Ken Russell Critical Essays

Introduction

Ken Russell 1921–

British director, scriptwriter, and photographer.

Russell is known for his idiosyncratic biographies of artists in which he both sensationalizes and psychoanalyzes his subject. He is a controversial filmmaker, for some critics find his vivid, often grotesque, depictions of humanity drastically overdone. In Russell's best work, such as Song of Summer, he is innovative, depicting the creative struggles of an artist combined with a perceptive understanding of the artist's personal life. Less successful attempts, like Lisztomania, are daring technically but as character studies superficial, relying on graphic details and shock appeal to win an audience.

One of Russell's first attempts at filmmaking was the creation of a television series on composers for BBC. Many of his stories such as those of Isadora Duncan and Richard Strauss, both awed and appalled audiences. As Russell continued making the films in the BBC series, each one became increasingly involved in the subject's psychological development.

His first full-length films were unsuccessful, until his adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love established him as a film director. Later films, including the controversial The Devils, developed his increasing interest in decadence, perversion, cruelty, sexual repression, and sexual inadequacy. Russell's exaggerated, voyeuristic style is unique, owing creative inspiration to no previous directorial influence. Though a few of his films have received critical acclaim, Russell's talent is generally considered obscured by his taste for the outrageous. When Russell was asked why he wanted to shock people, he replied, "I want to make people extraordinary. Because the more people realize they're extraordinary, the better they are. Really, I want everyone to freak out."