Ken Russell Judith Crist - Essay

Judith Crist

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The cinematic synthesis of Ken Russell and the Who's Tommy is a meeting of the mush-minds, a resplendent union of the rococo and the rock of which each is master…. If Tommy, still so completely satisfying an aural experience, must be turned into a visual one as well, it now seems that the opera and Russell were meant for each other, or at very least serve each other well.

"Experience" is the word for this two-hour film, a medley of literal bits and surreal pieces, of psychedelic effects and romantic realism, of crude comedy and sophisticated suggestions, all eye-catching, most mind-engaging, some simply stunning, and a few merely bemusing….

The "mush-mindedness" of Tommy lies basically in its heavy-handed symbolism….

In wading into this irresistibly lavish spread, Russell begins with an update of the story, from World War I to II, with 1951, rather than 1921, the "good year."…. In detailing the cures sought for Tommy in his adolescence, Russell launches into orgies of imagination…. (p. 64)

Some of it is banal, some of it is mind-boggling, and all of it is pounded at the eyes as the music assaults the ears at an unvarying volume level. If you survive the first hour, you will relish the second. You will sit in awed (or battered) silence, absolutely dead-pan…. or you will … be simply boggled by the absolute ball Russell is so obviously having with every twist of the camera, trick of the lens, snip of the editing scissors…. It is, as noted, an "experience"—an interesting one to have had when you return, as indeed you should, for the purity of the pleasures, which are, first and last, musical. (pp. 64-5)

Judith Crist, "Opera on the Rocks, with a Twist," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1975 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 8, No. 14, April 7, 1975, pp. 64-5.∗