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Posts tagged Oliver Reed

I’ve been moving from coast to coast since I graduated university. No matter how many times I’ve moved over the course of my adult life, my journals have followed. Last time I moved they accounted for 4 boxes. Now I suspect it would take up to 8. After some soul searching, I rid myself of all those hand written documents. But I did take a last look at my 25 years of existential scrawling. Over the course of 6 months I reviewed all of my self-reflections. I came to the conclusion that my life took a positive but harrowing turn when I was 8 years old. This turn took place in 1975. My 8 year old self took a determined stand against my father and everything changed. I find it interesting that such a powerful moment in my assertion of self is so eclipsed by art and one profound realization about the world.

"Love will keep us together..." Captain & Tennille, 1975

“Love will keep us together…”
Captain & Tennille, 1975

I guess I should have known better.  I was eight years old, but I was still somehow too innocent. I can remember waiting with anticipation for the arrival of  The Sea-Monkey Aquarium package. I know I was eight because I had been working out my plan to get myself into the cinema to see Tommy which was due to open in our town before summer had even begun. It was 1975.  Jaws was playing at the movies and Captain & Tennilles’ Love Will Keep Us Together was always on the radio. My Grandmother had helped me place my Sea Monkeys order shortly after Christmas.

"Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia" But no one pointed out the fine print to me!

“Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia”
But no one pointed out the fine print to me! By the way, this image is dated 1978, but I got mine in 1975.

I had carefully cleaned a pickle jar, filled it with water and emptied the contents of my Sea Monkey “seeds” expecting to watch whole families of Amazing Life swimming about. They would me my pets! Not like my father’s mean little poodle that had once upon a time been intended for me. These Sea Monkeys would be my friends and my amazing pets!

Oh, for the promise of Sea Monkeys...

Oh, for the promise of Sea Monkeys…

I did eventually notice little specs moving about the jar. My Grandmother’s magnifying glass revealed surprisingly little of these highly uninteresting floating things. There was nothing amazing to be seen.

I think these are brine shrimp.

I was far too embarrassed to admit that I had expected to see multiple happy families just like the advert promised.

You didn’t think they were going to look like the cartoon, did you?

I wanted to say, “Yes, I did.” Instead I said something to the effect that I thought that Sea Monkeys would at least be fun to watch. These lifeless brine shrimp seemed to just float on the top of the water.

Artemia captured in motion for YouTube. The image seems magnified to what I saw in my pickle jar.

Artemia captured in motion for YouTube. The image seems magnified to what I saw in my pickle jar.

I had followed the directions very carefully, but it seemed like the very un-Amazing and practically microscopic brine shrimp were far from being Sea Monkeys.  I was also fairly certain they were already dead. A knotted feeling gripped my stomach as I poured the contents of my pickle jar into the toilet and flushed. Sea Monkeys had only yielded disappointment. Yet there were far darker realizations that took place in my 8th year of life. However the true realizations were  obscured by memories of movies and music.

My father was crazy. I am sure some who read this will think I’m exaggerating but the dude was nuts.

The man who put me through hell was buried six feet under a long while ago. I always thought his absence would bring me peace, but the truth is there are only more things I wish I could say to him. Only more questions I would like to ask. I doubt I would, but it would be nice to have the opportunity.

I do miss him. It would be a massive understatement to write that he had a twisted sense of humor. He was a complete character and a mound of eccentricities balanced on cowboy boots. While almost everything he left me has caused pain, he did gift me with the love of movies. It was a gift delivered in a sadistic manner, but I credit him all the same.

"Take a trip into terror!" One of many amazing films I saw on the adult side of our town's Drive-In. I saw this there in 1975. SISTERS Brian De Palma, 1973

“Take a trip into terror!”
One of many amazing films I saw on the adult side of our town’s Drive-In. I saw this there in 1975.
SISTERS
Brian De Palma, 1973

 

My father had no true sense of the appropriate. Not too long after I drew my line in the sand, he began to take me with him to the movies. He either had no sense or did not care about the content of a movie being inappropriate for a child and movie rating restrictions were always ignored. My mother did not like going to movies much and he did not like going alone. I think I became his movie pal. I sometimes wonder if this all wasn’t possibly an intentional toe over my blood marked line.

It was made clear that I was never to discuss the movies we saw with my mother or Grandmother. Most of these screenings were framed within the context of a shared secret. I did not mind. In fact, I loved going to the movies. Like any kid, I especially loved being able to see the movies that were forbidden to my school friends. My mother would have never allowed me to see most of these movies. However by the time I was 10 years old, she wasn’t too restrictive with me regarding movies. Her concern regarding the warning of the movie rating system seemed to only flare when a film contained a lot of sex. However if I articulated the desire to see a movie I could usually secure her buy in.

"Take her to the prom. I dare you!" Released in 1976, but I saw it in 1977. CARRIE Brian De Palma, 1976

“Take her to the prom. I dare you!”
Released in 1976, but I saw it in 1977.
CARRIE
Brian De Palma, 1976

By 1977 my mother’s own situation had become quite complex. I suspect it was a bit of a relief to drop me off to see Saturday Night Fever or The Rose.  I would usually end up alone at the two screened cinema and would end up sneaking in to see the move playing in the other cinema. This was how I saw Carrie in addition to Network. I know that my mother would have been very concerned had she been aware. Most especially when I was 8 or 9. Actually she would have been very concerned when I was 10. I just don’t think she had the time or the emotional ability to be to actually question or be aware. However, that is another topic. The only self-aware problem I encountered with our Father/Son movie outings was that I quite often did not understand much of what we saw. And he was never interested in explaining anything.

Back in the 1970’s movies never really seemed to have gone out of distribution. It is my impression that distributors just kept a lot of them in circulation to not only Grindhouse cinemas and Drive-In’s, but in pretty much all movie houses outside of major cities across the Americas. I remember thinking that the poster for the other two movies on the first screen looked more interesting, but we were not seeing those. My father considered the two that interested me to be dull. I usually fell asleep by the time the second feature began anyway. I remember Sisters fairly well. The whole movie confused me from beginning to end. It would be years later before I finally saw it as a young teen on VHS.

Like many of the movies we saw, they drifted through my head in confusing ways. Did that really happen in the movie? Why was she taking her clothes off in front of a guy? Was she blind? Were there two of her? Why did the other lady seem to be one of them? It would be well into the 80’s before these questions were answered.

I'm certain I was not the only child to be taken to see this. Swimming at the beach or even in pools would never be the same. JAWS Steven Spielberg, 1975

I’m certain I was not the only child to be taken to see this. Swimming at the beach or even in pools would never be the same.
JAWS
Steven Spielberg, 1975

 

We saw Jaws as a family unit. I saw the giant shark movie with my parents in our town’s nicer cinema. It was a shared terrifying experience. Unlike many of the movies I saw, most of my friends saw Jaws as well. It wasn’t just because I was a kid that this movie altered my perception of Fun-In-The-Sun. I think this film impacted culture ’round the world. Going for a swim would never be the same. The only fears that seemed to be unique to me was that I was convinced that my father had rigged our toilet and bathtub to drop me into The Gulf where sharks waited to kill me in the most painful ways possible.

Like a lot of kids, I was obsessed with Jaws and I taught myself to draw the iconic poster image. I don’t think I’m dreaming — we had a single of this movie’s theme song and I played that 45 rpm a lot! Unlike most of the kids I knew, my obsession came to end when I learned of another movie that was promoted as Coming Soon.

It was a movie that somehow captured my entire being.

 

"Your senses will never be the same..." TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975

“Your senses will never be the same…”
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975

 

I am fairly certain I become aware of Ken Russell’s Tommy because of preview I saw at the Drive-In and some odd photographs I noticed in my Grandmother’s copy of People Magazine. I remember knowing that it was Ann-Margret was on the cover. I am so certain of this that I would swear in a court of law. I recall a mention of it regarding Elton John on one of my Grandmother’s favorite talk shows. Did I see that on Dinah! or The Michael Douglas Show? Of this I am unsure, but one thing is solidly real: I had never seen or heard anything quite Tommy the movie. It just looked so incredibly cool and strange to me. And I knew the lyrics to Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard within hours of having heard it on the radio.

"But I ain't seen nothing like him in any amusement hall. That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!" Note: I have never seen this particular single. I found it on The Internet! Elton John Pinball Wizard Limited Edition 7" single, 1975

“But I ain’t seen nothing like him in any amusement hall. That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!”
Note: I have never seen this particular single. I found it on The Internet!
Elton John
Pinball Wizard Limited Edition 7″ single, 1975

 

I immediately received push-back from all three of the adults in my life. Not even my father was willing to take me to see Tommy. And even though my mother had a couple of Elton John 8-Track Tapes and a Who LP, she was not interested and didn’t felt it unsuitable for a child to see. Initially she could not understand why I would even want to see it.

I just don’t understand why you like that Streisand lady, this weird movie or that ugly Patti Smith band!

My father dismissed my request because it looked like “hippie shit.” I attempted to lie and claimed that Ann-Margret was probably “totally naked!” in it. This did not change his opinion. What is interesting is that my longest pitch to my father was delivered as he parked his mammoth car in the field of the Drive-In to see one of the most notoriously shocking movies of the day.

We saw The Exorcist and a second “weird” movie called Beyond The Door. The lady inside the ticket booth saw me at me seated in the car. She asked my father if he knew that these were R-rated movies and not intended for children. He told her to calm down sell him the ticket. I was curious why we were seeing The Exorcist as I knew that he and Mom had seen it before. It had really bothered my mother and he hadn’t seemed all that impressed. The only answer I got was that he liked the movie. I remember being excited to see something I had heard so many people discuss. I had also been fascinated by the cover of my parents’ copy of the novel.

 

"Mother! Make it stop!" THE EXORCIST William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

“Mother! Make it stop!”
THE EXORCIST
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

I am not trying to defend my father’s taking me to see these two movies, but neither of these movie bothered or scared me as a childMy understanding of religion was somewhat limited. I had seen a crucifix, but at that time in my life I really did not fully understand what it was. My mother had given me a tiny bible when I was about 5 years old, but Jesus looked like a number of cool rock stars. I had been taught to say a prayer before I went to sleep, but this was a perfunctory requirement. I knew the story of Easter and Christmas, but neither meant anything to me. I just liked the candy and wished for certain gifts. Anyway, the only scene in The Exorcist that freaked me out was when Linda Blair began to spout profanity and repeatedly “stabbed” herself with a crucifix. I wasn’t sure what to call the cross with Jesus on it. I do not think I really understood what it was. While I  did have an understanding of human genitalia, I obviously did not fully grasp it.

What is she doing?

Why isn’t she dead?

“Is that the same kid?”

What is that she is stabbing herself with?

“How can she spin her head all the way around?” 

“Is it making the furniture move?”

I do not remember my father answering any of my questions. I do know that he was very quiet for the entirety of movie. As per usual he left the car a couple of times. Was he going to use a bathroom? He seemed like a zombie throughout both screenings.

"The most terrifying event in the history of mankind is about to occur!" Beyond The Door 1974

“The most terrifying event in the history of mankind is about to occur!”
Beyond The Door
1974

I remember thinking he was asleep during Beyond The Door. But he wasn’t snoring and when I poked him he turned to me and said I needed to shut up and leave him alone. The only thing I recall about Beyond The Door is the poster. I did think it looked promising. It still amuses me as an adult. The poster that is. I think the scariest aspect these two movies at that time was the music used in both and the way my father was acting throughout each of them. From an adult perspective the latter was easily the more worrying concern. And I do recall that it was a creepy drive home. It must have been because I still remember it so well.

