Archive for July 3rd, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

Ken Russell did many crazy movies during his career, with The Devils often cited as his most insane work, and that is hard to argue. Unless one has seen this film, which is impossible to find in an un-bowdlerized edition-as the only available copies are not properly color timed and still have time stamps on them-which makes properly assessing this somewhat difficult. Telling the story of Richard Strauss, the film was part of a BBC series of programs, directed by Russell, in which he tackled major figures from classical music. His final film for the BBC, and for television, this film can be seen as a bold “fuck you and goodbye forever” from its director.

In this one, Russell upends the music of Strauss-here made caricature by a director who despised him- and explores themes that today might be considered offensive to sensitive types on the bullying right, particularly their Swastika wearing idols, but such was the bravery and openness with which Russell approached this material. There have been surrealists and absurdists in film. They have sometimes gone together but rarely have the two approaches combined so well as here. Scenes of nuns flogging themselves give way, eventually, to dancing Brownshirts, and Nazi Officers, including Goebbels giving a piggyback ride to a violinist who looks suspiciously like Hitler, during a playful sequence that appears to be set at Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden. This is not a deep portrait in terms of making its character someone you know intimately, unless you consider knowing what Russel thought of him, and how history has judged his, as being deep or intimate.

Instead, what we receive as viewers is an impression of Strauss, as hollow yet potent metaphor, for a failed view of the world and philosophy of control. In this film, Strauss kills his critics with his music, plays his music ever more loudly to drown out his ignorance and culpability in the rise of Nazism, and, most importantly, is credited as co-writer on the film. This is testament to how Russell used the journals, letters and interviews with Strauss in order to indict him. Every word, then, is essentially true, and straight from the source. That the film is presented as a fevered nightmare is part of its charm. (more…)

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