Ken Russell, 1927–2011


May–September 1970, Ladbroke Grove: Ken asked me what would most upset an English audience. Louis XIII dining al fresco, carelessly shooting peacocks on the lawn between courses. “Impossible,” said Ken. “How would you do that?”

“Make some dummies, stand them on the lawn and detonate them.”

“No, you’d have to shoot real peacocks. It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

Derek Jarman, Dancing Ledge (1984)

It hardly seems worth adding to the Russell eulogies when The Guardian over the past few hours has been so profligate with their stories you might think they’d offed the director in order to boost their readership. For my part I’ll keep it brief and say I used to be guilty of taking Ken Russell for granted, he seemed so ubiquitous when his feature films were turning up all the time on British television. He was fortunate to make the most of that brief moment when American studios were nurturing a handful of world-class talents in the UK. A shame it didn’t last. Derek Jarman, after working on The Devils and Savage Messiah, designed a production of Stravinsky’s The Rake Progress that Russell directed in 1982. Discussing that period in Dancing Ledge he says: “Ken is deeply disillusioned with the cinema, the end of a love affair. Whenever the subject comes up there is sadness, tales of betrayal and hopes dashed.” About British cinema in general, Jarman had this to say:

The English film world is mesmerized by Oscars, and almost any project has to pass the Hollywood test. All indigenous work has to be historic and “quaint” – Brideshead or Chariots of Fire, a dull and overrated TV film, fit the bill. All the rest take their chances.

The BFI is finally releasing The Devils on DVD in March 2012. Unlike The King’s Speech it never won any Oscars. No need to guess which one I’d rather watch.

Guardian obituary | Ken Russell: a career in clips
• The Independent: Farewell to the wild man of cinema
Telegraph obituary
Fuck Yeah Ken Russell

Previously on { feuilleton }
Salome’s Last Dance