Uncanny isn't it?
I had expected the film to be more camp and less serious, but it's actually quite a sober historical epic, a true story from the 17th century which kicks off with the political maneuvering of royals and cardinals in France, and then gets more regional, zeroing in on the fortified town of Loudun and the religious posturing of clergy and civilians alike. There's politics, personal power plays, organized religion as a petri dish of corruptions, both political and personal. Faux exorcisms, the plague, corrupt legal systems, and sexual misconduct beset the characters until it all comes crashing down including, literally, Loudun's white brick city walls (designed by Derek Jarman!) All that plus erotic and visual abandon because it's...
- a Ken Russell film.
- from the least prudish decade of English language cinema and
- about a nun Sister Jeanne (a ballsy performance by Vanessa Redgrave) who desperately wants to get biblical with that lion of Loudun, Father Grandier (played by Russel muse Oliver Reed)
The original poster from 1971 "Not for everyone!" -- can you imagine a movie today proudly proclaiming its elitism?and intended DVD art for a release that didn't happen [photo src].
Though he's still working (supposedly there's a new version of Moll Flanders coming) the early seventies were arguably the peak Russell years. His 1970 release Women in Love won multiple Oscar nods (including a Best Actress trophy for Glenda Jackson) and other prizes and he followed that up in 1971 with not one but two films (The Devils, The Boyfriend) which went on to win him the National Board of Review for Best Director. Despite random scattered honors, success or infamy for later films like Tommy (1975), Crimes of Passion (1984) or The Lair of the White Worm (1988) he was only "awardable" in the 70s and even then he was never anything like an Oscar bait figure.
It's funny, really. He loves biographical epics as much as any AMPAS member ever has -- he made several -- but he loves them too perversely and too specifically; you can't mistake his films for someone else's.
The current RussellMania fest only covers his 60s & 70s work which is a shame because I was really hoping to watch Kathleen Turner don that platinum blonde China Blue wig and do unspeakable things that no A list actresses is ever supposed to do onscreen.
Have you ever seen a Ken Russell film? Do you think there's any director currently pushing the boundaries of "taste" that's also doing work worth celebrating nowadays?