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netribution > features > interview with ken russell > page one

75 next year, Ken Russell has long been labelled Brit-film's Bad Boy, ever since he got nun's to masturbate in 1971's The Devils. Admitting that no-one would make that film today, Russell has retreated to a cottage in the South of England where he invites hapless actors and musicians for champagne and strawberry picnics and the odd bit of filmmaking. His latest film - The Fall of the Louse of Usher - is shot ultra-indie stylee on digital in his garage, and is largely self financed. At Cannes to promote the film Ken chatted to Steve Applebaum about film, DV, censorship and dinosaur/sex-doll carnality.

NB: As I began to clean up the transcript of this interview for publication, I realised such censorship would be wrong for a man whose passion is conveyed through contradictions, self-interruption, ums, and ers. To clean up his dialogue for easier, soundbite reading, would be an insult, I think. So here it is, raw and unfettered. Nic W

| by stephen applebaum |
| photos from the film |
| in cannes |

Would a film like The Devils be hard to make now?
It would be impossible. No one would finance such a film, I would imagine.

But hasn't the British Film Industry improved?
Well I'm not so mad on the British film industry. It seems to just produce one or two gems and then tons of mediocrity. I mean I saw, there was one the other day of people painting electric pylons.

Oh Among Giants?
Is that what it was called? I thought it was called Men Painting Pylons. And obviously it was so bad that they were desperate. Do you know what they did? They did long shots of them painting these pylons and over it they put a male voice chorus singing Negro spiritual as though these guys from Newcastle would be singing "Nobody has known the trouble I've seen". You know? All this crap. And it was watching paint dry. That was financed all very much by the British film industry. There was no excuse for it no matter what it was.Maybe the establishment just wants new faces, new attitudes and films about social groups. You know, I'm not interested in that ever happening I'm interested in wider subjects, wider horizons and not obvious things. New ways at looking at things. Just pointing out new excitements if you like, and so this film will be a new way at looking at Edgar Allan Poe. And I hope that in an amusing and enlightening way. It would have brought a lot of his poetry to people who've never heard it before. So it's, you know, that's my old beliefs coming back of teaching the masses art while giving them a good time.(Laughter)

Has it become harder for you to make films?
Well I'd have loved to been a conductor because most of the conductors I know have never played a work correctly but I can't read any music and that's the only snag stopping me from doing that. I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring and I thought well, you know, do it yourself and at least do something that satisfies you. If it satisfies me, it's going to satisfy people who I might well know.

But with video it's easier to do yourself?
It is yeah, and you know often I've always had a say in the lighting as I've always lit my own home movies and I find lighting is very exciting. All you do is put a light up - switch it on. If it looks great - shoot it, if it doesn't - move the lamp. That is lighting.

Did you write a script for Peter Pan?
It wasn't Peter Pan, it was about J. M. Barry. Yes, it was called "Neverlands". And I hope it could still happen. Regent Entertainment in Los Angeles, I did it for them, they were trying to raise the money, of course it's not a, on the face of it, it's not a, there's no killing in it, no bloodshed and it's a wonderful storyline. Hopefully they raise the money.

Do you identify with J.M. Barry?
Well I think he never, in a sense he never grew up. And I think what I think I've done, I've retained, I've tried to retain that first careless or fearless rapture that you have in the young - of remembering when I'd seen "Robin Hood" and I came back to my garden, my tree which I could climb up and do all sorts, imagine all sorts of things - a fantastic castle or a galleon and continue and make the second version of what I'd seen and continue it on. And so er, I hope I've never sort of, lost that sort of enthusiasm and imagination.

Is that kind of attitude stopped you from brooding on anything when your career perhaps isn't going as well as you planned?
Well you do. You obviously get a bit depressed at times but then something comes along and well you have to drag yourself up by your boot straps and get on and do something, or do something else or retire or walk the dog, but um, so I bought myself a video camera.

And turned your garage into a film studio?
My garage is, no, it's garage and stable combined - they are my studios. Not as big as this complex but it's big enough. I've used it for many sets and also I've got this very big conservatory which I also use. It is a daylight studio. Depending how I dress it, or undress it or use it or shoot out of the windows or don't shoot out of the windows, you know?