My world began to open around this time. I had long been attempting to assert my own tastes, but it was 1975  I began to embrace mainstream culture as my own. When my older cousin introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and Grand Funk — I loved what I heard. It was at this time that the idea of a band being called Grand Funk seemed so grown-up and cool. I know it wasn’t a new song at the time, but I took great pride when I selected this single as my father purchased a Willie Nelson album. Upon reflection his purchase was wiser, but I still enjoy the groove of Grand Funk’s take on The Loco-Motion.

"Everybody's doing a brand-new dance, now..." My first cool 45 rpm single! The Loco Motion Grand Funk, 1974

“Everybody’s doing a brand-new dance, now…”
My first 45 rpm single!
The Loco Motion
Grand Funk, 1974

My mother liked popular music and she was already leaning into what seems like disco. I liked that stuff as well. I don’t know if it was actually called disco, but ABBA and The O’Jays seemed cool to me. Though, when I compared LP or 8-Track Tape covers, ABBA, The O’Jays and The Captain & Tennille did not look or sound nearly as cool as Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin or The Who.

Our neighbor had a daughter who was 4 years my senior. I thought her the ultimate in cool for a long time. I drove her crazy, but I suspect I also made her feel important. She would “borrow” record albums from her older siblings. One afternoon I was boasting of owning the Grand Funk single when she told me to wait a few minutes. She left me leaning on a tree, but she returned with an album that totally zapped me into a whole new universe.

"It's only teenage wasteland." The Who Who's Next? 1971

“It’s only teenage wasteland.”
The Who
Who’s Next? 1971

 

Who’s Next sounded completely alien to anything I had ever heard at that point. The music felt like hard rock but it had a booming sort of wired sound. The lead singer sang as if every lyric meant everything to him. And the cover seemed so “dirty” that I agreed with my neighbor.

The Who were far cooler than Grand Funk. In fact they were even cooler than Queen who I had only just discovered. It would be a while before I actually owned the Who’s Next album.

 

"Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters..." Queen Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975

“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters…”
Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975

It was also my cool neighbor who saw Tommy on its opening night. She explained the movie to me scene by scene. I was mesmerized by the idea of Elton John in giant shoes, a TV that spewed Pork & Beans and Tina Turner injecting Tommy with new blood.

(this was how she explained it)

I put my campaign to see Tommy into full running force. It was literally all I talked about when I was around my family unit. My father ignored me. My mother begged me to stop. My Grandmother said that she would take me if only my mother would allow her. (Um, my Grandmother’s comment was not true. She just liked to blame all bad things on my poor, confused and often unplugged mother)

The following weekend after my 12 year old neighbor had laid out the entire plot of Tommy I found myself alone in the car at the Drive-In.

When my father returned to the car he handed me a soda. I had been plugging away with my “I must see Tommy!” assault. I started into it again as the previews began.

That is not the kind of movie that a son of mine should see!

A different kind of X... Iisa: She Wolf of the SS 1975

A different kind of X…
Iisa: She Wolf of the SS
1975

 

 

Cue the first reel of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. I was not frightened by what I saw but I was most certainly shocked. I am not positive that this was an X-rated movie, but it should have been. I had seen violent films, but this one took things to a whole new level. I knew more about Nazis than a crucifix. Nazis were more than just bad, they were evil. And Ilsa was really bad!

I should point out that I have never been able to look away from anything on a screen once a scene starts. I am compelled to watch.

I would not have known the words “fetish” or “grindhouse” but this was most certainly Nazi Torture Porn playing to the lowest human denominator. I don’t know, maybe it would seem camp to me now, but back then I was shocked. I’ve avoided ever seeing this movie again.

My father’s eyes never left the screen except for when he would leave the car. It is probably better that I never figured out what he was doing when he left our car. But he was once again like a zombie. I remember thinking that I should point out that I didn’t think Tommy was as dirty as Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS but my gut warned me not to speak as we drove home.

 

You know, I'd swear her copy was on an orange tape... "Well you came and you gave without taking." Barry Manilow II

You know, I’d swear her copy was on an orange tape…
“Well you came and you gave without taking.”
Barry Manilow II

 

By this time Tommy had been playing for close to 3 weeks. It was a hit. Back then movies seldom played in my town for more than two weeks. It had been held over for 4 weeks!  My mother was wearing down. She agreed to buy me the soundtrack album – a 2 LP set with a gate fold cover!!!

We drove to a record store. I roamed all over looking for my 2 LP set. I was having no luck. Mom approached carrying her planned purchase: an 8 Track Tape of a Barry Manilow album that contained a song she liked. She consulted with the guy at the counter: they only had the Tommy soundtrack on 8 Track Tape. That was not going to work. I had to have the album in LP format with the gate fold art!

 

Inside the gate fold... TOMMY: The Movie Soundtrack, 1975

Inside the gate fold…
TOMMY: The Movie Soundtrack, 1975

 

Exasperated she called me a spoiled brat, bought her tape and didn’t speak to me until Barry had finished crooning “Mandy” which amazingly was not broken apart by one of the 4 channels of the tape. (8-Track-Tapes were really strange!)

We were already almost home when she told me that we would go to the mall the next day if I would stop talking about the movie.

Maybe I was a spoiled brat. I told her that she had to take me to get the record and that I couldn’t stop talking about the movie unless she took me to see it.  She gave in and turned the car around bound for K-Mart. They had the album. At least the first part of the battle was won!

"Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste." Don Johnson and his talking dog A Boy and His Dog L.Q. Jones, 1975 Cinematography | John Arthur Morrill

“Well, I’d certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste.”
Don Johnson and his talking dog
A Boy and His Dog
L.Q. Jones, 1975
Cinematography | John Arthur Morrill

 

I was not taken to see Benji like my other friends. For that matter I didn’t get to see The Apple Dumpling Gang. However I was always the coolest kid at school because I got to see the movies that the other kids could only think about! The downside was that some of these movies were simply unknown to the other kids and I couldn’t even articulate what I had seen. I did get to see a movie that featured a cute dog, but  A Man and His Dog was one of those movies that made no sense to my child brain. I had a hard time following this film. My father did point something out to me what I didn’t catch on my own: the boy and his dog ate the girl.

The second feature on this double bill was the only movie that actually upset me:  The Last House on the Left.

I should have been too young to understand much of what was going down on the screen, but this time I did understand. As per usual, my father was dazed out — but this time I was terrified.

I do not remember the ride home. It would take me a couple of decades to revisit Wes Craven’s notorious film.

 

"I thought you were supposed to be the love generation." The Last House on the Left Wes Craven, 1972 Cinematography | Victor Hurwitz

“I thought you were supposed to be the love generation.”
The Last House on the Left
Wes Craven, 1972
Cinematography | Victor Hurwitz

It would be a long time before I made any connection to why Tommy and the respective soundtrack album resonated so deeply for me. It was all I listened to at this time in my life. I loved side 2 on record 1 the most. By this time we were headed to summer. It was getting really hot. My father took me to a twin cinema instead of the Drive-In. We saw Hal Ashby’s Shampoo.

Yet another film I failed to understand. It is funny thinking back to this as Shampoo a movie with which I’ve had to spend a good deal of time. I love it now, but at 8 years old I just wanted to be sure I understood what a “cock” was and why did the pretty lady want to suck one. My question caused a spasm of laughter throughout the cinema. It also led to a well-intentioned woman attempting to lecture my father for having taken a “little boy” to “such a movie.”

What is that and why does she want to suck it? Julie Christie and Warren Beatty Shampoo Hal Ashby, 1975 Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

What is that and why does she want to suck it?
Julie Christie and Warren Beatty
Shampoo
Hal Ashby, 1975
Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

He had to stop and let her correct him. He was a polite, “Well Lady, you are here seeing it so I guess it can’t be that bad?

As for me I had moved to the other side of the cinema’s lobby. I was studying the poster for movie that was playing in Cinema One. The strange doubled image of Roger Daltrey wearing the Blind Deaf & Dumb contraption was like a beacon to me. I could hear Jack Nicholson attempting to sing as I looked. Before we had even reached the car I was advised I would not be seeing “that fucking movie!

Just two days before it closed I did get to see Tommy.

"Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam." Tina Turner is The Acid Queen TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“Gather your wits and hold on fast,
Your mind must learn to roam.”
Tina Turner is The Acid Queen
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

Drugs as a way to escape the pain. "I'll tear your soul apart..." Roger Daltrey TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Drugs as a way to escape the pain.
“I’ll tear your soul apart…”
Roger Daltrey
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

The coolest platform shoes on record... Elton John is The Pinball Wizard TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

The coolest platform shoes on record…
Elton John is The Pinball Wizard
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

Tommy studies his splintered selves as his mother worries and his step father calculates things to his advantage. Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey and Oliver Reed TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Tommy studies his splintered selves as his mother worries and his step father calculates things to his advantage.
Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey and Oliver Reed
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

I finally got to see the movie thanks to my mother. I didn’t really understand all that I saw.

Why was his mother working with all those women? What is a “Holiday Camp?” Is that like a Marilyn Monroe church? Why is Tina Turner taking out blood and shooting more in? What is a “Pinball Wizard” anyway? Why do all those people want to be “Blind, Deaf and Dumb?”

I did understand a couple of things. I understood that Tommy was trapped. I understood that he was trying to escape pain. I understood what Uncle Ernie was doing — and I was relieved it was treated comically. Interestingly, I did not  connect the film to myself. That understanding would dawn much later.  But the great music, camera work and consistently strange set designs took hold of me from first image and sound until the end credit cards hit the screen.

Tommy was completely unique to anything I had ever seen. The same was true for the rest of the audience.

Even in a small Texas town, the kids were totally into what Ken Russell was showing. My neighbor pointed out that her boyfriend had gotten stoned and watched it four times. I wasn’t sure I understood what she was talking about, but there was a strange aroma coming from a few odd cigarettes being shared in the audience.

But all of this aside, it is interesting how strongly this move held me in its grip. This was my Star Wars. This film was speaking to me.

"It out-Tommy's TOMMY!" Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975

“It out-Tommy’s TOMMY!”
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975

 

Not too long after I finally saw Tommy, my father took me to another movie. There was a big movie theatre in our town to which we seldom went. It was not in the best part of our town though it was fairly close to the college. It tended to get older movies that were probably too sophisticated for my father’s taste. He would end up taking me to see three movies there. The first movie we saw there was in 1975. The other two we would see there would be during the period my parents were divorced. Those two movies were also wildly inappropriate for a child to see: Dressed To Kill and Cruising.

But in 1975 my father was swayed to another rock musical staring The Who’s Roger Daltrey: Lisztomania.

 

Franz Liszt becomes "inspired." Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Franz Liszt becomes “inspired.”
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

 

The reason he was swayed? A Playboy Magazine pictorial promoting the movie as an erotic filled fantasy. Of course this would propel my father to take his 8 year old child to see it. I was thrilled and excited to see Lisztomania. I was already becoming a bit of cinephile. I recognized Ken Russell’s name. I saw that the movie poster referenced Tommy. And I also recognized Ringo Starr and Rick Wakemans’ names.

 

Ringo Starr is The Pope Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Ringo Starr is The Pope
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

 

I doubt I would have even known about this movie if my father had not taken me to see it. I had seen the soundtrack LP, but had not been able to get near enough to understand what it was. I had recognized Roger Daltrey on its cover, but I don’t think I was aware that it was a movie soundtrack.

