Classical and grotesque

Ken Russell made some interesting movies about composers.

Ken Russell's Mahler
  • Ken Russell's Mahler

We’ve looked at the great, the okay, and now for the third and final segment on composer films — Ken Russell.

Ken Russell defies any categories we might want to come up with.

Great? Perhaps.

Bad? Sometimes.

Heavyhanded? Probably.

Accurate? Not all the time.

Artistic? Now and then.

Psychotic? Maybe...

Russell might be best known for directing the movie version of The Who’s Tommy featuring the likes of The Who, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson.

He received a Best Director Oscar nomination for his film Women in Love.

However, he made a bunch of movies based on the lives of great composers. He directed the Nessun Dorma scene from the movie Aria. He also directed a stage production of Gounod’s Faust from the Vienna State Opera that made it to television.

The Faust production is quite effective as a stage production.

Ken Russell

Ken Russell

Among his classical music composer movies are Mahler, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Liszt, Arnold Bax, and two about Elgar. He also made a number of documentaries including In Search of the English Folk Song, Ken Russell’s ABC’s of British Music, and The Planets based on the music of Gustav Holst.

His movie about Mahler is the most readily available and it is, well, it’s something. One thing is for sure. Russell is trying very hard to interpret Mahler’s music for us.

The narrative elements in the movie are pretty good. However, the psycho-drama interpretations of Mahler’s state of mind are, to contemporary eyes, ridiculous.

Ken Russell was clearly a lover of classical music and also a film director. What else can we say?

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