Ken Russell passed away last weekend after a series of strokes at age 84. Many of you might remember him as Kurt Russell’s dad.
Nah, on the reals, the guy was a pretty amazing director, though you could be forgiven for having never heard of his stuff. He was a pretty hot property back in your parents’ day. His later career was marked by films shot on video at his house starring himself. Sadly, we are not even kidding. If you’re unacquainted with this British auteur of high weirdness, we’re going to be kind enough to introduce you to some of his work. Here are a few places to get started with the late, great Ken Russell.
This psychedelic classic almost came a little too late for Ken Russell. Still, the psychedelia of the film seems far more 70’s than the previous decade, which gave us the album. Ann-Margaret received a Golden Globe win and an Academy Award nomination for this film, which screened at Cannes, but was not part of the competition. Russell also wrote the script with Pete Townshend, mastermind of The Who. The list of stars in this film is unwieldy — Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret, supported by Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson and Tina Turner. The film is more than a little intense, visually speaking, and you’ll probably turn off your DVD player wondering if you just went on an acid trip.
Loosely based on the real story of John C. Lily (the dude who brought us the drug ecstasy), Altered States stars William Hurt as an academic exploring other states of consciousness. Throughout the course of the film, Edward Jessup (the Lily analogue) experiments with sensory deprivation chambers, Ayahuasca, Amanita muscaria and a mystery tincture that turns him into some sort of ape man. It’s widely considered one of Russell’s stand out moments, with the visual and story-telling elements all pitch perfect.
Salome’s Last Dance is based on some play you probably read and forgot in high school or in college. It’s about how a prostitute made the King of Judea behead John the Baptist… you know, the dude with the dreads who baptized Jesus. The film has all the classic Ken Russell tropes: Garish colors, bizarre costumes, overdramatic performances and high weirdness. Everyone in the film plays two different characters, and the “play” part of the film is bookended by a part with Oscar Wilde going to see it.
For those of you who like updated versions of ancient myths, there’s The Lair of the White Worm. Look for an embarrassingly young Hugh Grant as the Lord of the Manor where an ancient worm is wreaking havoc on the English countryside. This is one of those movies you probably used to see in the “Horror” section at Blockbuster Video when you were about eight, and wondered what the hell it was about. It turns out it’s not just the snake people have to worry about, but an insane cult dedicated to maintaining its worship in the modern age.
This was pretty much the last movie Russell made that anyone cared about. After this, he basically retired to England with his camcorder and made fan fiction.
Based on a script written by a London taxi driver, Russell intended this to be an answer to Pretty Woman, which he believed glorified prostitution. The movie didn’t do very well. Did you think some weird-ass movie called Whore that got an NC-17 rating would? It was retitled for family-friendly video stores as If You Can’t Say It… Just See It? This is kind of an awesome date movie, actually. It’s a hell of a lot better than Pretty Woman, which might actually be the worst film ever made.
Proof that true trolls know how to troll themselves, Ken Russell directed the video to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” We get that Screen Junkies is a hot den of snark and you’re loath to believe us, but we couldn’t be more straight with you than we’re being right now.