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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. 

 


1976 Clouds of Glory: William and Dorothy

Melvyn Bragg, the television arts presenter, has often commissioned Russell to produce television documentaries, , not the BBC. 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 suggest was incestuous but unconsummated.


David Warner playing William Wordsworth in Ken Russell's Clouds of Glory

"William Wordsworth 1770-1850...In that summer [1797] 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).


Louisa

I met Louisa in the shade,
And, having seen that lovely Maid,
Why should I fear to say
That, nymph-like, she is fleet and strong.
And down the rocks can leap along
Like rivulets in May?
And she hath smiles to earth unknown;
Smiles, that with motion of their own
Do spread, and sink, and rise;
That come and go with endless play,
And ever, as they pass away,
Are hidden in her eyes.

She loves her fire, her cottage-home;
Yet o'er the moorland will she roam
In weather rough and bleak;
And, when against the wind she strains,
Oh! might I kiss the mountain rains
That sparkle on her cheek.
T ake all that's mine "beneath the moon,'
If I with her but half a noon
May sit beneath the walls
Of some old cave, or mossy nook,
When up she winds along the brook
To hunt the waterfalls.

William Wordsworth

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.
David Warner Ken Russell Cloud of Glory William Dorothy Wordsworth Felicity Kendal Ken Russell Cloud of Glory William Dorothy Wordsworth

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".

The Sparrow's Nest

Behold, within the leafy shade,
Those bright blue eggs together laid!
On me the chance-discovered sight
Gleamed like a vision of delight.
I started- seeming to espy
The home and sheltered bed,
The Sparrow's dwelling, which, hard by
My Father' house, in wet or dry
My sister Emmeline and I
Together visited.
She looked at it and seemed to fear it;
Dreading, tho' wishing, to be near it:
Such heart was in her, being then
A little Prattler among men.
The Blessing of my later year
Was with me when a boy:
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.

William Wordsworth

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".

from The Prelude: Childhood and School-Time

...
We were a noisy crew; the sun in heaven
Beheld not vales more beautiful than ours;
Nor saw a band in happiness and joy
Richer, or worthier of the ground they trod.
I could record with no reluctant voice
The woods of autumn and their hazel bowers
With milk-white clusters hung; the rod and line,
True symbol of hope's foolishness, whose strong
And unreproved enchantment led us on
By rocks and pools shut out from every star,
All the green summer, to forlorn cascades
Among the windings of the mountain brooks.
Unfading recollections
...
Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Fostered alike by beauty and by fear:
...
For that time
While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
Blow through my ear! the sky seemed not a sky
Of earth- and with what motion moved the clouds!
...
Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on,
From Nature and her overflowing soul,
I had received so much, that all my thoughts
Were steeped in feeling; I was only then
Contented, when with bliss ineffable
I felt the sentiment of Being spread
O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
O'er all that
...
O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
Or beats the gladsome air; o'er all that glides
Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
And mighty depths of waters.
Wonder not If such my transports were,
for in all things I saw one line and felt that it was joy

William Wordsworth

Dorothy says she is in all his poetry - you’ve put all my life into your poetry”.  They embrace as lovers.

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

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".

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

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.

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

from I Travelled among Unknown Men

I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

'Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among thy mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherished turned her wheel
Beside an English fire


William Wordsworth


Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

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.

from I wandered lonely as a cloud

 I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
….
William Wordsworth

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).

To A Butterfly

Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey: - with leaps and springs
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.

William Wordsworth

 

from To My Sister

…Then come, my Sister! come, I pray,
With speed put on your woodland dress;
And bring no book: for this one day
We’ll give to idleness.

William Wordsworth

However  it will not last.

from Tintern Abbey

That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth marries Mary Hutchison (Sally Sheridan) and leaves their cottage.

from A Farewell

Farewell, thou little Nook of mountain-ground,
Thou rocky corner in the lowest stair
Of that magnificent temple which doth bound
One side of our whole vale with grandeur rare;
Sweet garden-orchard, eminently fair,
The loveliest spot that man hath ever found,
Farewell!- we leave thee to Heaven's peaceful care,
Thee, and the Cottage which thou dost surround.

And there will safely ride when we are gone;
The flowering shrubs that deck our humble door
Will prosper, though untended and alone:
Fields, goods, and far-off chattels we have none:
These narrow bounds contain our private store
Of things earth makes, and sun doth shine upon;
Here are they in our sight- we have no more.

