagh Delaney's Salford * A house in Bayswater * The light fantastic * London Moods * Antonio Gaudi * Lotte Lenya sings Kurt Weill * Old Battersea House * Portrait of a Soviet Composer * Pop goes the easel * Preservation man * Mr Chesher´s traction engines * Elgar * Watch the birdie * The lonely shore * Bartok * The dotty world of James Lloyd * Diary of a nobody * The Debussy Film * Always on a Sunday * Don't shoot the composer * Isadora * Dante's Inferno * Song of Summer * Dance of the Seven Veils * William and Dorothy * The Rime of the Ancient Mariner * ABC of British Music * A British Picture * The Planets * Vaughan Williams * The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner * The Secret Life of Sir Arnold Bax * The Mystery of Doctor Martinu * Classic Widows * In Search of the English Folk Song * Stories of Seduction * Prisoners of Honor * Lady Chatterley * Alice in Russialand * Ken Russell's Treasure Island * Tales of Erotica * Dogboys, Brighton Belles * Elgar A Portrait of the Composer on a Bicycle * Lion's Mouth * The Fall of the Louse of Usher * Revenge of the Elephant Man (Hot Pants 1) * the Mystery of Mata Hari (Hot Pants 2) * The Goodship Venus (Hot Pants 3) * Advertisements * Trial of the Century * She's So Beautiful * Phantom of the Opera * Nikita, Cry for Heaven * Diana * Its all coming back to me now * Teenager in Love * The Death of Scriabin


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