Filmmaker Ken Russell has died. I have never seen a Ken Russell film (weird, true), so I don't really know what we lost today. But Stranger film intern Amy Scott is a fan and today she is sad and when I asked her to explain why this is what she wrote.
The first Ken Russell film I saw and fell in love with was Altered States (1980), which is apparently his only science-fiction film, which I later found out almost everyone hates. The film stars a really young William Hurt as a doctor trying to re-experience “the first human thought,” and through a series of drug-induced hallucinations and sensory-deprivation experiments, his body physically de-evolves and he actually turns into an Ape-man; holy shit, it’s cool! Quasi-religious sexual imagery gets me every time, and this movie combines the two beautifully, with insane hallucinations about the book of Revelations. The film felt like a modernized surrealist film from the heyday of Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel: all about the visuals, but the story didn’t totally suck, either. He also does camp, and kink extraordinarily well, somehow universalizing it and making it look pretty (a young Hugh Grant stars in Lair of the White Worm). It was my dream to meet him and sit-in on one of his classes at Newport Film School in Wales, and like so many other dreams, this one will never materialize. I’m at least happy he’ll finally get his 1971 film The Devils (featuring Vanessa Redgrave) released in Britain for this first time next March (minus the rape of Christ scene, unfortunately).
And here's a fun fact from the NYT obit:
[H]e managed one final provocation with “Whore” (1991). A drama about a Los Angeles prostitute, it was the last of his films to get a theatrical release in the United States, where it received an NC-17 rating and was released on video under the alternate title “If You Can’t Say It, Just See It.”
RIP Ken Russell.