"The Soundtrack Album of the Ken Russell Film" Lisztomania 1975

“The Soundtrack Album of the Ken Russell Film”
Lisztomania
1975

I used to study the movie section of the city newspaper. I remember that Lisztomania closed after 3 days. I didn’t understand it was based on historical facts. I had not heard of Franz Liszt. I knew of the Pope, but I didn’t really understand what he did. I was fascinated by the film’s visuals and the strange mix of music. I knew who Hitler was, but I didn’t understand why he showed up. The whole movie was like a dirty cartoon. I loved it. And I wanted Roger Daltrey’s boots.

As we left the theater my father was not zombie like at all. He was annoyed. I tried to ask him some questions, but all he wanted to do was complain about “hippie bullshit” and that there “was no sexy stuff” in it. As he drove onto the highway I did ask him something that was bothering me:

Why was it OK for me to see that but not OK for me to see Tommy?

To my surprise he actually answered me.

I didn’t want to see Tommy.

"That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball." Elton John TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”
Elton John
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

I owe my knowledge and love of cinema to my father, but it was at this moment that I realized it was never about me. These were not movies we were seeing together — these were movies he wanted to see and I was being taken along for the ride. Ten years later he asked me to go to Houston with him to see a movie. I agreed. Turned out it was a foreign film I had wanted to see. He slept through the entire film. I found it somehow touching that he was attempting to somehow connect with me by taking me to see a movie I wanted to see. As we left the cinema I was about to thank him when it turned out we were actually in Houston so he could meet up with a seller regarding some guns he wanted to buy. I was needed to load the car and figured a movie was a good way to kill time and avoid rush hour traffic.

Glad you wanted to see it, though. I didn’t much care for it.

Perhaps I owe more credit to my love of film and my endless pursuit to understand the whole “picture” to Ken Russell. It was Lisztomania that propelled me to look into classical music and history. Tommy had also led me to find more of his films once the age of VHS began. I read interviews with Mr. Russell that pointed me toward other filmmakers like John Ford, Nicolas Roeg and others. But I would have never been connected to the world of movies had it not been for my insane father.

Do you think it's alright? Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret search for saving grace... TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Do you think it’s alright?
Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret search for saving grace…
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

I destroyed the last of my journals yesterday. As I watched them denigrate I was brought back to the moment I flushed the disappointment of Sea Monkeys away. After the water had pushed the brine shrimp from my life, I took the empty pickle jar for a walk past our back yard. I raced down and up the other side of the ditch to the railroad tracks. I sat the pickle jar on a track. I ran down and back up to return to our side of the ditch. I crouched down and waited for the train. When is sped by the pickle jar was smashed into thousands of glass pieces.

A dream was crushed that would require me to wear my flip-flops instead of going barefoot for a long while.  The promise of Sea Monkeys was hollow, but the idea of them was still pretty fucking cool.

Matty Stanfield, 5.21.2016

Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983

Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983

Marshall McLuhan was a fascinating intellectual. He was also a scholar and philosopher who focused nearly all of his attention to the ways in which media does a great deal more than inform, sell or entertain. Almost 30 years before it was created, McLuhan predicted the concept of a “global village” or and electronic means of communication. In other words, the Canadian Media Theory Philosopher predicted what we now call The Internet.

If you are unfamiliar with the ideas put forward by McLuhan, here are a few quotes that highlight his ideas about the impact of media:

“In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.” 

“Ideally, advertising aims at the goal of a programmed harmony among all human impulses and aspirations and endeavors. Using handicraft methods, it stretches out toward the ultimate electronic goal of a collective consciousness.”

Marshall McLuhan circa 1970 Photographer | Unknown to me

Marshall McLuhan
circa 1970
Photographer | Unknown to me

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”

“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”

“The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

McLuhan emerged as much a critic of media as he was in awe of a power that most could not see or simply seemed to to fully grasp. While “the medium is the message,” that message is continually elevating to newer and more invasive ways.

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects  Marshall McLuhan, 1967 Graphic Design |Quentin Fiore

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects
Marshall McLuhan, 1967 Graphic Design |Quentin Fiore

The continual evolution of medium’s technology is quickly escalating in it’s strength. Humankind is being manipulated in ways beyond the imagination. Individuality was / is losing ground. Is giving way to a formation of something more than “human” in the way we define ourselves.

“In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.” Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, theories, opinions and assertions are almost frightening in the ways one can chart the truth of what he stated in his lifetime. This great thinker died in 1980, yet his ideas remain alive and valid. To say he was ahead of the cultural curve would be an understatement.

As a Media Theorist, he had a great interest in television and motion pictures. Or, rather, an interest into what was actually being conveyed to audiences as they took in the information being “fed” into what was no longer simply the mind of the individual but the shared mind of those who watched and listened. By the mid-1970’s his ideas had well slipped into the intellectual mainstream as evidenced by his appearance as himself in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in 1977.

In the surreal scene Allen’s character is able to invoke the presence of McLuhan to defend his personal opinion to an annoyingly loud fellow cinephile while they wait to see The Sorrow & The Pity:

Wait a minute, why can’t I give my opinion? It’s a free country!
He can give it… do you have to give it so loud? I mean, aren’t you ashamed to pontificate like that? And the funny part of it is, Marshall McLuhan, you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan!
Oh, really? Well, it just so happens I teach a class at Columbia called ‘TV, Media and Culture.’ So I think my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity!
Oh, do ya? Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here, so, so, yeah, just let me —” [Allen pulls McLuhan into Gordon Willis’ frame] “Come over here for a second. tell him!

"I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!"  Marshall McLuhan stands up for Alvey Annie Hall Woody Allen, 1977 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

“I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!”
Marshall McLuhan stands up for Alvey
Annie Hall
Woody Allen, 1977
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

While more than a few artists latched onto the ideas of Marshall McLuhan so did Film Theory, Philosophy and Journalism majors at universities across the world. But perhaps no intellectual and no artist latched onto McLuhan’s theories than fellow Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg.

Art is anything you can get away with.— Marshall McLuhan

From the very beginning, David Cronenberg pushed the ideas of Grindhouse Horror further than any other. Certainly, George A. Romero was interested in the ideas around how marketing and consumerism were rendering humans to a zombie like need that could never be fully satisfied.

"What are they doing? Why do they come here?" "Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." Zombies roam the mall for live flesh as the new commodity. Day of the Dead George A. Romero, 1978 Cinematography | Michael Gornick

“What are they doing? Why do they come here?”
“Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”
Zombies roam the mall for live flesh as the new commodity.
Day of the Dead
George A. Romero, 1978
Cinematography | Michael Gornick

But it was Cronenberg who began to translate McLuhan’s ideas into a literal horror involving not only the way in which we think, but the way in which medium-saturated psychology could possibly morph into our biology.

Cronenberg was also way ahead of the cultural curve, when his low-budget gore-fests like 1975’s Shivers and 1977’s Rabid use the idea of sexual appetite and parasites or viruses merging to spread world-wide pandemics. Shivers is focused on a swinging singles apartment complex, but Rabid branches out into the world. A strange sort of gaping slip of a hole appears in the armpit, and the diseased seeks out sex partners to satisfy a painful urge. …and spread a disease.

A perplexing gape of wound appears on the body beautiful. Iconic Porn Star of the day goes legit as the sexy victim of disease which causes her to aggressively spread her sickness... RABID David Cronenberg, 1977 Cinematography | René Verzier

A perplexing gape of wound appears on the body beautiful. Iconic Porn Star of the day goes legit as the sexy victim of disease which causes her to aggressively spread her sickness…
RABID
David Cronenberg, 1977
Cinematography | René Verzier

As silly as the gore might be in this movies, both carry a cerebral and visceral horror for viewers that remain today. We might giggle at some of the effects, but once these movies end the realization that we have seen two movies that seem to have predicted AIDS is impossible to dismiss. It is of particular interest that Cronenberg sought out the former Ivory Soap Girl turned Porn Superstar, Marilyn Chambers, to play the main carrier of the disease. A once symbol of Purity, Cleanliness & Innocence turned to Hardcore Media Porn Star Sinsation. The medium is the message…

In what can probably be considered Cronenberg’s first truly artistic horror film, 1979’s The Brood offers horror on several levels. In some ways this movie is a horror film about child-like killers. The site of these murderous little demons is delivered in a low-fi but intensely horrifying way.

Brooding literally births avenging demonic child-like killers intent on carrying the medium and message The Brood David Cronenberg, 1979 Cinematography | Mark Irwin

Brooding literally births avenging demonic child-like killers intent on carrying the medium and message
The Brood
David Cronenberg, 1979
Cinematography | Mark Irwin

On another level, this surprisingly cerebral film offers a horror film related to the clinging fears left over from the 1960’s/1970’s revolutionary changes regarding individual freedoms and a culture in which patriarchal “control” over sexuality, marriage, children and our own individual minds was giving way to something that many felt sinister.

Oliver Reed’s Dr. Hal Raglan is a brilliant and charismatic sort of Psychiatry Guru (or Psychoplasmics Master) who has established a center for emotionally challenged individuals. A wife and mother with serious emotional issues has sought help, but has become a sort of Cult Slave to Dr. Raglan’s mad science experiments involving psychological anger.

Samantha Eggar broods her rage into full-fledged living beings designed to carry out her darkest violent urges. The Brood David Cronenberg, 1979 Cinematography | Max Irwin

Samantha Eggar broods her rage into full-fledged living beings designed to carry out her darkest violent urges.
The Brood
David Cronenberg, 1979
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Played by Samantha Eggar, this woman has learned to channel her rage into her core biology. Dr. Raglan is the medium. The message is an endless rage which morphs into stunted results of psycho-physcial pregnancies. She is not merely brooding anger, resentment and anger at her husband and a daughter who has perhaps prevented her evolution as an individual. No, she is literally brooding a number of angry beings birthed to carry out her inner insane rages. Under the work of the Mad Scientist, she is birthing the medium that seeks to destroy.

"Thirty seconds after you're born you have a past and sixty seconds after that you begin to lie to yourself about it." Grooming a birth of insane rage... Body Horror taken to a whole new level. The Brood David Cronenberg, 1979 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“Thirty seconds after you’re born you have a past and sixty seconds after that you begin to lie to yourself about it.”
Grooming a birth of insane rage… Body Horror taken to a whole new level.
The Brood
David Cronenberg, 1979
Cinematography | Max Irwin

The Brood suffers from limited budget, hammy acting and an idea that feels at once brilliant and a bit too silly. But we cannot forget that this is a David Cronenberg. The Brood is more than a partially scary and partially satirical cult movie — it sneaks in under our skin and into our shared thinking. This film lingers long after the comedic elements fade. Esteemed writer, Carrie Rickey, has pointed out that The Brood is also a startling counter-point to Kramer Vs. Kramer.

In 1981’s Scanners, David Cronenberg officially crossed over to mainstream success. No longer limited to Drive-In’s, Midnight Screenings or lower-rate cinemasScanners received a wide release.

Disturbing but creative art therapy isn't enough for corporate interests... Scanners David Cronenberg, 1979 Cinematography | Max Irwin

Disturbing but creative art therapy isn’t enough for corporate interests…
Scanners
David Cronenberg, 1979
Cinematography | Max Irwin

And it not only changed the way we think of Science Fiction Horror, it elevated Cronenberg to a whole new level of artistic acceptance. It can also be closely linked to the ideology of Marshall McLuhan. Although the message is presented to humanity more in the form of 20th Century biochemicals than media. In Cronenberg’s Scanners, Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is not merely a carcinogenic, it has infected fetuses with a new sort of power. Thalidomide not only harms, it too causes a strange psycho-power mutation within infected fetal tissue of mothers treated with these chemicals.

