Sunday, 20 March 2016

Ken Russell - The Great Passions (1965 - 1967)

More invaluable stuff from the BFI as they release three examples of Ken Russell’s unique style of documentary film-making from the 1960s in a dual format DVD & Blu-ray set.

The ‘A’ feature here is probably DANTE’S INFERNO (1967), which has nothing to do with Dante Alighieri and everything to do with the life of the pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Oliver Reed takes the title role in this 88 minute black and white stylised romp through the important parts of Rossetti’s life. The other pre-Raphaelites get a look in as well, and there are numerous references to their works, as well as plenty of Ken’s creative (and occasionally outrageous) imagery to keep the viewer interested. Like that picture up there. Great, isn't it?

There are two shorter accompanying pieces. ISADORA (1966) runs for 64 minutes and features Vivian Pickles as turn-of-the-century Isadora Duncan, who famously pioneered her own style of dance, her own dance school, and met her untimely death in part due to her love of scarves. As with DANTE there’s plenty to keep the Ken Russell fan interested, with some fabulous locations, decadent imagery (I liked the harpists concealed in a massive box) and a sense of barely-controlled madness to quite a bit of it. 

More frenetic than even the above two is ALWAYS ON SUNDAY (1965), a 45 minute piece on the life of French painter Henri Rousseau. Rousseau didn’t start to paint seriously until he had retired, and his work was initially met with general derision. One imagines Ken must have known how he felt. 
There are a number of extras, including commentary tracks for all three pieces, a 31 minute period documentary of Russell making ISADORA, a new interview with editor Michael Bradsell about working with Russell, and an extra audio track for ISADORA that’s packed with cast and crew interviews. You also get a 30 page booklet with new essays on each of the works presented within. 
              I would say this release might be considered only for Ken Russell completists, but to be honest I learned so much about the subjects of each of the three films that I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the lives of Rosetti, Duncan and Rousseau. Excellent stuff as always from the BFI. 

Ken Russell's THE GREAT PASSIONS is being released on dual format DVD & Blu-ray by the BFI on Monday 28th March.

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