RIP Ken Russell

Thanks, you big-hearted, wide-eyed bastard.

Funeral note: The narratives about the "stuffiness" of British cinema - which Russell allegedly and actually helped rupture - are largely a consequence of people who have actually watched very little of that cinema.  See here three of my loves - Gainsborough melodramas, Ealing comedies, and Hammer horror - as prime counter-evidence to a story about the alleged dominance of kitchen sink realism.  That tale of dominance has about as much truth as declaring Italian neorealism as the primary touchstone/inspiration/wet blanket against which Italian cinema responded: it is true for certain audiences (such as the kind who think that directors like Russell "cheapen everything they touch", as Pauline Kael put it) and it structurally reinforces itself as such over time, but it has never actually been the case.

What someone like Russell did - and does, because films do not become past tense because their director dies - was to make the kind of films that had been made before but to take off their blinders and belts, to give them the full room to breathe that they had long been panting toward.  To peel back the wet blanket veil and not restrict ornate set pieces to a space through which one passes, but to hang out in them, to scream and make a racket, to wrestle with it and get sweat on the carpet, to let the eyes embedded in the breasts glance around, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Witchfinder General and declare that if one wants to make a historical film about a dark past, one better make damn sure that film is as darkly ornamented, lurid, and self-contradictory as the very history it faces then and now.

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