"How do you feel?" "I feel crystal clear." Heads do not roll. They explode. Scanners David Cronenberg, 1979 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“How do you feel?”
“I feel crystal clear.”
Heads do not roll. They explode.
Scanners
David Cronenberg, 1979
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Suddenly, Cronenberg’s much discussed Body Horror has elevated from human emotion to true biological horror. These infected mothers have given birth to children who have a new horrific telekinesis power. A power that can ultimately be controlled and used as a new kind of weapon. The film is best known for the effect of exploding heads, is actually going much deeper into human fear and horror ideology.

But it would be with Cronenberg’s 1983’s Videodrome that his interests in McLuhan’s teachings and the director’s own personal interest in the horror of the body turning against it’s owner would blend to form the almost perfect mix of Art Horror, Science Fiction, Surrealism and Cultural/Societal commentary.

"First it controls your mind...then it destroys your body" France's marketing campaign focused heavily on Debbie Harry Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“First it controls your mind…then it destroys your body”
France’s marketing campaign focused heavily on Debbie Harry
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Max Renn is the burned-out, bored but still ambitious CEO of a small Adults-Only cable company that seems posed to break big in the growing world of cable TV. Renn markets his cable channel as “The one you take to bed with you.” In 1983, audiences would have linked this fictional channel to the likes of Playboy TV or a wide range of latenight-only cable channels that offered soft porn and other provocative topics to it’s viewers.

Just slightly ahead of the game, the VHS industry was really only just starting to take-off across the mainstream. Players were only just starting to come down in price and the middle class had only dipped a few toes into the video-stream. The battle between VHS and BetaMax had not even fully started.

Cyber-Punk Surrealism or Infected Brain Hallucination? James Wood's is about to receive a whole new kind of "head"  Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

Cyber-Punk Surrealism or Infected Brain Hallucination? James Wood’s is about to receive a whole new kind of “head”
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

In the real world, these types of channels were facing a number of obstacles in presenting hardcore sex. It was limited to silly soft-porn movies or carefully edited hardcore sex movies to amped-up R-rated erotica. In Cronenberg’s film Max Renn is eager to push pass the rules. Seemingly latching onto McLuhan’s idea of art being what one can get away with, Renn no longer cares about the rules that restrict him from gaining a competitive edge in the erotic marketplace. His “ethical” stance is flawed. If compared to McLuhan’s concept, Renn has perverted the idea regarding art. For Renn, this is simply business.

Enter the oddly moralistic world of David Cronenberg. Sexuality is a lure that Cronenberg utilizes to pull the audience into his latest exploration in psychological horror. The use of sex is both titillating and perverse. In many ways, Videodrome is  Cyber-Punk Horror that dares to call our erotic desires into both cinematic provocation as well as an almost moral judgement.

Cinematic Provocation. A strange group of people can only find sexual pleasure/release at the time of self-inflicted car collisions take place. The scars become more erotic than the body upon which they inflict.  Rosanna Arquette CRASH David Cronenberg, 1996 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Cinematic Provocation. A strange group of people can only find sexual pleasure/release at the time of self-inflicted car collisions take place. The scars become more erotic than the body upon which they inflict.
Rosanna Arquette
CRASH
David Cronenberg, 1996
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

I stress almost because Cronenberg is expertly exploiting/selling sex as much as he thrusts our prurient interests to a questionable level. This was not the first time nor was it the last that this skilled filmmaker would use sexuality in a perplexing duality of human nature. There is always a strangely moralistic tie in all of Cronenberg’s films. Even in his adaptation of JG Ballard’s CRASH, he would tease the audience with subversive and perverse sexuality to arouse not only very dark eroticism, but to illicit a perverse joy in turning it back on the audience.

One of our first opportunities to understand this character is when we see him as a guest on a local channel chat show. The chat show host is clearly uncomfortable discussing the ever-expanding level of sexual explicitness on television, but she grins and bares it. Max is one of three guests. The second guest is Nicki Brand, played with a gleeful level of subversion by Cultural Icon, Debbie Harry. Nicki, like Max, sells sex. She is selling herself as a sort of Post-Feminist erotic answer to the “outmoded” concepts of Feminist Theory formed by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Her mode of medium is talk radio in which she dishes out pseudo-pop-psychology sexualized advice.

"What about it, Nicki? Is it socially positive?" "Well, I think we live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation for its own sake. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it's tactile, emotional or sexual."  Feminist Theory gets a kink-reboot with Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand. Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“What about it, Nicki? Is it socially positive?”
“Well, I think we live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation for its own sake. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual.”
Feminist Theory gets a kink-reboot with Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand.
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Debbie Harry, at her own erotic prime and fame is the perfect actor for this role. At once intellectual and also a rather edgy erotic tease, she is like cat-nip for Max Renn. As the chat show host pulls them into a debate about the dark side of eroticism to the masses, it becomes clear that Nicki Brand isn’t really looking to counter-point Max Renn as much as to simply admit that she is fully aware of the “dangers” but not that concerned with falling prey. As she informs the host, “We live in over-stimulated times.” As Max begins to openly flirt with Nicki, the host is left in an even more comical unease.

She then turns away from her two sex-fueled guest to her scientific expert who refuses to appear on any other media than the television. Taken to a truly literal perspective, Professor Brian O’Blivion appears on a TV sitting on a coffee table by the host. As the increasingly nervous host attempts to interview O’Blivion it quickly becomes apparent that he is not going to fully connect with her.

Marshall McLuhan deconstructed: Dr. Brian O'Blivion only seems to respond... Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

Marshall McLuhan deconstructed: Dr. Brian O’Blivion only seems to respond…
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

He seems to be watching her other two guests, but moves into a sort of intellectual rant about the powers of television media: He begins to offer an almost religious sort of speech that television will soon replace “our” reality. Completely ignoring his host, he begins to almost preach through the screen of his own TV image:

The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye.

David Cronenberg was very clear that his created character of Dr. Brian O’Blivion is based soley on Marshall McLuhan and the esteemed Media Sociologist’s ideas. McLuhan’s teachings, ideas and concepts are all brought to the forefront of this highly entertaining and often disturbing film. While Cronenberg lays it all out in literal and visceral visual terms, nothing actually strays too far from the recently departed McLuhan.

James Woods' Max Renn develops an odd itchy rash as he watches... Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

James Woods’ Max Renn develops an odd itchy rash as he watches…
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Played with simultaneous sexy swagger and icky slimed confidence by James Woods, Max deals with the European Erotica Market as well as underground networks of slightly harder-edged porn from Asia. We catch glimpses of the new work he is considering for his channel. From his European connection, the work seems innocently decadent. From the seemingly illegal importation from Asia, the work seems to be a sexualization of ethnic stereotypes that are pushing toward sadistic erotic pleasures. For Max, these new erotica films might offer a bit more in the way of erotic explicitness and controversy — but they are not enough. He is looking for something more “dangerous” and “risky.”

Enter Max’s pal and tech wiz, who manages to catch a Malaysian signal of what appears to be very realistic torture porn. So realistic in presentation, there is a suspicion that what Max is seeing may be a true filming of snuff human cruelty. It is never fully clear to us if Max is fully “OK” with what he sees on a show that seems to be called Videodrome, but it is clear that the sadomasochistic is most definitely turning him on.

In 1983, it was shocking when Debbie Harry is suggested to supply a little bit of BDSM to get Max's changing body stimulated. In 2015, this medium of BDSM has already become passively engrained within the cultural mind.  Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

In 1983, it was shocking when Debbie Harry is suggested to supply a little bit of BDSM to get Max’s changing body stimulated. In 2015, this medium of BDSM has already become passively engrained within the cultural mind.
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

He pushes his tech engineer to find the true origin of the Videodrome signal which turns out to be coming from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Comforting himself by insisting that what he is seeing is a “pretend” electrically-charged clay wall and orange/red floors upon and against which acts of brutal sexual assaults and murders are carried out in realistic but fake ways. Max essentially threatens his libidinous European contact to find the creators of Videodrome to help him secure a deal to air their show. Soon later, his contact tries to soft talk him out of the idea. She advises that what he has been seeing is more than erotic entertainment.

She leans in as informs him that Videodrome has a philosophy. Videodrome is real. 

At first Max refuses to believe it. His sexual relationship with Nicki is one linked to pain and punishment. It is all-the-more-hightened by a viewing of Videodrome. In a clever bit of Surrealism, Max and Nicki’s sexual blood-letting morphs out of Max’s condo and onto the wet red floor of the Videodrome set. Hallucinations give way to very real altercations in which Max’s body seems to be changing to fit into the psychology of Videodrome.

"Open up, Max. We have a tape we have a tape we need to play..." Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“Open up, Max. We have a tape we have a tape we need to play…”
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

In one of the film’s many mind-bending special effects, Max begins to develop an itch resulting from what appears at first to be a an enflamed vertical line traveling down his “happy trail” that quickly emerges into a yon-like flesh entry point. Wet and wanting to be fed, this vaginal sort of “wound” becomes a portal in which Max and insidious Bad Guys place guns and breathing-infected videotapes. The pain of this “fleshy slit” also seems to deliver a source of uncomfortable pleasure. Eventually this body morphing develops teeth.

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a repulsive, intense and surreal Art Horror masterpiece that must be experienced to fully understand and enjoy. With each scene, the Videodrome transmissions seem to infect Max’s psychology, perception and ultimately his body.

A new point of entry to Max Renn... Body Horror taken to a whole new level. Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

A new point of entry to Max Renn… Body Horror taken to a whole new level.
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

The ultimate body horror show, Max must either destroy the evil that is Videodrome and accept the new flesh it has created and take it forward to the next logical step. Many viewers interpret the film in different ways — particularly it’s apocalyptic ending. But it seems to me that David Cronenberg is pushing Marshall McLuhan’s ideology in very literal way. Fully infected by media’s disease, Max must refuse to submit to a vile corporate plan. He must take back what the medium has communicated into his very being.

“Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!”

The Medium turns against you... Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

The Medium turns against you…
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

David Cronenberg has not only gotten away with creating a powerful and lasting work of film art, his horror film navigates the audience into a whole different sort of human universe. Video/Analog may have given way to HD/Digital, but the message of the medium is still every bit as worrying to us in 2015 as it was in 1983. The power of media is inescapable now more than ever. Paranoia and the threat of disease is at all time high.

Vidoedrome is far more than a Cult Horror Film Classic, it is a very warped, twisted and disturbing cinematic philosophy not to be be forgotten.

"Death to Videodrome. Long live the New Flesh." Now, come to Nicki... Debbie Harry Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983 Cinematography | Max Irwin

“Death to Videodrome. Long live the New Flesh.” Now, come to Nicki…
Debbie Harry
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983
Cinematography | Max Irwin

Matty Stanfield, 9.28.15

Recently I saw Belinda Sallin’s documentary, Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World. An art gallery curator spoke regarding the therapeutic healing aspects of Giger’s work.  He commented that many artists deal with the darker aspects of human experience and survival by diving deep into the damage of human suffering to find the “voice” and “inspiration” for art but then re-emerge to take a break from all of the darkness. The curator then stated a fundamental in understanding the late H.R. Giger, H.R. Giger dove down deep and stayed there. Whatever childhood or personal traumas this man endured — he opted to find a way to be comfortable in the darkness and pain. This is one of the reasons his art speaks to so many people on such a profound level.

