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British film director Ken Russell dies at 84
LONDON (AP) - Director Ken Russell got Oliver Reed and Alan Bates to wrestle naked, turned Vanessa Redgrave into a demonic nun and cast Ringo Starr as the pope. Critics and mainstream audiences often hated his films. Actors and admirers loved him.
The iconoclastic British director, whose death at age 84 was announced Monday, made films that blended music, sex and violence in a potent brew.
Only a few of his movies were commercial successes. The best known were “Women in Love,” an Academy award-winning adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, and “Tommy,” which turned The Who’s rock opera into a psychedelic extravaganza complete with appearances from Elton John, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner.
Pete Townshend, who wrote “Tommy,” described Russell as a “grand dame” who brought to his films about music the “lavish affection and the kind of grandiosity only musicians and composers can dream of.”
“He believed all artistic work could be made to come alive over and over again,” Townshend said.
Russell was fascinated with altered mental states and loved horror, religious turmoil and Gothic excess. Critics could be sniffy _ Pauline Kael once wrote that Russell’s films “cheapen everything they touch.”
But many in the film industry felt his influence was underrated.
Supermodel Twiggy, who starred in Russell’s 1971 film “The Boy Friend,” said directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas “say that as a kid they would watch Ken Russell movies. I don’t think he got the attention he deserved.”
“It’s an absolute shame that the British film industry has ignored him,” she said. “It’s an absolute disgrace … he broke down barriers for so many people.”
“Women in Love,” in 1969, was one of Russell’s biggest hits, earning Academy Award nominations for the director and for writer Larry Kramer, as well as winning Jackson an Oscar. It included one of the decade’s most famous scenes _ a nude wrestling bout between Bates and Reed.
Reed said at the time the director was “starting to go crazy.”
“Before that he was a sane, likable TV director,” Reed said. “Now he’s an insane, likable film director.”
“I remember him sat on a camera crane in kaftan and sandals shouting to us through a megaphone: ‘Even greater heights of abandon!’” McGann said. “He’s how you imagined, and hoped, a movie director would be.”
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