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Ken Russell omnibus classics




1966 Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World

Ken Russell Isadora

The dancer Isadora Duncan who dies when her scarf is caught in the wheels of a open roof sports car and she was strangled.  The film must have the fastest start ever in a film, Duncan dancing frenetically, her clothes falling off till she is carried off the stage still dancing and the audience go wild.

After this typical Russell shock-start, with no credits, the films switches to a voice-over (compare Valentino) of Isadora´s life, then moves to traditional documentary stock shots of Greece and a historian talking. The Greek scenes were not by Russell, presumably added by Huw Weldon. The commentary is typical BBC for the time and not typical of Russell "lack of fires and thin tunics make stoicism an essential part of the curriculum".

Ken Russell Isadora

Wild imagery is present throughout: the cripple (played by Ken Russell) rescuing Isadora from the sea after her suicide attempt, Isadora kissing her lover in the hearse over the coffins of her two dead children as a band of musicians play on top of the hearse.

Ken Russell Isadora

In the second half the film does begin to flag. There is little dialogue (mainly mime or speechmaking) but what dialogue exists is very bad (acting and writing) and the dancing is another problem. It becomes increasingly clear that Vivian Pickles cannot dance beyond running in circles and waving her arms in the air- this makes a film about one of the most famous dancers ever difficult and no editing and close up of hands can get around it.

The film lags into sentimentality, with lots of dancing children, until the shocking death. Despite the bad parts, still worth seeing.

Some regular Russell images occurs: the beach scene, water reflecting sun and out of focus, a cripple, women dancing arms in air, fire and water, a doll in the water, a failed suicide (compare The Music Lovers), a film in a film (slide show).  The dancing children are similar to those in Ken's amateur film Amelia and the Angel. The Singer sewing machine would come back much later in Martinu, the pool scene in Lady Chatterley and the veils in Salome.

This is one of Russell's favourite films. Rudolf Nuryev the dancer disliked the film and was one of the reasons there were problems starting Nijinsky (which never got made). Nuryev later starred in Valentino.  Vivian Pickles stars. Others include Alex Jawdokinov (who was also in Billion Dollar Brain, Music Lovers and Savage Messiah and would later act alongside Ken in The Russia House), Iza Teller (Dante's Inferno and the films Billion Dollar Brain and The Devils) and Alita Naughton of French Dressing. Ken has a cameo role.  The script was by Ken and Sewell Stokes who then re-did Isadora with Melvyn Bragg and Vanessa Regdrave.  Camerawork was by Dick Bush and Brian Tufano (Trainspotting), editing was by Michael Bradsell and costumes by Shirley Russell and Joyce Hammond.

A flawed classic.

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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