Art Therapy Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World Belinda Sallin | 2014 Eric Stitzel | Cinematography

Art Therapy
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World
Belinda Sallin | 2014
Eric Stitzel | Cinematography

I saw this film out of curiosity of the way Sallin and her Cinematographer, Eric Stitzel, had reportedly approached the artist and his home. It was a rewarding cinematic experience. It also gave me pause to look at the often disturbing sexualized themes of Giger’s art.

Debbie Harry KooKoo, 1981 Photograph | Brian Aris Art/Design | H.R. Giger

Debbie Harry
KooKoo, 1981
Photograph | Brian Aris
Art/Design | H.R. Giger

What had often struck me as phantasmagorical exploration into BDSM / KINK erotica, was actually offering a great deal more to his ardent followers. H.R. Giger’s dark work served not only as his personal art therapy, but offered the same release to viewers. So much so that an entire subculture of artistic and marginalized people have taken these works to form detailed maps tattooed all over their bodies.

Art speaks to us. Sometimes it is there to only allow an escape. Other times it is a form of magical pleasure. This is especially true of Film Art and Music. The Sound of Music has held generations of people within its sway. The same is certainly even more true of Star Wars or the television series, Star Trek.

Just the sight of the iconic graphic logo sets millions of hearts and brains' a-flutter.

Just the sight of the iconic graphic logo sets millions of hearts and brains’ a-flutter.

As for music, a song can bring us back to the happiest moments of our lives and the saddest. There are more than a few generations of people who think of songs as Anthems. A sort of collective “call to arms” on the fields of sport or in pursuit of summer fun. This of course is the power of art. No matter how “lofty” or “petty” the concerns of the artists, the work that results impacts in various and powerful ways.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder). The diagnosis was horrifying to me. It would take me about two and a half years before I could fully “own” this disorder.

"Scary monsters, super creeps. Keep me running, running scared..." David Bowie Scary Monsters and Super Creeps | 1980 Photography | Brian Duffy Painting /Art Direction | Edward Bell

“Scary monsters, super creeps. Keep me running, running scared…”
David Bowie
Scary Monsters and Super Creeps | 1980
Photography | Brian Duffy
Painting /Art Direction | Edward Bell

However, as shocking as this diagnosis was, it did make sense. I had been “losing time” for almost a year. I would be sitting some place and then find myself in another with no clue as to how or why.

Most scary was finding myself in places that I did not know. I did not yet have a smart phone to help me determine where I was. I was convinced I had a brain tumor.

After visits to numerous specialists to clear me of any physiological issues, it came down to psychologists and psychiatrists.

After 18 months and four psychiatric professionals who consulted with each other, it was determined that I was “lucky.” After several years of repeated and nightmarish childhood sexual assault, my mind had developed a way of surviving it.

Roger Daltrey is "blind, deaf and dumb"  Tommy Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Roger Daltrey
is “blind, deaf and dumb”
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

The subconscious took over and created tiny spaces in which to place the seeming “unsurvivable” emotions and pain. As I entered adulthood these fragments within my brain remained somehow active.

What were once my mind’s coping strategies morphed into oddly functional capacities. One of the reasons I had so much trouble in accepting the diagnosis of D.I.D. was that I had no problem remembering what had happened to me. In fact, I remembered everything with almost detailed precision.

"Ain't got no distractions Can't hear no buzzers and bells. Don't see no lights a-flashin' Plays by sense of smell. Always gets a replay, Never seen him fall.." The Who and Elton John Tommy Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“Ain’t got no distractions
Can’t hear no buzzers and bells. Don’t see no lights a-flashin’ Plays by sense of smell. Always gets a replay, Never seen him fall..”
The Who and Elton John
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

After intense therapy I began to realize that there were entire blocks of time over the course of my life from the age of 9 to 38 of which I had no memory.

Having been an exhaustive journaler from way back, I spent a couple of months sorting through them.

Pages had been ripped out or “detracted” by self-imposed scribbles to prevent me from reading what I had been up to.

Suddenly it all begin to make sense.

The Who Tommy | 1969 Full Gate Sleeve Art | Michael McInnerney

The Who
Tommy | 1969
Full Gate Sleeve
Art | Michael McInnerney

Aside from the fact that I had to quit and walk away from a highly successful professional life and face life in the “fun world of Disability” I had to come to understand the odd way in which my mind helped me to succeed where many would have failed.

The sad fact of D.I.D. is that sooner or later the coping strategies backfire. Instead of assisting the individual, they start to turn against the goals of the owner.

"Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam. Just as the Gypsy Queen must do You're gonna hit the road..." Tina Turner as The Acid Queen Tommy Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam.
Just as the Gypsy Queen must do You’re gonna hit the road…”
Tina Turner as The Acid Queen
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

For women this tends to happen sooner in life. For men, it appears the strange functioning powers hold off giving-out later in life. So it was as I entered my 40’s that I could no longer succeed in the line of work or any level of employment that required active thought and responsibility. This may change in the future, but for now I am told that I need to “re-adjust” my life goals. For now, I need to think about a life without a traditional career.

I could go on and on — and, in fact, I have written a great deal about this struggle. The point of this blog entry is to discuss how Film and Music Art have helped me all of my life.

Lost within his mind... The Who  Tommy | 1969 Photography | Barrie Meller

Lost within his mind…
The Who
Tommy | 1969
Photography | Barrie Meller

Much like H.R. Giger and has fans, darkness in art is often a forgiving and cathartic place for me to seek refuge. Unlike Giger and many of his fans, it is not a place in which I can stay for too long. I have to “escape” all of it. But I cannot stay away for too long. There is a healing to be found in both the world of darker art and certain levels of escape art.

Pink Floyd  The Wall | 1979 Inside Full Gate Fold Art Direction | Roger Waters Art | Gerald Scarfe

Pink Floyd
The Wall | 1979
Inside Full Gate Fold
Art Direction | Roger Waters
Art | Gerald Scarfe

As a child I was utterly consumed with fascination regarding the music and film world. Rather than attempt to “restate” myself regarding these Artists and their work I will simply mention them and include some images. You can draw your own conclusions. Maybe a few of you will even relate or connect to a different (I hope!) but similar way.

What's Up Doc? Barbra Streisand / Ryan O'Neal Peter Bogdanovich | 1972

What’s Up Doc?
Barbra Streisand / Ryan O’Neal
Peter Bogdanovich | 1972

I was four years old when my parents decided to take me to see a “re-issue” of Bambi. The cinema was sold out. So they opted for us to see What’s Up Doc?

I was too young to find the movie funny or interesting. However, I recall something very vivid about the experience of seeing Peter Bogdanovich’s classic film: This different looking lady was laying on top of a grand piano. She started to sing, “You must remember this…

Barbra Streisand What's Up Doc? Photograph | Steve Schapiro, 1971

Barbra Streisand
What’s Up Doc?
Photograph | Steve Schapiro, 1971

and my four year old ears and eyes were forever changed. Something in this lady’s voice grabbed hold of me and never let go.

After the movie I demanded to know who this lady was.

I believe it was my father who told me she was a singer.

I demanded that we cross the busy street to K-Mart so I could get the What’s Up Doc? record. There was no such thing. But I think my demand was puzzling enough for my parents to follow it. I selected my first record album based on the fact that the cover was of a child who seemed close to my own age.

Barbra Streisand My Name Is Barbra | 1965

Barbra Streisand
My Name Is Barbra | 1965

I would go on to play this album so much that I swear you could hold it up and see through the vinyl. I listened to Barbra Streisand constantly. Over the years her voice became my equal to chicken soup.

I was 8 when I discovered The Who and Ken Russell’s Tommy. Both the 1969 album and the 1975 movie.

Your senses will never be the same... Tommy Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Your senses will never be the same…
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

The connection to this film and The Who album seem almost painfully obvious with hindsight. 

"You didn't hear it. You didn't see it. You won't say nothing to no one. Never in your life. You never heard it, Oh, how absurd it all seems without any proof." Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson Tommy Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it. You won’t say nothing to no one. Never in your life. You never heard it, Oh, how absurd it all seems without any proof.”
Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

It would not be long before I found a powerful level of escape from weed and downers. (Valium was my particular favorite) But music and most especially Film Art formed into a core of my being. While most of my friends were obsessed with Welcome Back Kotter and Happy Days, I was consumed with Ken Russell’s rock opera film and Streisand’s rock-pop remake.

A Star Is Born Barbra Streisand / Kris Kristofferson  1976

A Star Is Born
Barbra Streisand / Kris Kristofferson
1976

As I am unable to legally work, I have found creative entry ways into helping re-discover work and artists that matter to me. Aside from filing my time, it has led to some unexpected connections and a sometimes exciting background “roles” in helping to get films restored and re-issued.

Sometimes my assistance leads to nowhere. Other times it helps.

I’m not an artist.

I’m not paid.

But my voice is now heard in surprising new ways.

Lisztomania Ken Russell | 1975

Lisztomania
Ken Russell | 1975

D.I.D does not get in my way the way it used to. Right now the main challenges are defeating phobias and odd thought processing. 

And, no. My life is nothing near nor has it ever been remotely like the depictions of the disorder seen on television or movies. I don’t change clothes and personas.

Actually, it is so nuanced that few ever noticed.

"Let me take you to the movies..." Led Zeppelin  Physical Graffiti | 1975 Art Direction / Design: Peter Corriston, Mike Doud & Elliot Erwitt

“Let me take you to the movies…”
Led Zeppelin
Physical Graffiti | 1975
Art Direction / Design:
Peter Corriston, Mike Doud & Elliot Erwitt

There was a period of about 4 years where it would sometimes be clear to others that something wasn’t quite “right” but for the most part it has never been easily spotted.

And I’m very relieved to say that I have not “lost time” in over 3 years now.

The challenges now seem to creep up in phobias, self-doubt and often inabilities related to concentration. Sometimes letters re-arrange as I write or read.

That is when it is time to stop and just lose myself — in Art.

Shades of and introduction to Arthur Rimbaud & Rebellion Patti Smith Horses | 1975 Photograph | Robert Mapplethorpe

Shades of and introduction to Arthur Rimbaud & Rebellion
Patti Smith
Horses | 1975
Photograph | Robert Mapplethorpe

Art that seems to speak to struggles, fears, reality, surrealism and ideas 

"Well, it sure don't look like Texas." 3 Women Robert Altman | 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“Well, it sure don’t look like Texas.”
3 Women
Robert Altman | 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

that seem to have the ability into which I can escape. 

"Oh, you are sick!" Eraserhead David Lynch | 1977

“Oh, you are sick!”
Eraserhead
David Lynch | 1977

…And, to heal the broken.

Matty Stanfield, 8.25.2015

break the idol... Tommy  Ken Russell | 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

break the idol…
Tommy
Ken Russell | 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

In the final act of William Friedkin’s 1973 iconic film, The Exorcist, the film’s struggling priest and his wiser elder discuss the nature of evil, how to address it and how to understand it’s logic:

Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.”

Why her? Why this little girl?  Max von Sydow The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Why her? Why this little girl?
Max von Sydow
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Why her? Why this girl?”
“I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.”

The Exorcist first arrived to cinemas in December of 1973. This film’s reception and the reactions it caused are of historical note. Financed and distributed by Warner Brothers the movie caused fear, panic attacks, a couple of heart attacks, repulsion, anger and accusations of “blasphemy.”  While The Exorcist is essentially a Supernatural Horror Film, William Friedkin’s epic film was approached with a level of realism and artistry that could not be refuted. It was a highly artistically-valid film. As for being an exploitive use of a child actor and blasphemy, well The Vatican gave this film the seal of approval. It was even blessed for “realistically depicting demonic evil.” Cue priests, nuns, ministers and most God-fearing people line up and see it.

