The New Forest: in 2002, Ken Russell said of it: “I’ve used this location many times in my films. Somehow, some way, I keep coming back. Look at The Music Lovers, Valentino, Arnold Bax, The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner, and my new Elgar film and you can see the wheat fields, the birch trees, the lakes and pine trees that have served me so well.”

Ken Russell, 1927-2011: British Film's Wild Man In The Woods

Britain’s veteran film-maker Ken Russell, “the wild man of British cinema,” who worked for over 50 years right up to his death last November at Lymington, had lifelong local connections. For three decades, he lived in the New Forest and for budgetary reasons shot many scenes here and in the surrounding area, for both his arts documentary bio-pics and his feature films as well as his own final DIY indie productions, where his New Forest home also became his studio. Compared first to Orson Welles ("England's Orson Welles") and later to Fellini (“the Fellini of the North"), Ken Russell was a photographer, documentarist, scriptwriter, director, actor and author. But most of all he was a filmmaker in the tradition of artists who spend their careers fighting established aesthetic conventions as a form of censorship.

Born in 1927, Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell was originally from Southampton, where he became a film buff to escape a difficult parental situation. He would act out a scenario from the latest film in the chestnut tree in his garden. ("We had a wonderful conker tree in our garden. When I saw Robin Hood, it became a castle. When I saw Bluebeard, it was a galleon. I lived out all sorts of scenarios in that tree.") During WW2, he organised a film club showing films like Fritz Lang's silent SF classic, Metropolis in his garage for an entrance fee, profits going to the Spitfire Fund, the Spitfire factory being just down the road (“so we were often bombed”).
He joined the Merchant Navy at his father's suggestion, saying later he hoped to sail to the South Seas to find Dorothy Lamour (and says he had a breakdown after he realised this was not realistic). Following a spell in the RAF, he trained on a scholarship as a ballet dancer. This was a lifelong interest, and seems to be the basis for the stage-ballet style tableaux and extravagantly theatrical costume and set designs KR kept putting in his films. KR said concert music had saved his life when he was a depressed teenager, and all his films in a sense would also be concert-music driven, and he would also direct stage operas in the 1980s when film commissions began to dry up. (It’s been said he invented the music video, but using classical rather than pop music - though in the 80s he would also direct contemporary music videos, like Nikita for Sir Elton John.)
Having failed to gain a professional ballet career, Russell became a press agency photographer roving the streets of 1950s London looking for bohemian subjects, and branched out into amateur documentary. His evident talents here became the basis of a series of documentary commissions for the BBC in the early 60s. He made a series of 35 biographical arts docus for the BBC’s Monitor and Omnibus arts-magazine shows, 1958-70, his first big hit being Elgar: Portrait Of A Composer, which turned out to be one of the BBC’s biggest hits of the 60s.
The usual approach then was to use old photos plus location footage of houses etc., but KR insisted on using mainly re-enactments, with actors playing composers, poets, dancers etc. In the first of these documentaries, the actors did not speak on camera (BBC docu policy then forbade this as misleading), merely appearing in costume, painting etc, in scenes accompanied by music and narration, but with the success of Elgar, the BBC relented, and KR changed to using full-on re-enactments that could be classed as straight drama, and their running times also increased until the last ones were almost feature length, like his acclaimed 73-minute Delius film Song Of Summer (1968).

BBC TV Arts Documentaries
Most of these black-and-white docudramas were shot elsewhere, in authentic locales in France, the Malverns, etc, where that particular artist had lived, but a few had local scenes or connections. He began in 1959 with a London-set docu on poet John Betjeman, who had Bournemouth links (founding president of the local civic society to protect heritage buildings), followed by one on the composer Gordon Jacob, shot around Jacob’s home in the New Forest at Brockenhurst, 1952-9, the documentary using the seasonally-related movements of his 1958 New Forest Suite ('Primaeval Oaks', ‘The Queen's Bower', Pannage', ‘Summer On The Bournemouth Road’ etc) as accompaniment. His much-admired 1965 The Debussy Film, which adopted a creative film-within-a-film approach, used a location he would return to, Larmer Tree ornamental gardens on the Dorset-Wilts boundary. Its theatre proscenium was used for the scene [pictured right] where the director and actors watch part of a pre-WWI Parisian play based on the scandal of Debussy’s long-running menage-a-trois. (There are other scenes set in ornamental woodland gardens which may also have been shot at Larmer.) A planned film about Robert Southey, titled King Of The Crocodiles, was never filmed due to budget problems. Southey had lived at Burton on the edge of the New Forest long before he became Poet Laureate, and late in life had (with tragic consequences) married local poetess Caroline Bowles, whose cottage was not far from KR’s own at East Boldre.
His second tranche of arts documentaries, done for ITV after he became disillusioned with Hollywood, would also include several shot locally: Portrait of a Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax, The Strange Affliction Of Anton Bruckner, Elgar: Fantasy Of A Composer On A Bicycle. [All but the first of these were feature-length docudramas - details below]

Early Features
His drama-documentaries have not been shown much since, with at least two suppressed for portraying the composers (Strauss, Mahler, Wagner) surrounded by Nazi trappings. But their early success, from 1962 on, paved the way for a career in mainstream commercial cinema. (He later told his biographer John Baxter [see books section] that "If I could feel that films I did for television were shown all over the world at frequent intervals, I'd probably never make a so-called feature film again.")
Though his first feature, French Dressing, about an attempt to hold a French film festival in a declining seaside resort, failed to do the business, he proved he could adapt his emerging pop-baroque style to Britain’s most successful 60s genre, the spy film, with an adaptation of Len Deighton’s novel Billion Dollar Brain in 1967. This opened the way for his hit 1969 Women In Love, where DH Lawrence’s focus on sexual frustrations provided an anchor for KR’s lifelong tendency to have the actors playing frustrated protagonists running through the woods, scantily clad or naked, to express their innate desire to be free from convention.
His 1970 Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers fell back more on his montages-set-to-music, with lengthy scenes without dialogue set to the 1812 Overture etc. Being set in Russia, he was forced to double locations, and he again returned to filming locally: Wilton House near Salisbury for a Moscow salon, Larmer ornamental gardens for a park scene [cut in some prints], plus parts of the New Forest for various bucolic scenes. He also shot a key scene (glimpsed in the film’s trailer, available online) locally for his own lifelong-favourite project, the self-financed 1972 production Savage Messiah, on the brash, outspoken modernist French sculptor Henri Gaudier, a founder of the Vorticist Movement. Just over an hour in, the precocious teenaged Gaudier and his long-suffering older partner Sophie Brzeska, after leaving Paris for London in 1910, take a train to Dorset and climb around a Portland quarry.
The script was written by another bad-boy bohemian figure, the poet Christopher Logue, who spent time in the Bournemouth area just after being released from military prison post-WW2 (and who also just died, 5 days after KR). As on KR’s much-censored The Devils (where Logue played Cardinal Richelieu), the set designer was Derek Jarman, who studied art locally, at Canford School outside Poole, and who later became an avant-garde filmmaker in his own right. Russell identified with the brash young sculptor, unappreciated in his lifetime, and even mortgaged his house to make his 1972 film when nobody would finance it. MGM distributed the finished film but did it no favours with a misleading poster of a tangle of male and female bodies headed "All art is sex!", and it failed to make its money back, though it would remain KR's lifelong favourite among his features.
KR’s 1977 Valentino used a wide range of locations, which included several in Bournemouth and Poole. The turreted Gothic edifice East Cliff Hall, filled with Victorian bric-a-brac collected by its Victorian owners the Russell-Cotes, and now the town’s art-gallery-cum-museum, doubles as the home of the actress played by Carol Kane, the house where he poses for arty stills, and later as the film star’s 1920s Hollywood home. Scenes were also shot in the grounds of the Royal Bath Hotel next to the museum. The clifftop driveway [see still below opp.] to Valentino’s Hollywood mansion is above Flaghead Chine in Poole, by St Anne’s Hospital, off Haven Road. The former Grand Cinema (a Grade II Listed Building, a bingo parlour since ‘78) in Westbourne was used for a scene where Felicity Kendall and a female audience watch the famous seduction scene in The Sheik.

