intuit: KEN RUSSELL ‘
At ()4 and after three decades of assaulting our senses. ever-controversial British film maker Ken Russell is still arousing the movie critic‘s equivalent of apoplexy with his latest rel ‘ase Whore. Trevor Johnston is at the ringside as our Ken takes on his
very vocal detractors.
GAME FOR A
he scene is a press conference for Ken Russell‘s new film. the none-too-bashfully titled Whore. and the lad himself is in trouble again. ‘lt’s watching the abuse of women in a cartoon style. All those primary colours. Two men beside me in the screening were laughing throughout.‘ hisses the ideologue in the corner. ‘They were laughing at the abuse of women in a cartoon fashion.‘ she glowers.
‘Well. I rather think they were laughing with embarrassment.‘ counters Ken. but the lady now has the bit between her teeth.
‘I thought it was soft porn. ()ne ofthe aspects of pornography is to take a subject like that and treat it in a comedic fashion.‘
(‘oming to the rescue. producer Dan lreland ( Russell‘s regular Americn collaborator) makes a strategic intervention. ‘l .ook. we filmed this movie on the streets. We portrayed that life. That‘s how it is. One of the nights we were shooting. someone staggered on to our set because they‘d just been stabbed. We portrayed that life.‘
The ideologue is not for turning liow'eyer. ‘l‘m not saying that's not how it is.‘ she explains. a tad frostily. ‘What I find offensiye is the basic approach of it. The primary colours.‘
By which point Kenneth is nearing exasperation. look. what is it you‘ye got I against primary colours'." f
Laughter begins to circulate round the i room. as the ruddy—faced film maker twirls his waxed moustache and brings the debate to a friyolous close. ‘You‘re hung up on i primary colours. I feel yery sorry for you. And anyway. is that a primary colour you‘ye I got on'.’ 'l‘hose trousers are rather bright . . .‘
In less rumbustious circumstances. the last time I talked to Ken Russell was back in
1985. w hen he‘d come to the lidinburgh liilm liestiyal with ('rimcs o/‘l’ussimr. a lurid and darkly comic expose of the American way ofsex. .\'ot that we chatted that much about the steamy exploits of Kathleen 'l‘urner and Anthony Perkins in his then-new moy ie. lnstead I learned to my surprise that the notable linglish decadent 'l‘homas de ()uincy. he w ho confessed to eating opium
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and the like. was actually buried in our fair capital. for Ken had just visited the graye. The juxtaposition seemed to say a lot about the latterday Russell career. At heart he‘s perhaps a man out of time. an old-fashioned English Romantic really. l lis best work. from Elgar. Delius and Wordsworth on teleyision to lawrence and Mahler for the big screen. resonates with a deeply-held faith in the genius ofthe artist. the freedom from repression in sexual release. and the beauty of the natural landscape. ’l‘hroughout the filmography. his
energetic. often oyerstated expressiyeness is
a yaliant attempt at freeing British cinema from the confines of grainy realism or starchy literariness.
Somewhere along the way though. the Romantic's zest for pushing back the boundaries ofconyentional morality managed to slide into an often puerile desire to shock at all costs. The excesses of 197 l is The Devils disturbingly hammer home the iniquities man has enacted on fellow man in the name of religion. but by the time we get to 1975‘s Lisztomum'u and Richard Wagner hosting Nazi rallies in Superman suits. the cartooniin outrage ofsuch incongruity comes across as plain silly.
Perhaps it‘s because he can’t cut it anymore as a serious film maker that Rttssell has become stuck in the gl'ooye oftired sensationalism exemplified by the likes of (jot/tic and .S'u/omc's' [.usl Dance. for the recent. yery sluggish Lawrence adaptation of The Rainbow certainly looked like the work of a director whose fires had gone out. Maybe he's jtist become too lazy to bother anymore. but the sheer tackiness of much of his ﬁlls material has done its maker little fayours. W'hile ('rl'mcs ofl’assion. for instance. did indeed haye worthwhile things to say about the masks we hide behind to Cope with our own darkest sexual desires. the dayglo packaging and determinedly throwaway wit proyed absolute anathema to those critics who‘ye been trashing Russell‘s often eminently trashable moyies for years.
We‘re about to go through pretty much the same process with ll’lzorc. Based on London cabdriyer-playw'right Dayid l lines' well-intentioned and thoroughly researched
monologue Hum/age. a detailed and moying emotional document oflife on the game. Russell could only finance the film by setting it in America with a name actress in the central role. llence it's Theresa Russell -- at times awkward as she directly addresses the
camera who in her own colourful idiom regales us with a sad chronicle of exploitation and degradation.
l’undamentally. the film is utterly on her side. with both her tyrannical pimp (intense newcomer Benjamin Mouton) and assorted measly tricks presenting especially loathsome examples of manhood. ()n the downside. there is one unforgiyeably prurient passage set in a gents‘ toilet that doesn‘t bear describing and provides further e\ idence for the prosecution that Russell is just a dirty old opportunist with an eye for the Video rental charts. Yet despite all that (and an adyertising campaign that reeks of the new'sagent's top shelf). ll'lzorc is neyer quite as offensiye as you might expect.
'l‘o depict female degradation and exploitation in order to make a point about a male-dominated society's treatment of women is potentially justifiable and therefore not in itself degrading or exploitatiye. L'nless that is. you’d care to ‘ argue that such images of women should be i deemed off limits. Or that using an elemeLJ