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‘- "If" KEN RUSSELL Ken Russell talks about Gothic monstrosities to Allan Hunter.
Controversy and Ken Russell have been familiar bedfellows throughout the vicissitudes ofthe enfant (sic) terrible's quarter ofa century cinema career. Since the 1985 release ofhis uproariously black satire (‘rirnes of Passion. his reputation has undergone a modest. homegrown renaissance. Russell. sixty this year. will soon quash any thought that he may be mellowing with age when an unsuspecting public is subjected to his latest opus (iothic. A delirious dramatisation of the laudanum-inspired evening in 1816 that resulted in the writing of Frankenstein and The Vampire. the film is guaranteed to re-open arguments over Russell's status as a unique cinema talent or a perpetual adolescent. forever wet dreaming in public.
Gothic is Russell‘s first British-made film in ten years and it is a ‘comeback' that he. at least. warmly welcomes. ‘For a long time after Valentino there wasn’t much work in Britain. there wasn‘t much work anywhere. Times have changed.‘ he commented to a recent Guardian Lecture audience in London. ‘Al Clark of Virgin Vision sent me a script which was something no one in Britain had ever done but. I was only fifty-nine after all. It was one ofonly two scripts I‘ve seen that read like a film and not a radio script; all the visuals were really up my street and I like doing films with pictures and sound. Ten years earlier Robert Powell had personally commissioned a script from the novel Single Summer about Lord Byron but it was never made. So. I was familiar with the characters and anyway everyone in England in the 19th century was on a permanent trip. Laudanum was something like a penny a gallon: Wordsworth was stoned out of his mind for fifty years. He said he took laudanum every time he had a cold: ‘I live in the Lake District and have a cold all the time!‘
Back in harness after a decade‘s absence Russell has noticed 'a new breed of technicians whose energy and keenness are revitalising the industry. The advent of the pop promo has helped because you have
“I j b. . j a certain amount of money to accomplish the task and that‘s it. There‘s a new generation ofcritics too. I sensed that the temperature was changing when some of the critics at the Edinburgh Festival came up and told me they actually liked ( 'rinies of Passion. I wondered what I‘d done wrong.‘
The British critics have traditionally been impervious to Russell's work and his most famous reaction has been to biff Alexander Walker over the head with a rolled-up copy of the London Evening Standard. ()ne suspects that he may need shares in a newsagent‘s when the reactions to (iothic appear in print but he seems resigned to the fact that. ‘film is not an indigenous English art. Idon’t think it'sjust me who's not appreciated. Michael Powell only received recognition at eighty so I‘ve got twenty years to go. I was one of the first paying public to see his Red Shoes and it was like no other English film: so romantic. so ironic. yet Rank and the critics buried it. I remember thinking Peeping Tom was amazing at the time and yet the critics wrote him off. Film is not natural to the environment here. it‘s just the nature of the beast. The Europeans have no trouble with my films. perhaps I should just have been called Russellinil'
(lot/tie opens at the (amen. Edinburgh on 6 March. See (‘inema Listings for details.
Stepping into new shoes. Lionel Blair talks to Nigel Billen.
When the unknown Tom Stoppard’s Rosenerant: and ( 1' uildenstern Are Dead first opened at the Edinburgh Festival in 1967 it was to small audiences and indifferent critical reaction. In short the play looked destined to oblivion. That was. however until a Sunday newspaper hailed it as the work of genius and it became the surprise hit of the Festival.
But destined to oblivion it nevertheless was. The ()blivion Boys to be precise. The pair ofalternative comedians are the latest to play the roles of the irritating pair ofcourt agents sent in Shakespeare’s play to discover what is making the young
Hamlet behave so strangely. This
new production. a touring version mounted by the Nottingham Playhouse and sponsored by Mobil Oil. is not without its surprise elements either. (Thief among these is the casting in the play‘s third main role. The Player. of (five Us A ('lue. shoe—shuffling Lionel Blair.
Blair is showbusiness‘ Mr
.. Professional. a hard working ‘fastest
in the trade‘ dancer and cabaret man who has done almost forty unstinting years of service in the name of light on his feet. light entertainment. During that time he has worn the mask of ‘Personality‘ without once letting it slip— ‘Don‘t knock it it‘s been good to us‘ his wife tells him. ()nce Blair became known as a dancer. apart from the extension in later years into choreography ("That just happened by accident too‘) and into personality appearances in television game shows. his career was set. ‘I got stuck . A lot ofactors have gone into musicals and everyone says how wonderful. When musical people go into drama they say “What! Oh no!". They think you‘re a puppet on a string‘. It has only been because of (iive Us A ('lue and hosting Name That Tune. Blair believes. that directors have accepted that he ‘can at least talk‘. In fact for his last role. playing along side Marti (.‘aine in Ayckbourn's Seasons Greetings he got some of the best reviews ofhis life. In the transition to acting. Blair hasn't found himself unacceptable to audiences as his current role has shown again; ‘lt's a wonderful part of course. I've been in comedies that
Lionel Blair with the Oblivion Boys.
have never had the laughs that this play's getting but it‘s not just the people who have come to see “Lionel Blair” that are laughing. I'm finding a whole new audience of students very into Stoppard who are loving it and don't seem a bit offended at me playing the part.‘ The production is directed by Peter Wilson who so skilfully eased Griff Rhys Jones from television light entertainment to drama. directing him in one of London‘s most memorable productions of ( 'harley 's Aunt and Blair is naturally pleased to have been able to be associated with such a prestigious production; ‘This is the life. IfI can keep doing plays like this. qualitystuff. I‘ll be very happy‘. Next is playing ’I‘ouchstone in As You Like It though Blair would also like to follow up his cameo appearance in Absolute Beginners with more film work — he has even said that he wouldn't mind a shot at being the villain in a Bond film. Since with the fixed grin and the hair he‘s always looked just a little like the evil ‘Joker' in Batman. perhaps this is not too had an idea. None of this is anything like as secure as his television work but Blair is willing to risk it. 'I‘ve got the best line in Rosencrant: and (1' uildenstern -“Life's a gamble with terrible odds. If it was a bet you wouldn‘t take it.” That just about sums it up. I don't want to to wait until I‘m Max Wall’s age to suddenly he discovered as a brilliant actor’. (Nigel Billen) l\’osen(‘rant: and (iuildenstern A re Dead is at Theatre Royal. ( ilasgow 9—14 March. See Theatre Listings.
Egg . ‘1
The List 6— 19 March 1