The collapse of the studio censorship system in 1969 had led to a wave of controversial early-70s features with ‘explicit’ scenes which would never have seen the light of day before. However as the 70s wore on, and the shock and appeal of the new wore off, KR had found it more difficult to get finance. After Valentino turned out a financial flop, he did go to Hollywood for a time, where he worked on diverse properties, from Altered States [1980] to Whore [1991], but did not care to try sustain a fulltime career there. (You can read his account of his exasperating dealings with studio types in his memoirs.) KR now turned to tv, making both docudramas and ‘straight’ dramas in the 1990s.


TV Dramas
KR’s rock opera Tommy (his biggest hit) had shot a few scenes on the Isle of Wight as well as Southsea opposite (where the pier accidentally burnt up during filming, footage of which he used in the film). KR also partly shot on Wight his last major mainstream success, the 1993 BBC serial Lady Chatterley, which got respectable reviews and ratings (12 million-plus viewers). Railway scenes were shot on the IOW Steam Railway, at Havenstreet Stn, those set at Lady C's father's south-of-France seaside villa were shot using several IOW clifftop estates (Old Park Hotel and Lisle Combe house in the Rare Breeds Park at St. Lawrence, plus Blackgang Chine theme-park maze), while the IOW ferry was used for the ocean-liner finale.

A tv commission the same year, an episode for a German-funded late-night series called in English Erotic Tales or Tales of Erotica, wasn't shown for 3 years. ‘The Insatiable Mrs Kirsch’ (Die Unersättliche Mrs. Kirsch) was belatedly shown in 1996 on Channel 4, and made it to home video in 2003. The series title proved a marketing mistake (‘erotic’ being a euphemism for porn), as the original commission was for quirky half-hour dramas, by well-known directors, about adult liaisons with unexpected outcomes. Apart from his DH Lawrence adaptations, KR’s screen eroticism tended towards mannered fantasy scenes of dressing up and stripping off; his actual sex scenes tend to be either brutal, grotesque or larky. Here, the approach is comedic, the plot a shaggy-dog-story version of the setup (a male hotel guest spying on a female one), designed to fool the viewer. Co-written by and starring his then-wife Hetty Baynes, it was filmed entirely in the Purbecks: at a seashore-quarry [clifftop opening], in Studland [large resort hotel], and Wareham [tearooms, cinema etc], with a glimpse of Corfe Castle in the final shots. An accurate replica of the Cerne Giant was also created on a hillside near Worth Matravers for the denouement where the actress does a (fully clothed) fertility dance on it.

ITV Arts Documentaries
KR also returned to making arts documentaries and docudramas, even before his permanent departure from Hollywood. As he made various return trips to England, he began to work on more arts documentaries. These were not for the BBC, with whom he had had a parting of the ways after his Strauss documentary ran into legal trouble over its Nazi imagery. This second tranche of around 20 films was sponsored by ITV, via his own connection to Melvyn Bragg, who had worked on the BBC Monitor series including The Debussy Film, and done what KR called an ‘amazing script’ for his 1970 The Music Lovers, as well as helping prepare the Women In Love adaptation. (“What I did on that was to go through the Lawrence book with Ken and indicate the things in it that seemed absolutely essential, the key scenes.”). By then, Bragg (now Lord Bragg) had his own ITV arts-magazine slot, The South Bank Show, and was the only one who would commission such work by KR. Though mostly set elsewhere, at least four of these docus involved local filming.
For his hour-long 1984 documentary Portrait of a Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams, he filmed partly in Dorset to represent the kind of classic English countryside the Vaughan Williams symphonies evoked. (VW was a fan of Hardy.) “For my Vaughan Williams movie I took my family along with me, my wife Viv, and daughter Molly. And I brought with us Vaughan Williams’ widow, Ursula. We went on a musical tour of the places that inspired his music.” KR said he was documenting how the English landscape helped inspire the composer in his Third, Fifth and Ninth Symphonies. To illustrate his Third Symphony, the Pastoral, composed during WWI, while the elderly VW was working at the Front as a hospital orderly, he used Bovington Camp and tank ranges as a location. KR said the Pastoral “enshrines the English countryside like no other ... it is music of nostalgia for landscapes untorn and unblooded. It is also a moving threnody for those who never lived to see their homeland again. We shot our sombre moments on the ravaged earth of Bovington.” The Fifth Symphony, he added [the quotes are from Russell’s memoir A British Picture], “reflects the mystical side of the British and is in the nature of a musical pilgrimage through the world of John Bunyan [i.e. Pilgrim’s Progress] to the Delectable Mountains. We couldn’t afford to journey to that particular location so made do with the hills around Lulworth Cove, which are nearly as delectable.” Finally, Symphony No 9, being inspired by Stonehenge (another Hardy locale), the visuals which concluded the programme were shot there.
KR's hour-long 1990 docudrama The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner focuses entirely on the Austrian composer's stay, after one of his nervous breakdowns, at a secluded sanitarium in a forest, with opening and closing sequences shot at the Rhinefield Hotel, and woodland views in the surrounding New Forest. (Other scenes were shot in Kent.)
For his hour-long 1992 South Bank Show docudrama The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax, Russell used Highcliffe Castle, a then just-restored Georgian stately home, on the clifftop overlooking the Solent. (“I shot some of it at Highcliffe, on the beach, and in Hampshire. I used some of the same locations I had used in the Bruckner film to stand in for Austrian landscapes.”) For KR’s story about the elderly composer (played by KR himself), he has him revisiting his past when, post-WW2, he meets a nightclub dancer (played by KR’s wife-to-be Hetty Baynes). She acts (inevitably) as a surrogate muse for the composer, in this case dancing on the beach, in evocation of the Celtic sea goddess Fand in Bax’s tone poem The Garden Of Fand. KR felt Bax’s mystical tone poem “may have memorialized a youthful idyll of love with a woman, probably the pianist, Harriet Cohen, with whom Bax would have a lifelong relationship” (played by Glenda Jackson, in her final screen role before becoming an MP).
A final South Bank Show commission was the 2002 hour-long Elgar - Fantasy Of A Composer On A Bicycle (a 40th-anniversary follow-up to his 1962 docudrama Elgar), was part filmed at Ventnor (where the Elgars had honeymooned) and elsewhere on the southern coast of Wight, with KR's 4th wife Elize playing Lady Elgar. For the fantasy scenes visualising Elgar’s music (in this case The Wand of Youth Suite), locals were used as extras, e.g. pupils of the Gillian Cartwright School of Dance, Ventnor, as the fairies the programme alludes to, and the Medina Marching Band as the giants, marching through Godshill Model Village. Again, as a 2005 article in the Quarterly Review of Film and Video by John C. Tibbetts notes, we have “a fantasy image of a gossamer-clad young female dancing along a beach (so reminiscent of the Garden of Fand episode from the Bax film). Russell suggests these women — like the dream-like figures that haunted Tchaikovsky, Martinu, and Bax, represented the youthful ideals of love that had been thwarted by Elgar’s thoroughly respectable, if not entirely romantic marriage.”