Dear Spot! which we have watched with tender heed,
Bringing thee chosen plants and blossoms blown
Among the distant mountains, flower and weed,
Which thou hast taken to thee as thy own,
Making all kindness registered and known;
Thou for our sakes, though Nature's child indeed,
Fair in thyself and beautiful alone,
Hast taken gifts which thou dost little need.

(verses shifted) We go for One to whom ye will be dear;
And she will prize this Bower, this Indian shed,
Our own contrivance, Building without peer!
--A gentle Maid, whose heart is lowly bred,
Whose pleasures are in wild fields gatherèd,
With joyousness, and with a thoughtful cheer,
Will come to you; to you herself will wed;
And love the blessed life that we lead here.

O happy Garden! whose seclusion deep
Hath been so friendly to industrious hours;
And to soft slumbers, that did gently steep
Our spirits, carrying with them dreams of flowers,
And wild notes warbled among leafy bowers;
Two burning months let summer overleap,
And, coming back with Her who will be ours,
Into thy bosom we again shall creep.

William Wordsworth

Ken Russell's Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

Wordsworth's new bride arrives...

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

... as Dorothy faints, and Wordsworth ends up carrying her through the threshold rather than his bride.

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

A new life with a wife and children, and Dorothy who reads to the children.

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

from Address to A Child During A Boisterous Winter Evening

What way does the wind come? What way does he go?
He rides over the water, and over the snow,
Through wood, and through vale; and o’er rocky height,
Which the goat cannot climb, takes his sounding flight;
He tosses about in every bare tree,
As, if you look up, you plainly may see;
But how he will come, and whither he goes,
There’s never a scholar in England knows.

Hark! over the roof he makes a pause,
And growls as if he would fix his claws
Right in the slates, and with a huge rattle
Drive them down, like men in a battle:
- But let him range round; he does us no harm,
We build up the fire, we’re snug and warm;
Untouched by his breath see the candle shines bright,
And burns with a clear and steady light.
Books have we to read, but that half-stifled knell,
Alas! ’tis the sound of the eight o’clock bell.
- Come, now we’ll to bed! and when we are there
He may work his own will, and what shall we care?
He may knock at the door - we’ll not let him in;
He may drive at the windows - we’ll laugh at his din;
Let him seek his own home wherever it be;
Here’s cozie warm house for Edward and me

Dorothy Wordsworth

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

Ken Russell Clouds of Glory William and Dorothy

The Wind

What way does the wind come? What way does he go?
He rides over the water, and over the snow,
Through wood and through vale: and o'er rocky height
Which goat cannot climb, takes his sounding flight.
He tosses about in every bare tree,
As, if you look up, you plainly may see;
But how he will come, and wither he goes,
There's never a scholar in England knows.

Dorothy Wordsworth

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

  • The Sea, Frank Bridge

  • The Banks of Green Willow-Idyll For Orchestra, George Butterworth

  • Symphony No. 1, Arnold Bax

  • Symphony No. 2, Arnold Bax

  • Symphony No. 6, Arnold Bax

 

Ken Russell Cloud of Glory William Dorothy Wordsworth

All images from the film (apologies for the poorer quality).

 

 

 


1978 Clouds of Glory: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ken Russell The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 

"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).

Ken Russell The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ken Russell The Rime of the Ancient Mariner direcrtor credit


Ken Russell's ABC of British Music

Ken Russell's ABC of Music

Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music     Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music Ken Russell's ABC of 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.

Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music

Ken Russell's ABC of Music Thomas Dolby

Under letter D Thomas Dolby composes for Ken's Gothic. 

Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music

Ken Russell's ABC of Music  Ken Russell's ABC of Music

Ken Russell's ABC of Music Linzi Drew

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.

Ken Russell's ABC of Music

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".

Ken Russell's ABC of Music credit

All images from the film, apologies for the poorer quality.

 

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  Ken Russell The Planets Holst

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.

Ken Russell The Planets Mars Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Mars Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Mars Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Venus Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Venus Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Venus Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Mercury Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Mercury Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Mercury Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Jupiter Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Jupiter Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Jupiter Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Saturn Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Saturn Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Saturn Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Uranus Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Uranus Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Uranus Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Neptune Holst

Ken Russell The Planets Neptune Holst  Ken Russell The Planets Neptune Holst

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.

Ken Russell The Planets

All images from the film. 


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