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Ken Russell: 1970s Hedonist

Ken Russell: 1970s Hedonist

07-30-10: Ken Russell discusses The Devils at the Walter Reade Theater.

On Friday, British director Ken Russell appeared at the opening night of Russellmania!, a Film Society of Lincoln Center retrospective of his work. Russell’s mild manner and dry humor sharply contrasted with the over-the-top style and celebration of physical pleasure that marked his classic work from the 1970s, including The Music Lovers, The Devils, The Boyfriend, Tommy, etc. His sly wit and attention to The Devils star Vanessa Redgrave (who was a surprise guest and participated in a duel Q&A) only hinted at the powerhouse he must have been at his peak. He continues to make movies, and is still, he said, a practicing Catholic. This is surprising as The Devils (among others) can be interpreted as critical of religion and revolves around an outspoken, womanizing priest, played by a charismatic Oliver Reed. In some ways the film seems amusingly dated, but it retains its power as an examination of the essence of faith. This and Derek Jarman’s production design, David Watkin’s cinematography, and the characters– including Redgrave as a lustful, humpback nun– make the film a must-see.

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