Professional And Private Life
KR himself had been something of a romantic idealist about finding women who be his inspiration ever since as a teen he joined the Navy to find Dorothy Lamour. In fact, he mentions in his memoirs that at age 12 he had “a wonderful relationship with Marion, my sister’s cousin … She was an ideal, she was the ideal female”; but while playing near Highcliffe beach “just after the war started, about 1940, she trod on a landmine and blew herself up, poor soul.”
As a filmmaker, KR’s tendency to overlap his personal and professional lives was just one of the ways he was compared to Fellini (to Fellini’s reported annoyance), but in the final stage of his filmmaking career this became more prominent as he could not get funding and began to shoot films on a camcorder as family affairs, with his then-wife as the female star or muse, first with Hetty Baynes during their 1992-99 marriage, and finally with his 4th wife Elize [2001-11].
KR’s first wife [1956-78] Shirley Kingdom had also been his helpmeet, as a professional costume designer for the BBC etc. Shirley did some of the location scouting as well as the costuming. After their marriage collapsed, he married Vivian Jolly, originally an American student who used to babysit for KR and his first wife till the latter became “suspicious of her for no reason and got rid of her” (says Ken). KR and VJ had married in 1983 in Hollywood via a wedding ceremony conducted by Psycho star Anthony Perkins, who played the ‘oversexed priest’ villain in KR’s 1983 film noir Crimes Of Passion, but they divorced in 1991.
His 3rd wife Hetty Baynes had begun her career age 12 as a dancer in Nureyev's "The Nutcracker" at Covent Garden and later appeared in Herbert Ross’s 1980 biopic Nijinsky. (You can see the potential attraction for KR right away, especially as he had had to abandon his own Nijinsky film.) The IMDB gives her as growing up in the Purbecks as the daughter of 'Baron' Baynes, inventor of the swing-wing aircraft, at Dunshay Manor near Harman's Cross (on the Corfe-Swanage railway line), being schooled at Swanage convent school and Langton Matravers before training at the Royal Ballet School. HB had been acting in tv drama as well as plays since the 70s, and KR met her in ‘92 when about to film the Bax docudrama. KR and HB married quickly (KR says she was pregnant), with the 1992 ceremony at Highcliffe itself, honeymooning at Wareham’s Priory Hotel, and staying at Dunshay Manor when first married.
Dunshay Manor was also the home of sculptor Mary Spencer Watson, another artistic figure who could have starred in a KR docudrama. HB’s father had leased the manor house from her in 1955 just before HB’s birth there. She was the daughter of the painter George Spencer Watson RA and a dancer, mime artist and follower of actor and modernist theatre director Edward Gordon Craig (an associate of Isadora Duncan, subject of another KR docudrama). Baynes's mother Margot, a beautician, had a long-term lesbian relationship with MSW, who continued to live in another part of the manor. MSW left part of the 15-acre Purbeck estate to her long-time companion, Margot’s marriage having broken up over this liaison when HB was a child. HB said she thus regarded MSW like a parent right up to her death in 2006, HB later using this as the basis of a 2008-9 lawsuit (which she and her mother Margot lost) against the late MSW’s estate. This was for continued support while HB studied creative writing, HB also being a writer (scripts as well as a novel, Cat Fur And Ashes).
As well as The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax, she appeared in the BBC serial Lady Chatterley (with HB as Lady Chatterley's sister and KR as papa); ‘The Insatiable Mrs Kirsch’, which she cowrote as well as starred in; in KR’s 1993 Alice in Russialand; in his 1995 hour-long homemade musical version of Treasure Island (shot in Cornwall), a Channel 4 Xmas Eve special with HB as ‘Long Jane Silver’; and finally his 1996 TV-movie starring Uri Geller, Mindbender.
Three years after KR and HB divorced in 1997, he advertised on the internet for a wife via the Savage Messiah fan-site run by friend Iain Fisher.("Unbankable film director seeks soulmate. Must be mad about music, movies and Moet and Chandon champagne.") Ironically (or perhaps fatefully) through a coincident chain of events, he wound up with someone he had met 25 years before, while she was working in a cinema as a teenager, when his 1972 Savage Messiah was being shown in art-house cinemas around the US. (She was already a fan of his work because, she said, of “the way he expresses the truth of emotional pain with such energy.”) Elise or Elize or Lisi Tribl (or Tribble) became his 4th wife in 2001. They married at Ringwood registry office, with a New Age pagan prayer followed by a church blessing at Beaulieu Abbey in the heart of his beloved New Forest, where they recited poems to each other. She became his final production partner, starring in his last round of indie productions, and helping update his memoir A British Picture to cover his last two decades. 

Though he found contentment with his 4th and final marital partnership, professionally he was lost in the critical wilderness: he was, as his lonely-hearts ad had said, an ‘unbankable film director’. Michael Brooke on the BFI Screenonline website explained his career-impasse in terms of KR being a victim of his own success:

Certainly, his importance in terms of British television history seems impossible to overstate. During his first decade (1959-70), he almost single-handedly revolutionised the small-screen documentary, rehabilitated the work of major cultural figures (Sir Edward Elgar had been largely ignored since his death in 1934) and provided venerable arts strands such as the BBC's Monitor and Omnibus and, later, LWT's South Bank Show with some of their most colourful and controversial programmes. If his subsequent television work (1978-2002) has had less impact, this is partly a reflection of the fact that he'd already pushed the medium about as far as it would go.

