Ken Russell tv video
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.
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.
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 Phillipsī 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 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 ainīt nothing like a Dame Janet Baker".
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.
1988 A British Picture
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".
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.
1983 The Planets
Holstīs 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.
The programme was for The South Bank Show, Xavier Russell was the editor, Melvyn Bragg was the editor and Ken produced and directed.