The programming of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s seven day, nine-film Ken Russell tribute, which begins on Friday, 7.30, with a showing of The Devils, is more than a bit curious. I’m very glad for the opportunity to finally see the long and extra-brazen British cut of The Devils and the chance to see, if I so choose, Russell conducting a q & a each and every day of the series, but the film selections are wanting if not perplexing.
The FCLS programmers have included two lesser Russell films — the garish Tommy (’75) and the mediocre Valentino (’77) — while omitting Altered States (’80), one of Russell’s daffiest and most verbose brilliant-nutter pics, and particularly Song of Summer, a 1968 portrait of the last years of composer Frederic Delius that Russell has called “the best film I have ever done.”
Russell is 83 and obviously deserving of a serious, full-on retrospective, but the omission of Song of Summer (as well as his other BBC films including Elgar, The Debussy Film, Always on Sunday and Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World) makes the FSLC tribute seem sketchy and middlebrow. Oliver Reed is quietly touching as Claude Debussy in The Debussy Film (’65), which I saw and quite liked on PBS in the mid ’70s. It was reportedly screened at the National Film Theatre in ’07; it’s a real shame that the FSLC is waving it off.
What could the rationale be for omitting Russell’s BBC work? Rights? Cost? It just doesn’t seem fitting that an esteemed org like the FSLC would tribute Russell with the same kind of greatest-hits approach as, say, a Turner Classic Movies retrospective hosted by Robert Osborne.
Sidenote: The version of The Devils being shown on Friday (as well as on Saturday, 7.31, Sunday, 8.1 and Thursday, 8.5) is the extra-unexpurgated UK version — the longest and most graphic ever assembled at 111 minutes. The US version (which Warner Home Video put on iTunes for roughly 48 hours before withdrawing it) runs either about 108 minutes, give or take. The 111-minute version includes two controversial scenes — a so-called “Rape of Christ” that involves some kind of frenzied orgy, and a bit near the end of the film in which Vanessa Redgrave ‘s Sister Jeanne masturbates with a charred bone from the remains of Oliver Reed‘s Father Grandier.