KR has admitted his films are autobiographical allegories about his own frustrations, and his identifying with creative types from the past seems to have helped blind him to how fast social convention in regard to socio-sexual expression was changing in the 70s and 80s. His Baroque artistic sensibility also seemed at times stuck in the “pour épater le bourgeois” ethos of the turn of the century Decadents like Wilde and Beardsley (whose work was the basis of his 1988 Salome’s Last Dance) he admired. As the world around him moved on and audiences became harder to shock, he became the one appearing somewhat outmoded as he tried to shock with anachronistic imagery of Nazi symbols, crazed nuns etc. (KR: “This is not the age of manners. This is the age of kicking people in the crotch and telling them something and getting a reaction. I want to shock people into awareness. I don't believe there is any virtue in understatement. I know my films upset people. I want to upset people.”)
KR wanted thus to “shock people into awareness” ... but awareness of what? In his major films it was clear, e.g. in The Devils, the hypocrisy of an organised religion which professed love and practised cruelty. But in other efforts, the ‘what’ was obscure, and the extravagant tableaux then seemed like sophomoric showing off. (He had pitched The Music Lovers to the studio as “the story of the marriage between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac”). He had originally bridged the narrative-lyrical gap by making films about composers, with montages set to their music. However, often the scripts didn’t point up his thematic intentions clearly enough to integrate the lyrical elements, and the in-your-face set-pieces seemed over top for relatively realistic biopic narrative drama, more suited to stylised media like stage ballet or modern opera than mainstream cinema. (He had originally been a fan of silent cinema, which of necessity had a theatrical “acting out” style.)
KR usually did better when he had a sexually conservative Establishment to rail against, as with the society DH Lawrence opposed. (The 1920s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover had only been allowed after an expensive groundbreaking 1960s censorship case, which gave the green light for Lawrence adaptations like Women In Love in 1969, the year Hollywood’s self-censorship system also broke down.) The same can be said for the superficially puritanical but deeply hypocritical urban society of his last two US films, on the theme of sexploitation, Crimes Of Passion and Whore (whose very title was censored in parts of the US).
Ken Russell portrait By this time, the ageing wild man of British cinema was by now seen by some critics as a defiantly posturing caricature of himself, a bit embarrassingly sex-mad in an English schoolboy manner. The rather puerile punning titles of his final indie productions [details below] seemed to indicate he had indeed descended to defiant self parody - almost a second childhood. It was the fate of others before him branded an enfant terrible, who had outlived the more repressed times that inspired their artistic challenges. It could also be unsympathetically argued he had fallen prey to the fate of the egotistical exhibitionist who can’t take being ignored by a world that fails to appreciate their genius, and succumbed to increasingly desperate attention-seeking behaviour. (Given the slightest opportunity, it seemed, out would come the imagery of Nazis, nuns, burning crosses and crucified artist figures.)
In fairness, he was probably in a cleft stick, a no-win situation: his surreal lyricism and grotesque tableaux inspired by his listening to concert music and watching ballet had lost the ability to shock per se, partly due to lack of integration with the narrative elements, to his repeating himself in terms of effects, and partly to changing times. And if he made mainstream films conventionally, sticking to the narrative element without the extravagant set-piece tableaux, his work was dismissed as tame. The 2nd and 3rd parts of his DH Lawrence trilogy, the 1978 Women-In-Love prequel feature The Rainbow (with Glenda Jackson in the mother’s role this time) and the 1993 BBC serial Lady Chatterley attracted no controversy. It has to be added that nor did a far more explicit BBC 2011 adaptation of Women In Love, combined with bits of The Rainbow, made by a woman director in Ken’s final year.
It all went to show how times had changed in the decades since the government had tried to prosecute Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act in 1963, on the grounds (to quote the Crown prosecutor) this was not a book you would want your wife or servants to read.

Dreamgrange And Gorsewood Films
The South Bank Show commissions ended with the Elgar Fantasy film in 2002, which had been commissioned for the 25th anniversary of Bragg’s arts showcase, and KR now turned to true indie, i.e. no-budget production. KR had had a cottage at East Boldre in the New Forest since 1972, and after 2000 it also became his studio, his production base.
KR’s post-Chatterley productions had been contracted to his production company Dreamgrange Ltd (such as the 1993 ‘Freudian’ style hour-long biographical docudrama The Mystery of Dr Martinu,) for showing in the UK on Channel 4, and some overseas commissions followed, but the prolific KR was now being forced to return to how he had begun filmmaking in the 50s, with self-financed amateur indie production, now using the new DV technology. He set up a new banner, Gorsewood Films (a pun on Hollywood, his New Forest cottage garden being surrounded by gorse).
The idea was to make and distribute video films shot on a camcorder, using friends and neighbours, student helpers, and props from joke shops, etc. (Ken was actually teaching film, as a Visiting Professor at Southampton Institute, 1999-2004). These were self-conscious ‘underground’ films in spirit, KR calling himself a ‘garagiste,’ as if it were a Nouvelle Vague label, referring to the fact his cottage’s garage and attached stables were now his film studio. The New Forest was to become his equivalent of Hollywood’s old favourite all-purpose standby backlot for low-budget productions, Griffith Park.
The subject he chose for the pilot project to try out his camcorder setup may have been symbolic of his eclipse by the established industry. The Lion’s Mouth, 2000, was the true story of a 1930s vicar who exhibited himself in a circus sideshow after being bankrupted by local landowners and defrocked for consorting with prostitutes he was meant to be ‘saving’ (shades of the Michael Palin film The Missionary). He took up a career of appearing in circus exhibits, including preaching inside a lions’ cage, this last stunt proving fatal when he stepped on a lion’s tail. The vicar is played by Ken and with one of KR’s own film textbooks titled The Lion Roars, it seems almost an allegorical confessional tale.