Marketing The Exorcist was challenging for Warner Brothers. It was clear to everyone that this was more than just a horror film. This early poster was rejected.  The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973

Marketing The Exorcist was challenging for Warner Brothers. It was clear to everyone that this was more than just a horror film. This early poster was rejected.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973

If one is able to take pause and look at Friedkin’s film independent of it’s source novel and The Vatican, this movie also offers an interesting spin on the state of American Culture at the beginning of the 1970’s.

Another "mock-up" idea for promoting that felt a little too After School Special for most at Warner Brothers.  The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973

Another “mock-up” idea for promoting that felt a little too After School Special for most at Warner Brothers.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973

It can easily be summed up as metaphor for the feeling that parents had lost control of their children amid the emergence of “Anti-Establishment Movement” to “Sexual Revolution” to “Drug Culture” to the ever-increasing power of Rock rebellion.

Eureka! And Warner Brothers creates an iconic marketing campaign by using an "altered" shot from the movie itself.  The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Eureka! And Warner Brothers creates an iconic marketing campaign by using an “altered” shot from the movie itself.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Both the novel and film also indirectly address the tragic side of becoming a priest. The film conveys that Jason Miller’s Priest is something more to his best priest buddy. While his friend seems to be able to repress his sexual desires, it appears to be bit more of a strain for Miller’s “Father Karras” a repressed and guilt-ridden former boxer who has escaped into the Priesthood as much to do good as to escape his all-too moral desires. Interestingly, the self-proclaimed Atheist mother find it easier to accept that her daughter might be possessed by The Devil than this conflicted priest. This film is also examining the impact of repression and the reasons men decide to become priests. Granted, it is in a somewhat passive way, but it is there.

"Stick your cock up her ass, you motherfucking worthless cocksucker." Whether it by taunting into Father Karras' most repressed fears of self-identity or by picking at his guilt for not having cared for his mother the way he feels he should have -- this demon knows the priest better than he knows himself.  Subliminal Experimental Editing - so fast you can almost mess it.  The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

“Stick your cock up her ass, you motherfucking worthless cocksucker.” Whether it by taunting into Father Karras’ most repressed fears of self-identity or by picking at his guilt for not having cared for his mother the way he feels he should have — this demon knows the priest better than he knows himself.
Subliminal Experimental Editing – so fast you can almost mess it.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

No matter how you want to interpret or view The Exorcist – the power of this infamous film is beyond denial. I remember sitting in sold-out huge Boston cineplex auditorium in 2000 to see the “Restored” and the “Version I Had Never Seen.”  I was actually curious to see how a modern day audience would react to this early 1970’s film. I think I was expecting that we would all find the movie darkly comic. I was wrong. This was the normal “cineplex” audience. You know, the one that freely converses, talks back to the screen and generally rude masses. True to form, as the commercials and previews screened children were screaming, teenagers were tossing candy at each other and all sorts of mayhem that will ruin a movie viewing experience for me. But as soon as The Exorcist started, the entire tone of the packed auditorium changed.

The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

By the film’s midpoint you could have heard a pin drop. Almost 30 years later, this movie was freaking us out. And it still shocks.

Which brings us to one of those long pondered questions which forever escaped logic. How did WB’s The Exorcist secure an
“R-Rating” by the MPPA in 1973? How did it reclaim that same rating 30 years later? Other far less sadistic or graphic films had been slapped with an “X-rating” and by 2000 we had seen the arrival of the dreaded “NC-17” label. Why would the MPAA give an art film like “Henry & June” an “NC-17” and “The Exorcist” an “R-Rating?”

One of the tamer blasphemies of Holy Icons The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1971 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

One of the tamer blasphemies of Holy Icons
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1971
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Granted, neither or films for children, but if I were a parent and asked to pick which of these two films were “less appropriate” for a child under 17 years of age — I would select The Exorcist. I think most would.

A sweet little girl transformed into murderous and blasphemous monster.  Linda Blair watches her Exorcist die a painful death with a mix of interest and annoyance. She didn't get his soul.  The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

A sweet little girl transformed into murderous and blasphemous monster.
Linda Blair watches her Exorcist die a painful death with a mix of interest and annoyance. She didn’t get his soul.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Or maybe not? I’m not a parent. Maybe I have it wrong.

To put The Exorcist‘s “R-Rating” in perspective, in the same year the MPAA rated The Exorcist as “R” it slapped the dreaded “X-Rating” to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. In comparison this rating makes no sense. Luckily, Nicolas Roeg’s film had Paramount behind it’s distribution. Somehow the MPAA rethought it and relented an “R-Rating” for Roeg’s experimental film. But only two years earlier the MPAA assigned Ken Russell’s The Devils with an “X-Rating.” And, this was after WB required Ken Russell to cut out a significant amount of footage. Warner Brothers held on to two copies of Ken Russell’s original theatrical cut. While Russell’s The Devils is a provocation, it never goes anywhere near the level of having a 14 year-old girl defile herself with a crucifix.

"Hell will hold no surprises for them!" Warner Bros marketing campaign for  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971

“Hell will hold no surprises for them!”
Warner Bros marketing campaign for
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971

Interestingly much has been made about William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist novel having been based on an actual and true incident involving a teenage boy in the 1950’s. However, when one actually looks into the “true story” much more of what actually happened is unclear. In most ways, this “true incident” appears to be largely lost within the shadows of marketing and urban legend. As grim and horrifying as The Exorcist is, both the 1973 and the 2000 versions offer the audience “hope.” This is a hope grounded in faith and the power of good over evil. There is nothing at all wrong with that. But it does seem a flimsy excuse to let it pass with an “R-Rating” when Friedkin’s more recent independent movie, Killer Joe, was given an “NC-17.”

Interesting to note that until the MPAA introduced the "NC-17-Rating" -- The official "X-Rating" was actually less restrictive in number of states. It was left to individual states and cinemas to determine the age restricted. News to me.

Interesting to note that until the MPAA introduced the “NC-17-Rating” — The official “X-Rating” was actually less restrictive in number of states. It was left to individual states and cinemas to determine the age restricted. News to me.

In Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Rated, hidden cameras and a number of covert activities were utilized to break in to the odd world of Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system. The documentary revealed several things, but only one was surprising: Every screening held by the individuals who are “chosen” to serve as raters is blessed by both a Christian Minister and a Catholic Priest. While neither is supposed to lecture or push any decision of the raters, they are free to include whatever they wish in their blessings.

And here is the answer to the mysterious reasoning behind The Exorcist rating. It is Vatican approved.

Father Granier's use of The Confessional is questionable to say the least.  Georgina Hale / Oliver Reed The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Father Granier’s use of The Confessional is questionable to say the least.
Georgina Hale / Oliver Reed
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

It may contain graphic and obscene scenes of blasphemy, but it has a Catholic Intent. The priests fix it all! Or at least it seems to be thought.

The intent of Killer Joe is to satire the impact of greed on marginalized lower-class family dysfunction.

As for Ken Russell’s The Devils? The intent is aimed as satirizing both politics and religion. It depicts both fundamental aspects of most human life as opportunities for corruption, greed, ambition and power.

Graham Armitage as France's King Louis XIII performs for Cardinal Richelieu, his assistant nuns and a slew of The French Royal Court's most depraved. The Catholic Church doesn't mind The King's sins, they just want to share in the power and the wealth... The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Graham Armitage as France’s King Louis XIII performs for Cardinal Richelieu, his assistant nuns and a slew of The French Royal Court’s most depraved. The Catholic Church doesn’t mind The King’s sins, they just want to share in the power and the wealth…
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Oh, and unlike The ExorcistThe Devils is actually based on “historic fact.” I only put that in quotation marks because I am referring to 17th Century French history. However, the sources and descriptions of the events that Russell fictionalizes in The Devils tie much closer to what he shows us than anything of truth connected to The Exorcist. This means The Devils depicts a very scary moment in both French and Catholic history in which greed and power not only “suggested” nuns to blaspheme,

The Ursuline nuns are not there by choice, but because they form society's rejects. Repressed and Caged. They do not require too much in the way of pressure from The Catholic Church to slip into hysteria that quickly morphs into Satanic blasphemy.  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

The Ursuline nuns are not there by choice, but because they form society’s rejects. Repressed and Caged. They do not require too much in the way of pressure from The Catholic Church to slip into hysteria that quickly morphs into Satanic blasphemy.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

a primary Cardinal and his priests most likely “required” their nuns to comply or face torture — nothing is too much to  a rebellious priest and assist the Catholic Church forge closer to a demented French King. Ken Russell didn’t even feel it necessary to change any of the actual names of the individuals who have already been forged into history.

This might explain Warner Brothers refusal to relinquish Ken Russell’s infamous and acclaimed 1971 art film, The Devils. Restoration of this film is of growing concern to Film Historians and Film Art Preservationists. Film only lasts so long and only WB knows where and how their 2 copies of The Devils are being stored. WB is not known to always apply a great deal of logic to their catalog. And they have an essential collection of cinematic work.

In many ways,  Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels, is the only "innocent" character in this film. She is ill and then sexually-assulted by Exorcists and Priests to extract false confession. From the very beginning we know she is hanging on to sanity by a string.  Vanessa Redgrave The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

In many ways, Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels, is the only “innocent” character in this film. She is ill and then sexually-assulted by Exorcists and Priests to extract false confession. From the very beginning we know she is hanging on to sanity by a string.
Vanessa Redgrave
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Going into it’s 45th year, this film may soon be lost forever unless WB takes care of it or releases it to a company who will. As you read this you might feel the need to roll your eyes or dismiss it, but this is worse than censorship: it comes at the risk of losing a valuable piece of cinematic history.

While I’m not sure one could state that Ken Russell’s The Devils is a better film than Friedkin’s The Exorcist.  William Friedkin made the better film. The Exorcist is a cinematic masterpiece. No questions asked.

Ken Russell’s cinematic work is challenging. An eccentric British filmmaker, he shares more in common with the films of Michael Powell or even more like those of Andrzej Zulawski. Russell’s films tend to have a manic pace and no restraint. They are often bombastic, loud, crass and dangerous to know. “Women in Love” and “Tommy” are probably his two most accessible films. But his work is often magical and intellectual. In the case of The Devils, it is angry. No question that Russell was a cinematic genius. But as is the case with many genius artists, he often had a hard time restraining himself from excess and obsession.

That being stated and noting that The Exorcist is the better film. I do think a case could be argued that The Devils is an equally important film. It is also worth noting that The Exorcist has been such an influential and cultural juggernaut of world-wide scope, multiple copies in all formats exist in a number of places. The future preservation of The Exorcist is secured.

However, as time and investigations move further along — it is becoming clear that there might only be two remaining prints of The Devils as it was originally to be released in 1971. For quite a while there was thought to be a secured copy held by Ken Russell’s daughter. It would appear that this is not the case. One other possibility for a print of the full film turned up as invalid. It would appear that Warner Brothers is the only one who has a pristine print of the original film.

Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Jeanne of the Angels swoons her way into a disturbing world of Christ Imagery erotic daydreaming... The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Jeanne of the Angels swoons her way into a disturbing world of Christ Imagery erotic daydreaming…
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Despite pleas from The British Film Institute, The Great Britain Historical Society, The Ken Russell’s Estate, The BBC, The Criterion Collection and a power-laden Official Petition — Warner Brothers simply refuses to relinquish the film to anyone for any reason. It was viewed as a major victory for BFI when WB finally agreed to supply them with with limited licensing rights and a copy to “restore” and transfer limited to British Region Code DVD/Blu-Ray (no cinema screenings allowed) It didn’t matter. At last an organization would be able to properly restore and save the film. It was a bit of shock for the distinguished BFI to discover that Warner would not “loan” or “share” an actual print of the film. Instead BFI received a Digi-Beta tape of the American X Certificate version. The American “X-Rated” version was even more cut up than the UK version. This Digi-Beta tape greatly limited the ability to “restore” quality and it was not the original theatrical release of the movie.

Oliver Reed as Father Urbain Grandier. While presented as a man of faith and ethics, he is also a cruel and callous man who is more than happy to seduce the females of his flock. The line between good and evil is a thin one for this "progressive" priest.  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Oliver Reed as Father Urbain Grandier. While presented as a man of faith and ethics, he is also a cruel and callous man who is more than happy to seduce the females of his flock. The line between good and evil is a thin one for this “progressive” priest.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

BFI did their best. The quality is better than the briefly and highly censored VHS tape WB released in the mid 1980’s. Some scenes are fuzzy, some aren’t, some have audio issues that could only be minimally-addressed. Worst of all, the most crucial scenes of Russell’s work are still missing.

Welcome to 17th Century France. Plague is in full force as Catholic and French Histories take a dark turn. The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Welcome to 17th Century France. Plague is in full force as Catholic and French Histories take a dark turn.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

South Korea also secured a limited licensing from WB, but this was also made from a similar Digi-Beta tape that was an “R-rated” cut of the film that had never been seen. This version actually doesn’t completely make sense so much has been cut. There is one bootleg copy floating around, but the quality is so bad it is almost impossible to watch — and very often is impossible to hear.

Vanessa Redgrave's Sister Jeanne is both amused and disgusted when faced with a woman who actually seeks to devote her life to Christ. After eloquently dismissing her devotional intention to be a waste as this f Ursuline nunnery is a safe home for the deformed and unmanageable. When she discovers Father Granier has already seduced the would-be-devout-nun her jealousy and rage holds back no punches: "Whore! Strumpet! Hypocrite! You tell me you have no vocation? Of course you have a vocation! Fornicator! Fornicator! Sacrilegious bitch! Seducer of priest, that's your calling! Your place is in a brothel. You filthy whore! Get back to the gutter where you belong!" The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Vanessa Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne is both amused and disgusted when faced with a woman who actually seeks to devote her life to Christ. After eloquently dismissing her devotional intention to be a waste as this f Ursuline nunnery is a safe home for the deformed and unmanageable. When she discovers Father Granier has already seduced the would-be-devout-nun her jealousy and rage holds back no punches:
“Whore! Strumpet! Hypocrite! You tell me you have no vocation? Of course you have a vocation! Fornicator! Fornicator! Sacrilegious bitch! Seducer of priest, that’s your calling! Your place is in a brothel. You filthy whore! Get back to the gutter where you belong!”
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Warner Brothers has never actually officially addressed the reasoning behind their refusal to allow access to The Devils. Because they have stated that Ken Russell’s original cut of the film is within their possession and protection, many thought that the executives were holding off to “cash in” once the film’s notorious and infamous director had died. However, we lost Mr. Russell in late 2011 at the age of 84. Warner Brothers continues to refuse requests, petitions and any individual writer seeking information. The reasons for not letting the film out run deeper than any possible profit or historical cinema preservation merits.

It is particularly interesting in an age where any controversy is viewed “a selling factor” if it can make a buck. WB is a huge corporation. The bottomline and increasing profit is a main concern. So why keep The Devils hidden away? No one connected to the film’s controversy is left who would care.

"Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights." Vanessa Redgrave The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

“Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights.”
Vanessa Redgrave
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

The only living artist who could object would be Vanessa Redgrave. She, like many who worked for Ken Russell, remained a close friend until the end of his life. She has also expressed pride in having been a part of the film and considers it one of her best bits of work. Her role was originally intended for the equally esteemed Glenda Jackson. Jackson, also a life-long friend of Ken Russell and family, had discussed the fact that she turned down Redgrave’s infamous role because, at that time, she was tired of playing Russell’s sexually neurotic and hysterical muse. She made that statement both in truth and jest. Years later she would film her final role in Russell’s experimental and demented film Salome’s Last Dance. At the time Jackson noted that she had some regrets at having not played Sister Jeanne.

Acclaimed cinematographer, David Watkin, served as Cinematographer. He remained proud of this early film for offering him some freedom in establishing his own style while adhering to Russell’s vision. Prior to The Devils, Watkin was best known for having filmed 2 iconic movies:  The Knack… and How to Get It and The Beatles’ Help.

A perverse fantasy of a sick woman will soon help pave the way toward public execution.  Oliver Reed / Vanessa Regrave The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

A perverse fantasy of a sick woman will soon help pave the way toward public execution.
Oliver Reed / Vanessa Regrave
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

His style was really already formed, but he felt the freedom Russell allowed offered him great benefit. He died in 2008.

Another interesting aspect of The Devils is that it features the early work of the iconic Derek Jarman. Jarman’s imprint on The Devils is unforgettable. Serving as the film’s production designer, The Devils features some truly amazing sets. Jarman would go on to be an important and experimental voice in Film and the art of Queer Film.

One of many post-modern sets created by then Production Designer, Derek Jarman.  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

One of many post-modern sets created by then Production Designer, Derek Jarman.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Jarman’s style was always unique, but it is clear that Russell’s aesthetic impacted his own vision.

Aside from the Film Theory aspect, The Devils is of note because it is a fictional account of something that is of historical note for both France and The Catholic Church. This is probably a page of history that both the country and The Vatican would rather forget. Interestingly, this might be the main reason WB is not letting the film go.

Aldous Huxley plunged deep within the history of what happened in 17th Century Loudun with the publication of his historical novel, Devils of Loudun. It was a controversial read then and it still is, but there is nothing in it than can be refuted. The few times Huxley actually is forced to put forward an explanation for things unexplained he offers several ideas to explain. And all are sound.

Let the "exorcisms" begin... The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Let the “exorcisms” begin…
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Huxley crafted a historical narrative to address the controversial, mysterious and sordid historical fact that involved Cardinal Richelieu, a rebellious priest by the name of Father Urban Grandier, An Ursuline Convent of nuns and their Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels. It is know that Father Grandier disagreed with both the King and The Catholic Church at the time. It seems fairly obvious that he seemed to disagree with idea of celibacy and was corrupt in that he engaged in sexual trysts with women of his flock. It is also of note that Father Grandier was reported to be handsome, charismatic and flirtatious. For unknown reasons, he declined Sister Jeanne’s request to act as “Spiritual Advisor” for for both she and her nuns. Cardinal Richelieu already viewed Father Grandier as a threat to the church and The Church’s desire to become closely aligned with The King. King Louis XIII, the infamous monarch of the House of Bourbon is a figure of legendary in and of himself. And both of these powerful men needed the other for a while due to political and power circumstances.

All the nuns are gathered to stand in giant burrial holes and "suggested" to convulse, blaspheme, carnally degrade themselves for the "good" of God. Or faces the same torture imposed upon their  Superior Mother. They are all eager to follow The Cardinal, The King and The Exorcists' guidance for transgressive behavior.  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

All the nuns are gathered to stand in giant burrial holes and “suggested” to convulse, blaspheme, carnally degrade themselves for the “good” of God. Or faces the same torture imposed upon their Superior Mother. They are all eager to follow The Cardinal, The King and The Exorcists’ guidance for transgressive behavior.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

In what could be compared to the Salem Witch Trails only far more perverse and blasphemous in nature, Huxley put forward a number of reasons that France, The Catholic Church and the People of Loudun thought Father Grandier had made a pact with Satan that allowed the pristine Ursuline nuns to be fully possessed by demonic forces. It is of historical record to the level of debauchery that these “possessions” led the “blessed” nuns and their “heavenly” Mother Superior to act out public acts of sexually perverse behaviors including orgies and evil sexual blasphemy with religious symbols and Christ Icons.

The King and his Royal Court make an appearance to giggle at the atrocious perversion of The Catholic Church.  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

The King and his Royal Court make an appearance to giggle at the atrocious perversion of The Catholic Church.
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Under both the blessing of the Cardinal and the approval of King Louis XIII, a series of public exorcisms were performed that involved more than just sprinkling of Holy Water. The nuns went further into “fits of hysteria” and their Mother Superior named Father Grandier as the evil responsible for their demonic actions. The public watched the acts of debauchery and exorcisms in what reads like some sick and twisted form of entertainment. The exorcisms went further into public acts of sexual torture. And then, it all stopped. The nuns and their Superior were free of their demons and redeemed  in the “Eyes of God.” 

A fellow priest begs Granier to confess and be spared. He refuses. The guilt-ridden priest seems to be praying more for himself than Granier.  Oliver Reed / Murray Melvin The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

A fellow priest begs Granier to confess and be spared. He refuses. The guilt-ridden priest seems to be praying more for himself than Granier.
Oliver Reed / Murray Melvin
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Grandier was questioned and tortured by the exorcist, the priests and their followers to extract a confession of having formed a pact with The Devil and conspiring to corrupt all of France and the Catholic Church. He never confessed or gave in to the torture. Ultimately, he was burned at the stake.

Granier refuses to give-in to the political ploy of The Cardinal's Exorcist.  Oliver Reed / Michael Gothard The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkins

Granier refuses to give-in to the political ploy of The Cardinal’s Exorcist.
Oliver Reed / Michael Gothard
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkins

This, according to history, was the only way both The King and The Cardinal could be sure that Loudun were rid of the Satanic Grip. The public execution was treated as entertainment. Everyone in the town celebrated and the nuns were also granted approval to witness the horrid death.

Father Granier's abandoned son is brought to watch his father's execution.  Georgina Hale  The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Father Granier’s abandoned son is brought to watch his father’s execution.
Georgina Hale
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Huxley theorized a number of ideas. One of the most controversial being that most women who became nuns at this time had been deemed “unmanageable” and desperate for shelter. Though not completely clear, it would appear that The Mother Superior suffered some major physical birth defect. Her holiness was viewed to be a result of her plight. It is historically stated that Father Grandier enjoyed antagonizing Sister Jeanne of the Angels.

Huxley writes that the levels of sexual repressions, lack of serious faith, The Mother Superior’s disdain for the priest, the fact that many of the men in Loudun viewed Grandier as a trouble-maker with both The King and The Cardinal — and ultimately the political possibilities between a power-hungry Cardinal and a possible insane and perverse King led to one of the ugliest moments in French and Catholic history.

Huxley goes into great detail about the many realistic and human possibilities that factored into this incident. He leans toward the political, hypocracy and a shared temporary delirium or hysteria for the nuns. He also suggests that it many not have been so psychological. It might have boiled down to the nuns having to do as instructed by their Cardinal. Anyway one looks at it, it is not a pretty picture of religion or politics.

The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

Filmed at the very end of the 1960’s, the political and liberal Ken Russell saw this story and the play it had inspired to be an ideal topic to explore as metaphor. Russell’s The Devils is excessive in every way possible. While often beautifully staged and crafted — the film pulses with a hysterical pace. The acting is intentionally “theatrical” and most certainly presented to shock. The political ideologies spell forth throughout. Russell does not spare Oliver Reed’s Father Grandier as solidly ethical character. He is impossible to like, but it is equally impossible that this character deserves what he is given. Especially since he is given it for entirely the wrong reasons.

