April 29, 2011

"Why portray the king as a cross-dressing homosexual who shoots Protestants dressed as birds in his royal park for fun?"

"Because that's exactly as I saw him," answers Ken Russell, looking back 40 years at his truly outrageous film "The Devils."
Russell's film was adapted from Aldous Huxley's 1952 non-fiction novel The Devils of Loudon, as well as John Whiting's follow-up 1960 play The Devils. They were all inspired by the notorious case of supposed demonic possession in 17th-century France, in which a charismatic Catholic priest, Urbain Grandier, was accused of bewitching nuns. The accusation was trumped up by Richelieu as an excuse to destroy a Protestant stronghold....

Russell mentions he was inspired by one particular line in Huxley's book. "The exorcism of sister Jeanne," wrote Huxley, "was equivalent to rape in a public lavatory." Hence the film's vision of Loudon as a pristine, white-stone city and the convent as clad in white tiles.... Russell recalls the film's final shot: "The girl goes up the hill of broken bricks." The girl (Grandier's recently widowed wife) walks over Loudun's ruins into a landscape in which the only objects are posts topped by carriage wheels, on which Protestant corpses turn in the wind. "Polanski is said to have been inspired by that shot for the last scene of The Pianist," [says Russell's wife  Lisi Tribble].

Russell then suggests The Devils is a religious film that takes inspiration from his own Catholic faith. "It's about the degradation of religious principles," he says. "And about a sinner who becomes a saint."
I had a list of my 5 favorite films that remained the same 5 films for quite a few years, and "The Devils" on the list. What was the rest of the list? Can I remember? "Aguirre the Wrath of God," "My Dinner With Andre," "Mahler," and "It's a Gift." I have had the same 11 films on my Blogger profile list for a long time, maybe going all the way back to 2004. 3 of my old 5 favorites are still on the list. The 2 that are not are Ken Russell films. Ken Russell was really important back in the 1970s and 80s, and I've forgotten about him in the last 20 years. I wonder what sort of impression "The Devils" would make on me now. Or "Mahler." Or all those other fabulous Ken Russell movies we submerged ourselves in, in the isolation chamber of the movie theater.

19 comments:

Sixty Grit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

It is difficult to describe Herzog's films in a way which would entice the novitiate to go out of his or her way to see them.
"They are about nominally normal people following insane dreams to their doom because that is what normal people do".
They are wonderful movies, though.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Gosh do I miss big theaters and that immersive experience. And I agree about Herzog - they're great the next morning!

Mary said...
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E.M. Davis said...

One of these things is not like the other...


Hint: It's a Gift.

EDH said...

Hey, all I know is you have to support your team.

The Devils!

Andrea said...

I have not seen The Devils. I have seen the following Ken Russell movies: The Music Lovers, part of Mahler (couldn't take the whole thing), Altered States, Gothic, and The Lair of the White Worm. My opinion? Well, he certainly doesn't fit the image of stuffy British anything. In fact, no British person I've ever met, or whose works I've ever seen, read, or listened to, fit that stereotype, so I wonder where it came from.

William said...

I saw some of Ken Russell's movies for the prurient interest. Naked women were a relative rarity back then. Tommy is his only movie that I can remember or would wish to see again.

The Crack Emcee said...

The Devils is awesome - one of my all-time favorites. That one movie will tell you everything you need to know about life and what to expect in adulthood.

If I had been paying more attention when I first saw it (I've seen it about 5 times) nothing my ex did, or anyone else in response, would've shocked me:

I would've just remembered they're all mad and moved on.

The picture is a triumph.

The Crack Emcee said...

I love that you call it "truly outrageous", and another critic called it "monstrously indecent" (ringing bells for me) while I just regard it as a slice-of-life and great art.

I'm beginning to think everybody's been sheltered beyond belief. Waaay more than I ever was, that's for sure.

Either that or you're all delusional.

Fred4Pres said...

I think Joe would like this film.

ampersand said...

What would people's 10 best film list include after a shot of sodium pentothal?

Expat(ish) said...

"My Dinner With Andre" - seriously?

I called B/S on that movie in, as best I recall, high school. My best friend thought it was the greatest film in the world, took every girl to see it at art houses though med school.

One day his lovely wife confessed that she thought it was terrible. He did a check among his friends and found we'd all felt the same way.

So, Ann, don't ask your friends about that movie.

-XC

Ann Althouse said...

"I love that you call it "truly outrageous", and another critic called it "monstrously indecent" (ringing bells for me) while I just regard it as a slice-of-life and great art."

"Truly outrageous" was intended to convey that a lot of people were really, truly outraged. It's "notorious," to use a word in the original article. The use of the word "just" in that sentence of yours is puzzling. Nothing but *those* 2 things: 1. slice of life and 2. great art. I buy great art. (As for slice of life, that's some hell of a life!) But why "just" those things?

Ann Althouse said...

"So, Ann, don't ask your friends about that movie."

They're not my friends.

richard mcenroe said...

"Well, I've got a new set of friends now..." Peter Schickele aka PDQ Bach

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann,

The use of the word "just" in that sentence of yours is puzzling. Nothing but *those* 2 things: 1. slice of life and 2. great art. I buy great art. (As for slice of life, that's some hell of a life!) But why "just" those things?

I have had one hell of a life - my stories blow people away, and blow away most of the stories I hear, except since entering NewAgeLand.

Why "just" those two things? Because it's not much more than that:

It conveys the lunacy of delusional thinking - it even takes place in France! - but tells the story pretty straight ahead.

There's no take-offs into flights of fancy, or ostentatious displays of Russell's genius, as you might get in a Woody Allen film, but just a well-told, straight ahead, clear-eyed view of ordinary madness, and the cruelty that flows from it. Grandier was a modern man, trapped amongst those stuck in their time, but even he (like they) was just looking for an excuse to do shit - usually involving sex. (His reaction to the words "I'm pregnant" gives the game away - there are no heroes in this story.) This is the world my wife introduced me to, and that I'm trying to adjust to living in, and nothing more:

A vision of Hell, with the demons calling themselves "spiritual".

Jose_K said...

Confessions of a whore, staring his own sister.
Fitzcaraldo is the only Herzog film that i was able to finish.
The trasvesti and bisexual,Henry the third , who was great warrior and a good hunter, was able to survive been hunted by the Vatican could have been the responsible for Saint Bartholmeus massacre( even if he called himself the little hugonote). Only that he lived well before the time of Richelieu. Still is the image in the movie

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