KR’s Final Years
The Gorsewood films have not yet become not available for viewing, but judging from their titles they are defiantly self-parodying Monty Python style sendups. What else can we make of titles like The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher [2002], Revenge Of The Elephant Man [2004], his musical The Good Ship Venus (the 3rd part of his “Hot Pants” trilogy), his 2007 Boudica Bites Back, or his 8-minute “trailer” [available online] for a nonexistent Xmas-movie pastiche Ein Kitten Fuer Hitler [2008]. (This deliberate bad-taste effort - cf Mel Brooks’s Springtime For Hitler – was reportedly the result of a bet with Melvyn Bragg he could make MB change his mind about censorship, i.e. become in favour of it.)
The last of these avant-garde productions (perhaps we should say “provocations”) was evidently Bravetart Versus The Loch Ness Monster [2009], which KR referred to in the press as an upcoming feature film. He mentioned in one of his Times film-comment columns [23Dec08] what Bravetart was about and where he filmed it. Though set elsewhere, it was for obvious budgetary reasons all shot locally. KR plays ‘the Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley, at the time when he was Laird Of Boleskine Manor overlooking Loch Ness, and KR's 4th wife Elise is the brave Scots tart who tackles Crowley and his conjured-up lake-monster familiar, Nessie. It was filmed at Hordle-Walhampton boarding school near Lymington (as Boleskine Manor), at Hatchet Pond in the New Forest (as Loch Ness!), and in Southampton, with a remnant of its mediaeval town walls as the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. One of his obits mentions Bravetart is still unreleased.
In 2009, KR had announced distribution (always the sticking point with indie films) would be via the web, and Bravetart was to be available for viewing online by Easter 2009 “on a website near you’. This did not happen, and his website domain kenrussellenterprises.com is now ownerless (as is his ex-partner’s, hettybaynes.co.uk). The stumbling block was probably that the films were to be either pay-per-view or like Amazon MP3 downloads, which would have required a secure e-commerce website. (At one point he mentioned the auction site eBay as a possible outlet.) In one press story [‘Hollywood Shed’, Independent 24 Jul 2004] about filming in his garage, he had said his 30-minute The Murder Of Mata Hari was to be available for download for £9.99. The downloadable-films idea however seems to have been set aside as impractical.

He had already lost much of his earned income financing his own films (like Savage Messiah), and in legal battles with film companies, plus his several marriages, including 8 children (all sent to private schools), took their financial toll as well. (He described himself in 2002 as not just professionally unbankable but personally almost ‘penniless.’) KR’s Dreamgrange / Gorsewood Films ‘garagiste’ output had suffered a final blow in April 2006, when ‘Old Tinsleys’, the thatched half-timbered cottage at East Boldre (a former Presbyterian meeting house) he had lived in since 1972, burnt down. KR was out on an errand and on returning, rushed in to save Elise, who had already jumped out a window and had been hiding in the gorse bushes outside as she had been having a bath and was nude. Neither was hurt, but his memorabilia, paperwork including original manuscripts, props and other possessions were all lost. He hoped to rebuild it and move back in, but this was not to be. (The property was auctioned off in 2007, to raise money for KR’s other needs, sold to a financier turned explorer.)
In the meantime, he rented a detached house with garden in nearby Lymington, where five years later age 84, after several strokes, he would die peacefully in his sleep, his son announced, “with a smile on his face”.

Legacy
KR had once said that “The grim reaper is the only thing that will stop me making films.” (He certainly seems to have bounced back financially since claiming to be penniless, leaving an £800K estate.) At the time of his death, other projects had been planned, such as a film on pioneer female portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whose home Dimbola Lodge (Freshwater), on the Isle of Wight, visited by Tennyson, Lewis Carroll and others, is now a museum. (They showed an exhibition of KR’s recently-rediscovered 1950s London photos, for 3 months, Oct 2011 – Jan 2012.)
One final local-interest project may still be achieved, posthumously, but in the spirit he intended. This was a new screen version of an explicitly erotic 1970s musical of Alice in Wonderland, for which a £15 million budget had already been approved. (This may seem unlikely as a mainstream big budget production, but the script was previously filmed in the US by 20th C Fox in 1976, and released in both “X” and “R” rated versions theatrically and then on home video, taking $90 million at the box office.) As well as its author Lewis Carroll being a visitor to the IOW, the original Alice herself, Alice Liddell, lived in the New Forest as an adult, and is buried here, at Lyndhurst. KR had been developing the project with a production team who will now carry on without him, working with his widow Elise to help “keep his vision intact.”


KR Films On DVD
KR wrote 33 films, appeared in 24, produced 20 and directed 71 titles, according to his IMDB entry. KR’s mainstream commercial feature films were mostly issued on DVD here [i.e. Region 2], though some are OOP, with a couple like The Devils that were cut heavily at the time recently reissued in restored versions, or in original widescreen (rather than cropped or pan’n scan versions) like The Music Lovers. This includes his Billion Dollar Brain, Women In Love, The Music Lovers, The Devils, Mahler, Tommy, Altered States, The Rainbow, Lisztomania, Valentino, The Lair Of The White Worm, Crimes Of Passion, Gothic, Whore.
The exceptions are French Dressing, Savage Messiah and The Boy Friend, with Savage Messiah having a US but not a UK DVD release, and The Boy Friend being only a US import, as is his final ‘studio’ film, Prisoner Of Honor (a 1991 HBO TV feature starring Richard Dreyfuss, on France's Dreyfus scandal). His BBC TV drama serial (partly shot on Wight) Lady Chatterley is available, as is (at a higher price) his half-hour locally-shot Erotic Tales TV episode, ’The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch.’
Sadly, his BBC documentary films, done for the Monitor and Omnibus slots, are not. His onetime producer during his 60s BBC heyday, Humphrey Burton, wrote a post-obit letter to The Guardian [2 Dec 2011] on “Russell's lost films”, saying “shamefully, not one of the 35 BBC films he made between 1958 and 1970 is available to the public, which funded them through the licence fee. Elgar (which I produced) and the Delius film A Song Of Summer could be bought for a time on DVD from the BFI, but were withdrawn years ago,” adding “Ken should have been knighted, not suppressed.”
His dreamlike 1970 Richard Strauss film Dance Of The Seven Veils was in effect banned from being shown, withheld on copyright grounds till 2019, after objections by the Strauss estate to the film’s inclusion of Nazi elements; his annoyance with management’s failure to defend artistic freedom led him to abandoning the BBC, though Monitor’s series producer Huw Weldon did defend, to Parliament, KR's right to make the film. The one legit UK DVD issue, the Delius Song Of Summer, sells 2nd hand on Amazon for over £50.
Ironically, a 3-DVD 477-minute BBC-Warner set is available as a US import [NTSC standard], Ken Russell At The BBC, with Elgar, The Debussy Film, Always on Sunday, Isadora Duncan, Dante's Inferno and Song Of Summer, plus a couple of interview compilations.
The same current lack of availability has applied so far to his ITV South Bank Show series, which includes the spinoff Clouds Of Glory [1978], with David Warner as Wordsworth and David Hemmings as Coleridge and music by Bax, originally shown as a 2-parter ITV Sunday Night Drama just before the SBS slot. The South Bank Show series included one about his own work, A British Picture (1989), where KR, his (then two) wives and several adult children appear, as he revisits locations used in his films. A similar 2006 BBC documentary, Ken Russell - A Picture of The South, is also unavailable. Ditto for his ‘Gorsewood’ productions, except for the London-shot 2002 The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher, so none of his locally-shot titles like Bravetart (all of which could fit on a single DVD) are yet available.
When his death was announced, TV schedulers did follow the common practice when a well-known figure dies and change their schedules to run one of his or her works as a mark of respect – in this case, this could have been one of his rarely seen arts documentaries or feature films, such as his own favourite, Savage Messiah; in the event, what we got was BBC telecasts of Elgar, Women In Love, The Rainbow, and The Boy Friend (the longer version, not shown in widescreen). We also got a BBC memorial-tribute docu in January, Ken Russell: A Bit of a Devil, with Glenda Jackson, Terry Gilliam, Twiggy, Melvyn Bragg, Robert Powell and others recalling the one and only Ken (Roger Daltrey: "Love him or hate him, Ken was never boring."); that’s not on DVD either.
The only good news on the horizon is a 3-DVD 510 minute compilation of his ITV work is to be released, though the bad news is this was postponed at the last minute from July 2012 to Jan 2014 (sounds like somebody made a cockup on the rights-clearance front). The South Bank Show: Volume 1 (Ken Russell) will include several local-interest docus, on Vaughan Williams, Bruckner, Bax, and the 2002 Elgar (sadly, no sign of Clouds Of Glory), as well as a couple that are film portraits of Ken himself, which should cover his local links.


