Tag Archives: Ken Russell

The Music Lovers (1971)

music lovers 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madness has no bounds.

This is a revealing look at Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and based on his own personal correspondences as he fought his homosexual tendencies by marrying Nina (Glenda Jackson) a woman he really did not love. Her nymphomania becomes something he cannot satisfy and he eventually abandons her where they then both go on to suffer their own personal forms of madness.

Pianists and composers were like what rock stars are today and I liked how director Ken Russell handles the concert sequence by infusing in the thoughts of the people as they listen to the music and therefore allowing the viewer to visualize the experience of a concert goer.

The scenes with Nina in the asylum are a good example of the grotesque imagery, but they are also well orchestrated and quite memorable. However at times it also gets overdone and unintentionally comical especially the sequence involving Chamberlain’s ill-fated attempt at lovemaking to Jackson on a shadowy, bouncing train car.

Russell shows no feeling for the subject and seems more interested in using it only as an excuse to show off his flashy style. The viewer is never allowed to get emotionally attached to the characters as we are only given a fragment of what these people were like and never the whole picture. The emphasis seems exclusively on their dark and self-destructive sides and watching their descent into madness is not very inspiring or insightful.

The casting of Chamberlain was a poor choice as the guy seems to have a very limited acting range. He is good looking, but lacks the charisma and his facial expressions rarely change while he shifts badly from underplaying the part to overplaying it.

Jackson fares far better and this could be considered a real find for her fans because she plays a type of character that she has never done before, or since. Usually she plays strong willed people, but here her character is weak allows herself to be dominated and exploited shamelessly even by her own mother while also taking part in a very provocative nude scene.

Overall if you like Russell’s style then you will enjoy it more than others. Otherwise it comes off as shallow, moody, and fragmented with some real slow spots during the middle half.

music lovers 2

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 24, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Crimes of Passion (1984)

crimes of passion

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Moonlighting as a hooker.

Bobby (John Laughlin) is suffering from marital problems at home while also having trouble keeping up with his kid’s expenses, so he looks for a part-time job and gets hired by Lou Bateman (Norman Burton) an owner of a fashion clothing studio to work as a private investigator by following around one of his designer’s named Joanna (Kathleen Turner) who he is convinced is selling his patents to a competitor. What Bobby finds instead is that Joanna is actually working as a hooker in the seedy red light district and using the name of China Blue, which gets Bobby more infatuated with her. Soon they are locked into a passionate affair, but unaware that China/Joanna is also being stalked by a crazy street preacher named Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins) who is suffering from demons of his own while also harboring strange ideas on how to ‘save her’.

The film, which is directed by Ken Russell who can sometimes be brilliant and other times horribly self-indulgent, is annoying from the beginning. The recreation of a therapy group is wooden and artificial and the sex scenes are over-the-top with characters that are one-dimensional and poorly fleshed out. The gaudy color schemes and flashing lights used to recreate the seedy hotel look quickly become repetitive and irritating. It’s hard to tell whether Russell is trying to be serious or campy, but it’s a mad mixture that ends up being a pointless mess. Rick Wakeman’s obnoxious electronic music score and the cliché ridden Psycho-like finale simply add insult to injury.

The script by Barry Sandler is shallow and filled with plot devices that make no sense. Rarely do prostitutes ever fall in love with one of their clients and many create a defense to keep that part of their lives separate from their personal one and vice-versa, so the fact that Joanna and Bobby get into a relationship so quickly and seamlessly while failing to explain why she would find Bobby so ‘special’ out of all the other men she had already had indiscriminate sex with makes this dumb movie even more absurd. It’s also hard to believe that Joanna would be such a great employee as she is described to be by her boss when she is going out every night having sex with strange men at all hours. I would think at some point she’d become exhausted and her productivity at her day job would be effected. I also thought it was a bit goofy why someone would hire Bobby as a private investigator to begin with when he had no experience in that area.

Annie Potts gives the film’s all-around best performance particularly during a strong scene involving her character in bed with Bobby and her roundabout way of admitting that he no longer satisfies her. Laughlin is okay, but bland and the segment where he dresses up as a giant penis having an erection is downright embarrassing. Perkins is fun as the flamboyantly weird reverend and I got a kick out of his singing as well as his bag full of sex toys, but in the end it’s just a bad rendition of Norman Bates that typecasts him while discrediting his earlier more serious efforts.

The scene where China visits an old man who has only a few months to live is the movie’s one and only interesting moment. Had there been more of a history shown to Joanna’s character and why this seemingly intelligent woman did what she did I might’ve have been able to get into it more instead of being completely bored with it. The sexual imagery was considered quite ‘shocking’ and explicit for 1984 standards, but now comes off as benign and hooky especially since one can find far more graphic stuff simply by casually surfing any one of the thousands of porn sites on the internet today.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

The Boy Friend (1971)

Boy Friend, The

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: An eye popping musical.

I would not call myself a big musical fan, but I found this one to be excellent and the gold standard for all others. The whole thing is visually stunning from beginning to end with a wide variety of backdrops and settings used. You get everything from conventional dance numbers to a fairy tale recreation where the performers dress like ladybugs and live in giant mushrooms. There is even a fun take-off on Greek mythology done in a scenic forest setting.

The best segment has the dancers on not one but two giant record players shown side-by-side and from overhead. The performers dance on top of the huge turntables while as a group make unique symmetrical designs with their bodies. Another part has them on a gigantic playing card, which reminded me of an old Busby Berkley number and who has always been considered the godfather of splashy dance numbers and yet here it seems to outdo even him.

The film carries itself on the visual level alone with a story that can be best described as a standard musical plot. It involves a group of underpaid actors who put on a tacky musical for a small group of people. The film than interweaves between the low budget numbers, which are all still really good, and their fantasies of what things would look like if they had more money. Twiggy plays the shy awkward crew hand that comes on as the star when the leading lady breaks her leg.

Sure it is at times predictable, corny, and lightweight but it makes up for it with a really good sense of humor. The songs all sound great and the dance routines are certainly extravagant. Twiggy may never score as a great actress, but she hits the mark here. She has a cute bob haircut and a constantly perplexed expression that is really amusing. All the other characters have funny idiosyncrasies as well including Glenda Jackson as the injured leading lady who comes back and is none too happy to see how successful her replacement is.

Ken Russell has immense talent and is sadly one of the most unheralded directors around. Some of his films have been considered excessive and nonsensical, but that is not the case here as his visual flair and indulgence work to enhance the production including his use of primary colors in every shot.

This is a highly recommended visual delight that is impressive even by today’s standards and fun to watch for every member of the household.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 17Minutes

Rated G

Director: Ken Russell

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video