It must be liberating when you have no-one to answer to.
Well it does give you total creative freedom you know that it's just your responsibility and it satisfies you. And you're not going to be criticised for changing your script a bit. I've been told this is unacceptable. It's great.

Where are you on the funding for this?
I have funding. There's always more as well but I've enough funding to finish the film.

There was something about you spending UKP20,000 of your own money on a project. Is that the previous project or this one?
Um. I don't know where that quote came from, it's very difficult to actually tot up the finance. You see on this, everyone's doing it at this moment for a share of the profits. The very first one I was doing, the twenty six minute one on the Rector of Stiffkey. I mean I think that must have cost me UKP5000 and it's a twenty six minute feature. I mean, it looks great. It's not compromised on in any way. In fact looks a lot more glamorous than you know, the English so-called feature films.

What about British cinema?
I'm not interested in any of the British ones and I think that there are a lot of the American ones that are very... I don't think enough credits given to American films these days, I think they're very imaginative. I mean "The Thirteenth Floor" I thought was a wonderful film. I saw it on Sky. I loved it. I've seen it several times and it's really quite a deep film. We all loved, at least I presume we loved the "Matrix" and we all want to see the "Matrix 2" and there is this film "Very Bad Things" which I love. And there have been a whole spate lately and they've come and gone very quickly but I can't call one particular one to mind but I've got a sense that I've seen a number of very imaginative American movies that haven't quite been exploited properly.

How do you feel about censorship?
I've been pretty well treated by English, thanks as I have no complaints except one thing They did keep altering a sequence in the Devils until it made nonsense, until there was no sense in it. That was a true event anyway where the priest has his leg in one of these boots - called the boots of metal - two laced together and they drive wedges down the middle and they squeeze until they break your bones. And you know, I showed a few shots of that but it was no skin off his face. And he said "no you can't - cut it, cut it, cut it!" And I kept cutting it less and less and in the end he said "cut it" and I said "it's half a second long!" He said "Oh leave it!" It's so quick that nobody of course no one understands what's happening and then of course, Warners (sigh) - they hated the film and they cut all the pubic hair out and it was little left (laughter). Quick fade in fade out! Well you could, yes these days you could have just anything (laughter).

Would you like to work more in America because you did "Crimes of passion" there?
Yeah, I don't mind where I work. I mean the work's the thing. I find it very easy to work in America - they really love films. Even their electricians, their dad was an electrician back in the twenties. And the police help! You wonder, you need a scene in a main street - they stop the traffic. Here if they even see you with a camera you're pretty well run in and put in prison for obstructing the traffic and that's before you put the tripod up. And when the pedestrians get a bit…I always remember we had this motorcycle cop and there were a couple of people who got a bit…you know, he just took this gun out and they were quiet as mice. No one spoke while we were shooting. (Laughter)

Which film was that on?
"Crimes of Passion". I've done both scales. "Altered States" was a big studio picture - very technically expertly fantastic. "Crimes of passion" was a very low budget and that wasn't the B group but the Z group I'd say. And they're either guys and girls at the beginning of their careers -junkies. I mean the man on the sound just turned it on and just let it ride and have it on auto. Goes up and down. Distort! And I don't know just sitting there but the film turned out ok even with the Z group. Somehow the films get made there and they're ok. And they like making films there, like talking about it, whereas in England it's odd. It never….

And you'd never think of moving?
Oh no. I live in what I think is the best place in the world for me so why would I move? In my little studios I am proving that it can be done, at least I hope to prove it, but the proof in the pudding is in the eating. The film isn't complete yet and shown but people will make their own evaluation. For better or for worse, that'll be it.

Are there any other composers that you'd like to film?
Yes! I would like to do a short film on Brahms, be one minute and it would be on his entire life encapsulated into that minute.

That's a lot to fit in
I think that it can be done because Virginia Woolf did it in her books on the one page. She could not only describe five children and an English garden in the summer but also how they're going to grow up, their personalities, their relationships, how they're going to change - all in one page - how does she do it? If she can do it, then we can do it with pictures if she can do it with words. So I think that we are obviously in total infancy of communication of a story.

And do you like setting yourself these kind of challenges?
I can't chat. I mean my short film of Brahms may never be made, I may never realise how to make it but I'm sure it is possible.

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