Many of you may be aware of the sad news of Ken Russell’s passing yesterday at the age of 84. The British director was a colourful figure who, throughout his long career (which began back in TV during the late 50’s) managed to shock, perturb and upset the establishment with his sometimes controversial perspective on sexuality and religion (his infamous 1971 historical drama The Devils represented the pinnacle of this, earning the kind of notoriety which would forever be associated with him and his subsequent work).
The word ‘cult’ is bandied around freely nowadays, but Russell’s work is truly deserving of that status. He brought a demented glee to his adaptation of The Who’s celebrated rock opera Tommy (pulling together a truly eclectic cast which included the likes of past collaborator Oliver Reed, Tina Turner, Elton John, Keith Moon and Jack Nicholson) and his 1980 twisted sci-fi yarn, Altered States (a rare excursion over the pond for the filmmaker) belongs to that list of celebrated psychedelic-inspired fantasy works like 2001 and Dark Star.
As the decades passed, the director found it increasingly harder to find funding for his eccentric vision, but Russell soldiered on, shooting stuff on video to help sate his creative appetite (he famously cropped up in a series of Celebrity Big Brother too, in which he humorously fought with and antagonised his fellow housemates).
Russell will be remembered primarily for his unconventional cinematic exploits, and even if some of his films didn’t quite succeed in living up to his twisted sensibility (the majority of his audience for the daft but trashy The Lair of the White Worm were made up of horny adolescent boys staying up past their bedtimes when it screened on Channel 4 during the late 80’s) the director should be praised for bringing a uniqueness to an industry which is increasingly failing to recognise and respond to figures like him.