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Ken Russell omnibus classics
"It is a possible criticism of him that he sometimes went to excess in the violent expression of passionate emotion, and that at times his material... did not soar above the level of vulgarity" (not the usual criticism of Ken Russell but of Richard Strauss by Percy A. Scholes. The Oxford Companion to Music, 10th edition edited by John Owen Ward)
Dance of the Seven Veils from 1970. Ken Russell at his best and most kitsch, a foretaste of energy and excitement of The Music Lovers. It is his first television film in colour. The film is about composer Richard Strauss, who Russell seems to hate violently, and the comic strip approach and appearance of Hitler alienated his audience. A couple make love on the bed and just behind the bed is an orchestra (a chamber orchestra!!) with Ken Russell himself conducting both the orchestra and the couple. When the Strauss family withdrew permission to use the music after the initial broadcast, Russell substituted Johann Strauss when excerpts from the film were broadcast (as in A British Picture). It was time for Ken to move on from the BBC and back into films.
As with all of Ken's documentaries on composers the film is packed with music illustrating the life of Strauss. But whereas in other films the music gives and insight into the character of the composer, here it is used in parody and so has less resonance. Similarly the character have little depth being played for comedy.
The seven episodes are based on compositions by Strauss.
The Also Sprach Zarathustra episode with philosopher Nietzsche's superman. The music is famous with the first part used in Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Don Juan, a dashing but vain world hero.
Macbeth who killed the king and gained the throne but here a simple buffoon.
Strauss himself as a hero
Heroines, "No hero would be complete without a heroin". Clytemnestra, Salome and Potiphar's wife.
The final and longest episode, the war and the new superman, Hitler.
In the Times of 17 Feb 1970 says "The films was remarkable, if in nothing else, for showing such items as rape, violence, copulation and nudity to an extent probably never seen on television before". Ken is quoted as saying on Strauss "I love his music and would not waste my time if I considered him to be artistically worthless".
On anti-Semitism Clemency Burton-Hill writes brings out the contradictions "… Despite being cleared by a German denazification board in June 1948 his music still carried a stigma… Thomas Mann’s denouncement of Strauss as a “Hitlerian composer”... resonated strongly with many people… Strauss accepted Goebbels’ invitation to take up the post of Reichsmusikkammer president… he also refused to blacklist Jewish composers and remained publicly loyal to his Jewish friends and colleagues...- most notably the Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who wrote the libretto for his opera Die Schweigsame Frau… In one of his more shameful episodes, Strauss backpedalled furiously, writing to Hitler to assure him that his missive to Zweig had “not represent[ed] my view of the world nor my true conviction”. Hitler never replied. … There are no easy answers when it comes to the question of art, biography and morality; and the line between resistance, passivity and collaboration in Nazi Germany is arguably the murkiest of all" (Richard Strauss: A reluctant Nazi, BBC Culture Counterpoint 10 Jun 2014 here)
Christopher Gable plays Strauss, showing his versatility when doing films for Ken. Judith Paris gives her usual quality performance.
Paris carries the spectacular and overlooked scene where she stands beside the young Strauss and in seconds puts a mask on the actor instantly turning him into an old man.
The third Russell regular Vladek Sheybal plays Goebbels convincingly with quiet menace.
Strauss is credited on scenario and dialogue, along with Ken and Henry Reed. The unusual Strauss credit is probably to avert criticism by making clear a lot of the dialogue and statements are from writings by Strauss.
Costumes were by Shirley Russell, the film camera man was Peter Hall and film editor Dave King.
The music includes
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