The British director responsible for some of the most exuberant and eccentric movies of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, Ken Russell, has died at the age of 84.
Russell was known for being a pioneer of controversial cinema, with several of his films being subject to heavy editing and accusations of sensationalism.
He started out working as a TV director, joining the BBC in 1959. He stayed at the BBC for the following 11 years, with much of his work considered to be both ground-breaking and outrageous, before moving on to work in films.
Russell will certainly be remembered for the convention-breaking adaptation of the D. H. Lawrence novel, Women In Love , which earned him his only Oscar nomination of his directing career.
He was also known for mixing religious and sexual imagery, as he did in the 1971 historical drama, The Devils, which remains banned in its uncut form in many countries around the world, including the UK. The film is scheduled to be released in its entirety for the first time next March, 42 years after its initial release.
Russell was also renowned for his unique ability to fuse film narrative with an impressive musical score. His 1970 film The Music Lovers, for example, was a somewhat flamboyant biopic of Tchaikovsky, featuring a number of bizarre and fantastical sequences, set to the music of the composer. Russell was also able to exercise this skill in directing the film adaptation of The Who’s rock-opera, Tommy, which featured a star-studded cast including Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson.
Despite the fact that much of Russell’s work was panned by the critics, and his eccentric on-set behaviour made him unpopular in Hollywood, his films continued to be a box office success. During the 1980s, he ventured into the science fiction genre with his interpretation of Paddy Chayefsky’s hallucinatory tale, Altered State starring William Hurt. Although this received a warmer critical reception than the majority of his work, his venture into gothic-horror later that decade saw a return to the negative reviews. Even so, both the Mary Shelley-inspired Gothic (1986) and the Bram Stoker-inspired The Lair of the White Worm (1988) have achieved cult status in recent years.
Struggling to finance many of his projects, Russell made less films during the 1990s, but achieved something of a notorious celebrity status. In 1995, the American Cinematheque organisation honoured Russell with a retrospective of his work, and in 2007 he spent a week in the Celebrity Big Brother house – leaving after argument with fellow housemate, Jade Goody.
Film director Michael Winner and friend to Russell has stated that “He had been terribly, terribly ill for some time.” He also described Russell as “the most innovative director” – something for which he will he will no doubt hold a lasting legacy.