by Marilyn Ferdinand
Note: This review of ‘The Devils’ first appeared at Ferdy-on-Films in June of 2009, and is offered up here by the author as a contribution in Ken Russell’s remembrance at the sad time of his passing.
Necessarily graphic or exploitative trash? Blasphemous or truthful? All the fuss that has accompanied Antichrist, the pas du tout-est of the pas du touts at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, put me in mind of another film that raised hackles so high that it was released only after heavy censoring and nonetheless still was banned in many places. I’m talking, of course, about The Devils, Ken Russell’s account of events that took place in Loudon, France, in the 17th century that marked the end of independent city-states and the beginning of a united France under royal rule.
Ken Russell is the most operatic of film directors, and with the The Devils, he made his most impassioned statement about power, corruption, human degradation, and the possibility of redemption to date—indeed, it’s hard to think of another film that matches the sheer ferocity of its vision. I’ve seen the film maybe four times, and it never gets easier. This latest viewing was the hardest by far because it included a number of banned scenes I’d never seen before, including the infamous “Rape of Christ” sequence. Russell and all supporters of the film who saw it—including a Catholic priest who sat on the Legion of Decency board in the United States and saw it prerelease—consider this scene to be the very heart of the film, and so it is a welcome inclusion indeed.
After many fruitless searches, a canister of film showed up in England that contained this and several other deleted scenes. Eurocult issued a cheaply produced, muddy DVD of the film in 2007 that includes this footage but does nothing to restore the sharpness and vibrant colors created by DP David Watkin and the textures of the famous Derek Jarman set. Until this deficit can be corrected, this DVD stands as must-see viewing for cinephiles, in general, and Russell fans, in particular. (more…)