Books
KR is the author of a 1989 memoir, reissued by Southbank in an updated edition in 2008, A British Picture: An Autobiography [note: not illustrated]. His Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell (1992) is the US edition of the 1989 version, named after his first US film. He also wrote several film textbooks. His 1993 Fire Over England: British Cinema Comes Under Friendly Fire is a critical history and analysis. The Lion Roars: Ken Russell On Film, 1994, covers similar ground. His Directing Film: The Director’s Art from Script to Cutting Room (2001), which seems to be an illustrated-edition redo of his earlier Directing: From Pitch To Premiere, is aimed at film students.
He also wrote half a dozen self-published novels. Most of the latter are about the sex lives of famous artists, as their titles make clear: Brahms Gets Laid, Beethoven Confidential, Elgar: The Erotic Variations, and Delius, A Moment With Venus. They are based on the research he did for his 60s drama-docus, with the books themselves appearing on Amazon UK in back-to-back pairs of eBooks (issued in 2007). There was also a 1999 SF novel, Mike And Gaby’s Space Gospel, in paperback and ebook, about aliens using religion to engineer the human race, and a 2005 futuristic dystopian thriller, Violation, about a soccer-obsessed future Britain, considered too controversial to be commercially publishable but issued as a Kindle eBook.
He is the subject of several biographical/critical studies by others: John Baxter’s 1973 biography An Appalling Talent; Thomas R Atkins’s 1976 Ken Russell; Joseph Gomez’s 1976 Ken Russell: The Adaptor As Creator; Gene D. Phillips’s 1979 Ken Russell; Ken Hanke’s 1984 Ken Russell’s Films; Joseph Lanza’s 2007 Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell And His Films; and Kevin M. Flanagan’s illustrated 2009 Re-Viewing England’s Last Mannerist. When someone famous dies, a new biography often appears, and the first of five volumes of biography by Paul Sutton will appear this autumn.


KR Onscreen Appearances
KR was one of those filmmakers who like Hitchcock also appeared on-screen, usually as himself. The IMDB lists 58 appearances as himself. As well as appearing as a presenter in many of his arts documentaries like his 1984 Vaughan Williams – A Symphonic Portrait, KR did Hitchcock-style uncredited cameos or played bit parts in many of his own feature films (such as Hollywood director Rex Ingram in Valentino, when the actor hired refused to climb a crane for the shot). He also played the title role in one of his composer biopics, The Secret Life of Arnold Bax, saying he and the composer looked a bit alike and he was the same age as Bax then was. He also appeared as a character actor in others’ productions to raise cash for his own projects. The last of these seems to have been the 2006 portmanteau tales-within-a-tale horror film Trapped Ashes, where KR appears in a segment he directed, "The Girl With The Golden Breasts."
Ken as Crowley in Bravetart
Ken as Aleister Crowley in Bravetart vs. The Loch Ness Monster.

Perhaps his most seen and discussed appearances were as himself in two TV live programmes. First, in 1971 he attacked his nemesis the newspaper critic Alexander Walker during a live BBC interview, hitting him over the head repeatedly with a rolled-up newspaper, when AW criticized KR’s The Devils as without merit. Second was his appearance in 2007 on Celebrity Big Brother, where he introduced himself as “an old English film maker.” Needing money after losing his home to fire, he agree to appear on the reality show, then walked off, saying fellow guests Jade Goody and her mother and boyfriend were so relentlessly loud and depressingly ignorant he had to leave for the sake of his own sanity, saying “I don’t want to live in a society riddled with evil and hatred.”
His final screen appearance will probably be in the not yet released Invasion Of The Not Quite Dead ("Not quite dead" seems a not inappropriate label for KR). This is a spoof $2-million zombie-horror feature written and directed by Tony Lane for a new British film collective, Indywood Films, set on an “island off the coast of England” and filmed in Wales, an offshoot of his work as visiting lecturer at The International Film School Of Wales. His basic message to students was said to be: always do things on your own terms.


 

Postscript
His body was taken to the local undertaker in Brockenhurst from whom Russell had borrowed a coffin as a prop for Bravetart vs. The Loch Ness Monster. Survived by 3 wives (Shirley died in 2002) and 8 children from 3 marriages (5+2+1), he left his £800K estate to Elise. According to Elise, Ken had said he wanted a Viking funeral, “leaving the world in a blazing pagan longship.”
But regulations did not permit it, any more than they would a funeral pyre on the beach, like that of Shelley, about whom he made his 1986 feature Gothic. Reportedly, his funeral was a “simple affair” at Bournemouth crematorium. But are we missing something here? His will specified he wished to be 'buried at sea off the Needles’ off Wight, where sea burials are allowed. Scattering ashes at sea is also allowed; it’s said that in 1945 H.G. Wells’s ashes were scattered off Old Harry Rocks at the western end of the same bay.


