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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 recreating to an extent some of the Monitor days (Wynn Wheldon, the son of Monitor's Huw Wheldon disagrees) but this time for commercial TV.
The two Clouds of Glory films are about the Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. There was to be a third film, King of the Crocodiles, about the poet Southey but it was never made because of budget problems. 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.
William and Dorothy: The Love Story of the Poet Wordsworth and his Sister, from 1976, part of Clouds of Glory. Melvyn Bragg, the television arts presenter, has often commissioned Russell to produce television documentaries. Bragg co-wrote with Russell. Clouds of Glory were a pair of films, the first on the relationship of the poet Wordsworth and his sister which Russell-Bragg suggested was incestuous but unconsummated.
"William Wordsworth 1770-1850...In that summer  the Wordsworths [William and sister Dorothy] moved to Alfoxden in north Somerset close to Nether Stowey where Coleridge lived,,, now they could meet and converse daily... William's marriage to Mary Hutchison... took place in 1802. Mary was an entirely suitable wife for Wordsworth, her repose balancing Dorothy's impulsiveness and enthusiasms. She was not his first love. During the heady youthful days in France William had loved Annette Vallon, who had borne him a daughter, but that liason left no mark on him or his work"
and on his poetry
"He discloses what we have often felt but could not express, and our knowledge of sensation is greatly enlarged, When he examines human feeling he applies the same skill, achieving a remarkable expression of emotions that often lie submerged" (from The Cambridge Companion to English Literatuure, Michael Stapleton).
The film starts with William (David Warner) comforting his sister Dorothy (Felicity Kendal) on her deathbed "“If she was to depart my life would be robbed of a light to a degree I have not the courage to think of” and continues with flashbacks with the poetry of Wordsworth linked to his life and Dorothy's relationship.
Dorothy remembers when the two of them came across a sparrows nest when they were children- in the poem Emmeline is Dorothy "She gave me eyes, she gave me ears / And humble cares, and delicate fears/ The heart, the fountain of sweet tears/ And love, and hope, and joy".
More memories of childhood from his famous long poem The Prelude "unreproved enchantment led us on by rocks and pools shut out from every star".
Dorothy says she is in all his poetry - you’ve put all my life into your poetry”. They embrace as lovers.
The French Revolution is underway and Wordsworth wants to be part of what he sees as a new future “the old order must be pulled down, we must follow France, and then this place will be fit for poets. France is showing us the way".
In France he falls in love with Annette Vallon (Patricia Quinn) who has his child, but then war separates them forever and he is back with Dorothy in the Lake District.
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. They have an idyllic time in the countryside.
Dorothy remembers the day "When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park, we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing" (Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal , 15 Apr 1802).
However it will not last.
Wordsworth marries Mary Hutchison (Sally Sheridan) and leaves their cottage.
Wordsworth's new bride arrives...
... as Dorothy faints, and Wordsworth ends up carrying her through the threshold rather than his bride.
A new life with a wife and children, and Dorothy who reads to the children.
David Warner plays William Wordsworth and Felicity Kendal his sister Dorothy.
Lighting Cameraman is Russell regular Dick Bush, Costume Designer is by Ken's then wife Shirley Russell. The script is by Melvyn Bragg and Ken Russell.
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 music includes
All images from the film (apologies for the poorer quality).
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner- The Strange Story of Samuel Coleridge, Poet and Drug Addict by Ken Russell from 1978.
"Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834... He had been using opium since 1708 and was by now addicted to it, but it had not yet wreaked havoc with life... Coleridge is a unique figure in English poetry and what little he produced contains great, yet unfinished, pieces... His addiction to opium should not be judged too harshly. Laudanum (tincrture of opium) was then the only known painkiller amd for an unstable temperament the step from laudanum to opium was tragically easy" (from The Cambridge Companion to English Literatuure, Michael Stapleton).
The music includes
All images from the film (apologies for the poorer quality).
Ken Russell's ABC of British Music
Ken covers British music from Purcell and Britten through to Kate Bush and Queen. For each letter of the alphabet Ken appears in caricature costume, for example for "D" in sailor costume singing "There ain´t nothing like a Dame Janet Baker". X,Y and Z are combined and also curiously Q and R where Q edits Freddy Mercury of Queen with HM the Queen but R for rock'n'roll is only mentioned- maybe Queen cover it as well.
Under letter D Thomas Dolby composes for Ken's Gothic.
Under S for Scotland Linzi Drew performs 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". She later does a reverse striptease (putting clothes on) under W for Wales. Ken later used Linzi to star in one of Ken's best short films, Aria, and she has a bit part in his Salome (from Linzi Drew, Try Everything Once Except Incest and Morris Dancing, 1993 chapter 10).
There are excerpts from a number of Ken's television works including Elgar, Song of Summer, Holst's The Planets, Classic Widows and the videos for Elton John's Nikita and Bryan Adam's Diana.
The film is too bitty, not 26 (slightly less actually) themes, rather each theme includes a number of items, for example C covers conductors (Ken's top 10), conductors and Noel coward. This makes the film tiresome, whereas if he had stuck to one topic per letter there would be substance, for example his section on N covered neglected British composers and is interesting, and under G he covers girls, and says they grow up to be soloists but not composers. He then covers women composers whose work is unknown.
Music includes extracts from:
Arthur Bliss soundtrack for Things to Come, Albert Ketèlbey In a Persian Market, Holst The Planets, Elton John Nikita, Bryan Adams Diana, Brian Eno 2/2, Gavin Bryars The Sinking of the Titanic, Elizabeth Maconchy Proud Thames, Michael Tippett Symphony 3, Midsummer Madness and Concerto for Double String Orchestra, Alan Rawsthorne Piano Concerto 2, John Ireland Overlanders A Suite, Benjamin Britten Death in Venice, Henry Purcell Dear Pretty Youth, Run Rig Gamhna Gealla, Gilbert and Sullivan The Mikado, Edith Sitwell Facade, William Walton Viola Concerto, Edward Elgar Cello Concerto, Blow the Wind Southerly folk song sung by Kathleen Ferrier and Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending.
When he presents Handel's Zadok the Priest a group shout out "but he's German".
All images from the film, apologies for the poorer quality.
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
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. The music is performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. There is no dialogue or commentary.
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. There is a clever image of a desert which then morphs into a woman's body.
The programme was for The South Bank Show. Xavier Russell ia credited as film editor and Melvyn Bragg as editor. Ken produced and directed. The film was for London Weekend Television in association with Russell Films Ltd.
All images from the film.
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