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netribution > features > interview with ken russell > page two

What were the elements behind The Fall of the Louse of Usher?
You see it's not just one story. The Fall of the Louse of Usher is the prime story that is the nucleus, but interwoven with that are half a dozen other of the master's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The pit - no, yes, um The penis and the pendulum as I would call it, The TellTale heart, Buried Alive, The Murders in the RougeMmorgue, The Man who was Used Up and The Black Cat - that enough for you?

That's enough. Yes. This continues your interest in the gothic?
Yes, well I was saying to someone the other day. I paint, when I was twelve I painted, I don't know why - they were terrible paintings and I discovered one the other day, I did about 3 or 4 and one was of The Tell Tale Heart. Or it could have been, I think, yes, The tale tale heart is er, I think it's the, unless I get it mixed up but it's about someone who is buried under the floor boards and so I painted that. I think the reason he is buried under the floorboards, the person is, is that, it's a woman she has this eye, no sorry it's a man in the story, it's a woman in my version, has this eye that drives the hero mad and he has to pluck it out and he does and he buries it.So I must have been into Poe. I wasn't reading much literature at the age of twelve, so obviously it's been a life long interest. And you know, once all the old Hammer Horror films, was always disappointed in them, one always had a laugh you know, but well, I hope you can have a laugh with this one.

What's the tone in this one?
Well the tone is… Well it is horror but it's horror with a shuddering grin. It is a bit comic strip, but it's also slightly surrealistic and there's quite a bit of music in it. And there's um, well the hero of the house was a musician - he played the guitar. And so I got a rock star from the underground. Most of the people are from the underground. And James Johnson has got this very good band and at least I like it, so he's the hero - Cult Underground. And um, so there's a sort of seriousness in the sense that we do actually pose poetry with you know, respect. And there's quite a lot of it. There's The Wedding Bells for instance from The Bells and that's been composed by the "Medieval Baebes". And they are in it. They are in the sequence but it's very beautiful as they become bells and they toll and they have tones and it nearly brought tears to my eyes when I had them down to the cottage for a champagne and strawberry picnic because they were in our film, a movie I did to see if I could, if it was possible to do what I'm hoping to do. So I did a dummy run with a film called "Lions Mouth" which was about the Rector of Stiffkey. Have you heard of him?

The Rector of Stiffkey is a real life man. I like biographic films - he was a preacher - in the 20s and 30s. He'd teach, preach at Stiff key on Sunday morning, catch the first train up to London, stay there for a week, staying with forlorn women, come back just to preach next Sunday. But he saved a few for himself apparently so. He was tried - true story - before a court in Westminster and um, found guilty, stripped of his living, stripped of everything and he spent the next three or four years on Blackpool prom preaching from a barrel for money for an appeal. He ended up though at the end of the - about 1937 by which time he was 53, he was only 5"3, um, in a freak show. He advertised, he thought he would get some real money for this, that he would preach Daniel and the lions den in the lions cage.

And after two performances, his co-star ate him so I thought that was a good little yarn.

Yes… I think Tim Burton is also interested in the Louse of Usher
Oh is he?

Well he's commissioned a script
Well I've had this script for 10 years and I tried to set it up and got very close at various times but it was all - you know, the thought of Poe and me, I think, just kind of scared people away - can't think why. (Laughter)

Was this shot on film?

It's video?

Is that the way you want to work?
I started off as an economy thing but only because I'd seen how good it could get with these Danish films or Swedish or whatever. Saw another one the other day I thought was marvellous. Then I, I suppose I was brainwashed in a way by people who keeps saying "oh it's on tape" so er, it's got Aids or something. I think film is fine - we all know what it looks like, we all know we've seen enough but for me video especially for this particular project is ideal because it heightens the colour somehow or other and everyone seems to love this flickery thing with films. Cause there are you know, cameras, you can you know, the auto thing on the camera to make it look like a film. Anyway, it has almost the 3-D effect. You can do tremendous things with it as you're shooting much more than a normal camera, and you can see exactly what you've got and you can change all sorts. There are about 30 possibilities -you can alter the exposure, give it a certain effect, whatever. Marvellous stuff. I found that I love it - I love the colour of it, I love the texture of it. Well it's obvious the film's going to be finished sooner or later. Just a question of when.

This seems to be a return to a sort of very flamboyant kind of filmmaking
You see the last film I did was "Dog boys" which was a film for "ShowTime" I think it was. There was nothing of me in it - anyone could have made it. It would have looked exactly alike, the same. We had 21 days to shoot it, I went two days over schedule. Soon as it's done you send it to them, they send you three sheets of paper back the next day saying "change that, alter that, drop this, re-voice that person" and there's no one to talk to. In the old days, United Artists, you go in. there's two guys eating pastrami sandwiches and you can have a jolly good argument with them and usually you won it. They are all soft drinks salesmen anyway now, they know nothing about movies anyway. So this is you know it's to pay the rent. I'm not knocking it but that's the only reason - I did the best I could. But you know um, this is going back. I started making personal films for myself, like a lot of people. I used to make the sandwiches, get the thermostat coffee, get on the bus, the,27 bus and go to your location - shoot!

You like that ad-hoc style?
Yes I do. Not sure about the word ad-hoc. I only have three people helping me but they're brilliant and these people helped as well I mean they're all intelligent people who contribute a lot to the film. I'm shooting it in, first of all I had the idea I might put it on the internet as a serial. I think that might happen years hence but its life now is going to be a feature film. So I started shooting it in ten minute episodes. But I find this is very good for several reasons - one - I can assess at the end of each 10 minutes how it's going and maybe - ahh the next ten minutes now it needs this injected in it and maybe not that, so I change it as I go along and it all develops and even within shooting, ideas keep coming up and I find it an immensely creative process. The only tiring thing about it is when people stay at the cottage you know I take them an early morning cup of tea, breakfast, lunch, three course meal and as much booze as they can handle so that's the hard bit. The actual filming is dead easy.

You mentioned that the idea of sort of Ken Russell and The Fall of the Louse of Usher seemed to have scared people off, do you think that if it was something you had mooted back in the late sixties and the early 70's then people wouldn't have been so scared?
Mmm, maybe, because I tried to sort of set up the last ten years when things have changed. But maybe got it going several times. But it has changed tremendously over the last ten years, for the better. I’m sure it's become more spare but more imaginative and less heavy with dialogue, you know and less conventional.

What do you think of the other film version of Usher?
In it's own way it's fine but it doesn't do justice to Poe, I think. It's not very imaginative and most of the artwork, the design is dismal but you know, that's part of its charm. I wouldn't knock it. It's given a lot of people pleasure, know what I mean? And I hope this will. But I also think it would make people think about. I think there's too much blood in…we've had blood but I think - I wonder if I've got blood in here? Oh I do have a little bit. Not much. It's very discreet with blood. (Laughter) But I have images where people will wonder what they're supposed to feel when they see them. For instance I'll tell you one, I have dinosaurs screwing sex dolls.

OK (Laughs)
You see? You see your reaction? Why are you laughing at such a horrible image?

Because it's an amusing image. I'm just trying to imagine it
It's appalling.

That's just my sick mind you know?
Oh so you're my audience. You are the audience I'm after.

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