One source of inspiration for KR’s wish for a funeral pyre may have been Shelley, whose funeral he filmed for his 1986 Shelley-Byron biopic psychodrama Gothic.
Gothic
Gothic - pyre
Though not set locally, the two main characters are ‘Frankenstein’ author Mary Shelley and her poet husband poet Percy Shelley, whose family tomb sits at the heart of Bournemouth, in St Peter’s churchyard. Here, we can look at the film as a sort of prequel to the family tomb and shrine being placed at the heart of the town. The poet’s heart, said to have been snatched from the funeral pyre, was kept for years at Shelley Manor in Boscombe in a casket in an alcove lit by a symbolic flame, before being interred, along with the bones of Mary Shelley’s ‘free-thinker’ parents William Godwin (author of Political Justice) and Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women), in the family tomb at St Peter’s Bournemouth. The Shelley Memorial, a marble tableau sculpture of the drowned poet sits in a corner of Christchurch Priory [inside, turn right and face right]. (St Peter’s had refused to have it, on the grounds the atheistic Shelley was an unsuitable figure for a shrine.)

 

 
Wiltshire's Larmer Tree Gardens in The Debussy Film. Behind the actors [Oliver Reed, Annette Robertson and Vladek Sheybal], you can see the Gardens’ proscenium stage. (KR: “My real breakthrough, I suppose, was The Debussy Film. I made it clear that it wasn’t a biography of Debussy but was about a film company making a film about Debussy. So actors were involved, and were identified as such. So, it wasn’t merely somebody like Oliver Reed pretending to be Debussy, it was Oliver Reed acting the part of an actor acting the part of Debussy. This conceit allowed me to interpret, or ‘conduct’ the subject of Debussy.”)

 

 Jennie Linden and Alan Bates in Women In Love
A Ken Russell trademark was to have protagonists roaming the woods, scantily clad or naked, to express their innate desire to be free from convention. This was not simply inspired by filming DH Lawrence works, where as much of the nudity is indoors as outdoors, but evidently by 19th-C nature verse, where Man recovers his senses by getting in direct touch with Nature. In his autobiography, KR says that when he became a lapsed Catholic while making The Devils, he found inspiration in Wordsworth’s poetry.

Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers
For The Music Lovers, 1970, the New Forest doubled as Russia, and a Wilton House interior was used for patroness Madame von Meck's house, while another local scene, shot at Larmer Tree Gardens (doubling as a St Petersburg park), can be seen in stills, but seems to have been cut from some prints. Woodland and other nature backgrounds were important to the film, as the poster below shows.

music lovers poster

 


A favourite KR theme was the conflict between talent and authority; KR had converted to Catholicism as a young adult but was what has been described as a 'conflicted Catholic'. Later he turned to the sort of animist nature worship that inspired the Romantic poets like Wordsworth. His much censored 1970 The Devils was his notable attack on the misuse of authority by the church itself, but other films, like Tommy, deal with the misuse of other types of authority, causing the destruction of the innocent. Savage Messiah focused on this throughout, with the precocious sculptor the most unrelentingly outspoken of his protagonists.
Helen Mirren as nude model Gosh Boyle, and Gaudier's sketch


Savage Messiah, 1972: Helen Mirren as nude model Gosh Boyle, and Gaudier's sketch. (Hover mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)

Portland in Savage Messiah
Modernist French sculptor Henri Gaudier and his partner Sophie Brzeska visit a Portland quarry. Below, a pair of screengrabs from the Portland scene: Henri climbs atop a pile of cut stone blocks to shout an incantation to 'father' Sun while Sophie does an impromptu dance by the workmen's hut they retreat to. (Mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)

Portland scene in Savage Messiah


Nureyev as Valentino, with Michelle Phillips as Natasha Rambova at Russell-Cotes Museum
Valentino, 1977: The ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as doomed silent star Rudolph Valentino, with Michelle Phillips as Natasha Rambova, in one of several scenes shot at Bournemouth's Russell-Cotes Museum, which portrays the star's Hollywood home among other settings. His driveway, pictured below, is actually the clifftop one leading past St Anne's psychiatric hospital in Poole.

Below: the cinema where women swoon at Valentino's screen presence was actually the Grand Cinema in Westbourne, Bournemouth (now a bingo hall).


 
The hills above Lulworth and Bovington heath doubled as the Delectable Mountains for KR’s Vaughan Williams docu.



Joely Richardson as Lady C in the gamekeeper's forest hut in KRs' 1993 BBC serial Lady Chatterley.


 Mrs Kirsch's fertility dance on a [fake] Cerne Giant
The Insatiable Mrs Kirsch: the title protagonist's fertility dance on a replica of Dorset's Cerne Giant, which KR had painted on a Purbeck hillside. (Hover mouse over photo to see 2nd image.)

 
   Rhinefield Hotel
The Rhinefield Hotel, New Forest, used in The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner. Below, the composer finds healing inspiration in the sanitarium by using his nurse as a life model.
The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner

The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner

Highcliffe Castle
Highcliffe Castle: KR said in 1993 in a press series called My Favourite Bit of Britain that his own favourite bit was Highcliffe, which he used several times as a location and where he married his 3rd wife Hetty Baynes. This was despite his childhood girlfriend being killed there by a British landmine soon after the beach and approaches were mined during the 1940 invasion scare.
Hetty Baynes in The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax
KR's 3rd wife, dancer Hetty Baynes, plays seaside muse on Highcliffe Beach in KR's 1992 The Secret Life Of Arnold Bax, with Bax played by KR.

 
Elgar: Fantasy Of A Composer On A Bicycle, 2002, filmed partly on the Isle of Wight.

 

3rd wife Hetty Baynes 
KR's 3rd wife Hetty Baynes, above as Mrs Kirsch, and below with Joely Richardson in Lady Chatterley



 
 


KR on The New Forest: 'Perhaps I should have moved to America. If I had I'm sure I would have done better. If you're on the end of a telephone to them it's as if you're on Mars; if you're there beside them, they believe in you. But I wanted to keep living here. I love the New Forest. It's steeped in folk memory. You never feel lonely.'


Bravetart vs. The Loch Ness Monster  
Ken, 4th wife Elize, and 2 other Gorsewood troupers in their joke-shop outfits posing for a publicity still for the 2009 Bravetart vs. The Loch Ness Monster. Below, the confrontation with the hybrid monster.


Mid-Decade Ups & Downs
Ken’s defiant refusal to go quietly into the night as he hit retirement age put him in the news and after we began this blog in 2005, he featured several times, with more or less the same theme, that while he was in the wilderness as far as the critics and money men were concerned, he was determined to fight a guerrilla campaign from his New Forest base. Below are the original items.


Never Give Up Till The Fight Is Done [2005 item]
As a director, Ken Russell’s career arc has gone from making independent films in his garage to being the BBC’s most lyrical documentary maker, to becoming a maverick in the Hollywood studio system.
Southampton-born veteran maverick film-maker Ken Russell, 78, who had filmed in the area since the 60s, was in the news because of his refusal to accept the end of his career after winning a lifetime-achievement award in Istanbul. He was seen in BBC One's Ken Russell - A Picture of The South [June], where he revisited locations he had used across the region, from Larmer Tree to Portsmouth to Wight, and was interviewed at his New Forest home, where he lives with his 4th wife (whom he met via the internet). He told how he had been unable to get his scripts produced and been reduced to shooting films using a hand-held digital camera, such as his straight-to-DVD The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher. The title, which is not a misprint, offered a clue as to why he can’t get commercial backing, the clips of this and other recent works showing that he had become a self-caricature of his earlier enfant terrible persona, now doing schoolboy sendups of his distinguished earlier arts-documentary work, from which clips were also shown.

British Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style [2006 item]
Speaking of great lumps of lust (I don't think he'd actually mind Barbara Cartland's description), Ken Russell has been back in the news. With last year's BBC "at home" documentary, Russell finally seemed to be at the end of his career. He complained he was now forced to work like a student filmmaker, making jokey films in his garage, and had evidently become a self-caricature of the sex-mad enfant-terrible auteur he once was. But two recent stories indicate our 2005 report of his career demise may be premature.
First, there was an item [Jan 28] about how he was solving the problem that nobody would show or release his films. A Guardian story has him proclaiming that the 'future of film is on the net' - specifically online distribution of DVDs. The story says he is working, from his New Forest home, on several such projects, including his farcical shot-on-video featurette Brave Tart Versus the Loch Ness Monster, of which we saw excerpts last summer in the BBC1 documentary. The Ken Russell Enterprises website advertises two titles in his 'Mini Masterpiece Series on DVD - Revenge of The Elephant Man and The Murder of Mata Hari as 'Coming Shortly.'
Now, a feature in The Independent [15-3-06] describes how, after 3 divorces and 5-8 children (accounts vary), the 78-year-old director has a new lease on life. This has happened since marrying 52-year-old folk-singer and actress Elize Tribble - a lifelong American fan with whom he was reunited from years before, following publicity deriving from his placing a lonely-hearts SWM-seeks-music-loving-mate ad on the Web. Elize, alias Lisi, now stars in his locally-made films, recently playing Brave Tart to his Loch Ness Monster.
This sort of interview-based feature is usually done by arrangement as PR for an upcoming book or film project, and Russell seems to have several of both coming up. He has just directed an 'erotic horror movie,' The Girl With The Golden Breasts, in Canada, to be shown at Cannes, and is to direct Pearl Of The Orient, a fact-based WWII-escape story set in the Philippines, co-starring Elize as a preacher's Filipino wife fleeing the Japanese invasion. (No sign of these on the IMDB site but his IMDB page does list several other projects in pre-production: Charged-The Life of Nikola Tesla, Kings X, and the Canadian project Trapped Ashes.)
He also has a set of books (e-books?) to be sold online via The KR Enterprises website, on the sex lives of his favourite composers: Elgar-The Erotic Variations, Delius-A Moment With Venus, and Brahms Gets Laid. He is also self-publishing, via Authorhouse, a novel called Violation-A Scary Novel Of The Future, a futuristic and perhaps 'pornographic' Orwellian satire set in 2030s Britain where football is used by the authorities as the national religion to control the masses, and the Isle of Wight is a penal colony. The legendary bad boy of British cinema has evidently decided not to go quietly into the night.

Ken Russell - Altered Fates [2006 item; the blog-post title is a pun on the alternate US title of KR’s memoir, itself taken from his first US film Altered States]
The New Forest's resident veteran filmmaker Ken Russell back in the headlines after a life-changing event.
After appearing all washed up last year and then bouncing back, New Forest's resident veteran filmmaker Ken Russell was back in the headlines in April, making the front page of the Bournemouth Echo [4-4-06] after the nationals picked up the story of the fire that destroyed his 17C thatched cob cottage at East Boldre. As a press story, it certainly had enough to make an instant human-interest feature, and there was follow-on coverage (most recently a Daily Mail interview-based feature, 13-4-06). There was the tragic loss of not only home but the only copies of handwritten manuscripts, and the possibility of a link (since dismissed) to the recent series of arson fires in the New Forest.
There was the fact each thought the other dead, with Ken returning from the village to find the cottage ablaze and trying to break into the upstairs floor to save his wife, who in fact was out in the garden naked, having fled her bath. (KR said he wished he'd had his camera.) There was his rescue attempt proving to her she really loved him (since, she said, he was normally a bit of a coward). The cottage was 'gutted' and so were KR and wife, emotionally, but they still had each other. There was also the back-story of how the director of Altered States met his current wife. (She was a long-time fan he met while filming in the USA, and they were reunited when he advertised in 2000 for a soul-mate via his fan website, after his previous wife, actress Hetty Baines, left him.) And though they were left with nothing (not even car keys or passports) except each other, they were going to carry on regardless.
However he had lost the only copies of over 80 handwritten manuscripts including unproduced scripts, and the MSS for the already-announced book versions of his DVD documentaries on the sex lives of famous composers (Delius: A Moment With Venus, Brahms Gets Laid, and Elgar: The Erotic Variations). (No word on the survival of other half-completed projects, such as the trilogy Hotpants - "sexy shorts" - the website promoting his projects came down. (Update: It's now back again, and no projects seem to have gone, with an online shop to sell the [e-]books listed as "coming soon.") The stories ended with their mutual declarations of undying love, and a public-safety message from the fire chief that there might have been a fatality if they hadn't had smoke alarms fitted. (The blaze took 60 fire-fighters 6 hours to put out.) As a capper, the story noted KR's latest film is called Trapped Ashes.
Update: Ken's website is back up, and he is soon to be back onscreen, appearing as a mental patient who thinks he's Stanley Kubrick in the upcoming Kubrick-impostor biopic Colour Me Kubrick. And as a director he is not forgotten. Among The Da Vinci Code's many negative comments were several saying it would have been better if it had been directed by the man who gave us Altered States and The Devils (not to mention Billion Dollar Brain).(Cf Cosmo Landesman in The Sunday Times: "I kept thinking how great it would have been if an inspired loony like Ken Russell had been making this film.")

[from 2007 item, a 2006 year-end roundup]
… One example of this turnaround was veteran filmmaker Ken Russell, whose career had seemed the previous year to be over. He then seemed to bounce back with various new projects (“British Cinema's Bad Boy Carries On, Student Filmmaker-Style”). He was back in the headlines again after his New Forest cottage burnt down with all his possessions, vowing to carry on anyway with his new wife and acting partner (“Ken Russell - Altered Fates”). In December he resurfaced on BBC One's Imagine, on the future of the Web, seen shooting on digital video a Bronte arts-documentary video for showing on Google’s new YouTube site, saying it was better than wasting your time talking to dozens of money men. He had previously enthused about the web as a means to distribute independent films, and had already begun to offer DVDs of his completed recent works for sale online. At time of writing, he had just joined Channel 4's current Big Brother household team, at age 79.

 

 

 

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