Vanessa Redgrave fares best in the film. In fact she is fantastic in the role. She is able to match the operatic pacing of the film with a carefully eccentric and darkly comical read on her character. It is an impossibly brilliant performance. Russell presents both she and her nuns as women who have “devoted” their lives to God because society has no other use for them. The only character who appears to actually feel a true calling to the devoted life of a nun is quickly dismissed by Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne of the Angels. She is too pretty to waster her time locked up in the convent. And what a convent it is. While Redgrave’s character runs a strict order, she simply turns the other way as her nuns grab at vague attempts as sexual gratification.

Sympathy for the Devil? Oliver Reed The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Sympathy for the Devil?
Oliver Reed
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

When the nuns become a pawn of The Church and The State, it is as if they’ve been not only granted “permission” to explore their repressed desires, the threat of torture looms if they don’t take those “desires” to blasphemous limits. This is the portion of the film that remains controversial almost 45 years later. The scenes are disgusting. They are not erotic. They are upsetting. What’s more — these scenes which have been labeled The Rape of Christ — can be found from time to time on YouTube. BFI has access to an inferior copy from whereabouts unknown. They were shown on British television documentary about the film in the late 80’s. Compared to much of what we see now on cable, they are really barely eligible for an R rating much less an X or NC-17.

Faith and Religion Distorted For Ambition, Greed, Power and Control... The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Faith and Religion Distorted
For Ambition, Greed, Power and Control…
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

The scenes that are the most disturbing are in the R-rated cut. Sister Jeannes’ “exorcism” is actually rape and sexual torture. 40 some odd years later, these scenes are still hard to watch. Yet these scenes get an “R-Rating” when an “NC-17” would be more appropriate. Another controversial segment which would probably secure a “PG-13” rating today is actually one of the more blasphemous scenes in the movie. Sister Jeannes convulsive sexual fantasies of Father Granier as Christ are not graphic, but oddly disturbing. Filmed beautifully and erotically, Oliver Reed emerges as Christ descended from the Cruxifiction walking upon water to Sister Jeanne. As she kisses his bloodied feet and sweeps her hair over them. She begins to move up his body as if about to engage in felatio when the wind blows her vaguely nun-like wrapping off — her hump back is revealed and she screams in horror as everyone begins to mock and degrade her.

Georgina Hale The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

Georgina Hale
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

The Devils may not have been crafted with the precise and deftly serious style as The Exorcist, but Ken Russell’s film is concerned with far more serious cultural issues than Evil vs. Good. In The Devils, Ken Russell is presenting ideas that still seem to shake people to their core. It is a satirical political commentary that works incredibly well. Fever-pitched and unapologetic it is an essential film.

And when one stands back from both of these films, The Exorcist is actually the more perverse and controversial film. Welcome to the schisms of Film Theory, History, Politics and Religion.

The tragically deformed Mother Superior fosters an unhealthy desire of Christ as a source of eroticism. And her priest, Father Granier, has taken the place of Christ in her mind. Enter Erotic Surrealism... Vanessa Redgrave The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin

The tragically deformed Mother Superior fosters an unhealthy desire of Christ as a source of eroticism. And her priest, Father Granier, has taken the place of Christ in her mind. Enter Erotic Surrealism…
Vanessa Redgrave
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin

I have written about both Ken Russell, his work and this film in particular a number of times. I’ve also done some “covert investigation” in separating fact from fiction regarding Warner Brothers and possible prints of the original cut. If anyone is persistent, it a fan of film. There are a great number of Film Preservationists, Film Historians, devoted Ken Russell fans and Cinematic Curiosity Seekers who are still pushing to gain access to this film. Unless Warner Brothers is lying to us and they lost both of those prints, there is always a chance that Ken Russell’s The Devils might one day gets its moment in on the screen.

Matty Stanfield, 8.10.2015

Ken Russell  1927 - 2011 Photograph | 1988 ©Vestron Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

Ken Russell
1927 – 2011
Photograph | 1988 ©Vestron Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

When I think of British film director, Ken Russell, a number of words immediately come into my mind. The words or phrases I associate with Ken Russell are as follows:

Brilliant, British, Pushing The Envelope, Anti-Repression, Classical Music, Eccentric Artists, Obsessive, Auteur, Bombastic, Surreal, Genius, Avant Garde, Anger, Anti-Religion, Dark Eroticism, Carnal , Crass, Experimental Artist, Cultural Critic, Sardonic, Brutal, Human Lust, Lavish, Cinematography, Creative, Imaginative, Drug Culture, Transgressive Artist, Controversial, Intellectual, Form, Style, Orchestrated Chaos, Excessive, Angry, Provocative, Shock-Master, Sexually-charged, Kicking Against The Pricks, Unhinged Cinematic Master and An Original – in every sense of the word.

Ken Russell's GOTHIC, 1986

Ken Russell’s GOTHIC, 1986

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Ken Russell’s artistic career is the fact that all of these aspects of the artist seldom blended to create that special alchemy that can form a masterful film. It seems as if these aspects that formed The Great Ken Russell also hindered him from being remembered as the Cinematic Genius he was. With the possible exception of only a few films, one has only to watch one of his films to see his genius at work. And with the exception of only a few, one only has to view one of his films to see how he most often undermined his own work.

There can be no question of the magic and inspired work found in such films as WOMEN IN LOVE, THE DEVILS and TOMMY. All three of these films capture almost every word or phrase that came to my mind, but all three of these film work beautifully on almost all levels.

WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

Women In Love will always remain Ken Russell’s most accessible and commercial film.

The cast of WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

The cast of WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

A brilliant adaptation of the infamous novel by Larry Kramer, Ken Russell conjured a stunning cinematic experience.

The erotic eating of a fig. Alan Bates as Rupert in WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

The erotic eating of a fig. Alan Bates as Rupert in WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

Glenda Jackson and Alan Bates were never better or more sensually attractive as they are in this movie. And the mix of Billy Williams’ cinematography, the music of Georges Delerue, the fine performances, sensual eroticism and Ken Russell’s obsessive care form a brilliant cinematic experience which fully captures D.H. Lawrence.

Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed, WOMEN IN LOVE

Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed, WOMEN IN LOVE

Eleanor Bron, WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

Eleanor Bron, WOMEN IN LOVE, 1969

Oliver Reed and Alan Bates' infamous nude wrestle.

Oliver Reed and Alan Bates’ infamous nude wrestle.

women_in_love_1_2

However, THE DEVILS may be a bit too brutal, angry, avant-garde and shocking to suit the tastes of many.

Vanessa Redgrave, THE DEVILS, 1971

Vanessa Redgrave, THE DEVILS, 1971

THE DEVILS retains a major place in Film History and Film Theory. It also features the very early genius of Derek Jarman who served as Set Designer and contains one of Vanessa Redgrave’s finest performances. It is also impossible to see this film as Ken Russell intended. Though, there is a bootleg DVD out there that comes close. This film caused such controversy in it’s depiction of an actual historic event that it remains condemned by The Vatican. The infamous Rape of Christ sequence earned the film an X rating and outraged many. However, this motion picture remains a powerful – albeit convulsive, view of Vatican hypocrisy and the culture dangers of State and Church merging. THE DEVILS is a raging, bold, theatrical, surreal, repulsive, operatic and intentionally blasphemous indictment against not only The Catholic Church but organized religion.

Vanessa Redgrave's Sister Jeanne love for Christ goes far beyond the appropriate scope. THE DEVILS, 1971

Vanessa Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne love for Christ goes far beyond the appropriate scope. THE DEVILS, 1971

And, then Russell’s most commercially successful motion picture, TOMMY.

Your senses will never be the same. Ken Russell's TOMMY, 1975

Your senses will never be the same. Ken Russell’s TOMMY, 1975

Though this film is very much a sort of 1970’s Glam Rock Time Capsule moment — it is a brilliant cinematic rock opera. Far ahead of the cinematic curve, it is hard to imagine the concept of the pop music video or the existence of MTV without Ken Russell’s TOMMY. The film was the perfect storm for a mid-1970’s hit.

Tina Turner as The Acid Queen about to rip his soul apart. TOMMY, 1975

Tina Turner as The Acid Queen about to rip his soul apart. TOMMY, 1975

Tina Turner is The Acid Queen about to apply the first of many injections. TOMMY, 1975

Tina Turner is The Acid Queen about to apply the first of many injections. TOMMY, 1975

Acast filled with the coolest and most talented pool of rock musicians along with the Sex Kitten purr/roar of Ann-Margret.

Ann-Margret is The Mother. TOMMY, 1975

Ann-Margret is The Mother.
TOMMY, 1975

In addition, TOMMY captures a great deal of the time in which it was filmed: cult religion, rebellion, sexual freedom, a growing understanding of the impact of trauma on children, the power of drugs for insight, the sexual revolution and the general unrest and anger seething in Wester Culture as the 1970’s moved to the mid-point.

Elton John is The Pinball Wizard. TOMMY, 1975

Elton John is The Pinball Wizard.
TOMMY, 1975

That blind, deaf, dumb boy sure plays a mean pinball. Elton John, TOMMY, 1975

That blind, deaf, dumb boy sure plays a mean pinball. Elton John, TOMMY, 1975

The story of The Who’s Tommy is given a whole new perspective from the 1960’s concept album. Ken Russell’s love of opera and all of eccentricities of his imagination were the perfect match for a rock opera. And, Ann-Margret was the perfect leading lady for him. Ann-Margret has always been a talented beauty, tommy6

but has also also always come on a little oddly strong and theatrical. Her tempo and seething eroticism matched every turn of Russell’s camera. Her delivery resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a leading role. A nomination that shocked as many as it pleased. In my opinion, TOMMY was Ken Russell’s finest hour as a filmmaker. It adheres to his aesthetic / style and offers him a chance to be commercial to the mass public. TOMMY was the perfect “trip” for the mid-1970’s.

tumblr_m1bxnkQdHO1rsrjeno1_500

And, while it is now a bit dated, there is no way one can watch it without feeling the power of the film itself and note the ways in which it has been copied over the years.  And, it is also impossible not to note that Ken Russell was inspired and enchanted by the physical / erotic presence and glam rock star look of Roger Daltrey.

Roger Daltrey is Tommy and a new muse for Ken Russell. Iconic and Erotic. TOMMY, 1975

Roger Daltrey is Tommy and a new muse for Ken Russell. Iconic and Erotic. TOMMY, 1975

One can’t help but suspect that it was his interest in Daltrey’s charisma and pop star status that moved him to make one of the most curious, strange and truly bizarre major Hollywood productions to ever find itself not only “green-lighted” but released to a world of mainstream movie screens…

Uh, oh. Roger Daltrey is Franz Liszt. Ken Russell's LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Uh, oh. Roger Daltrey is Franz Liszt. Ken Russell’s LISZTOMANIA, 1975

There was already a very positive buzz surrounding Russell’s production of TOMMY.  In the US, Columbia Pictures was already certain it had a massive hit coming their way. For the first time in his career, Ken Russell was truly being evaluated as a major player in the film business. Before he even finished filming TOMMY he knew he wanted to return to one of his favorite subject matters – the challenges and obsessions of the great classical composers. It has also been rumored that his perception of creating film had greatly been altered by his experience of working with The Who and interacting with the superstardom surrounding the band and the other rock musicians he had been able to cast in the movie. It is not surprising that he came up with the idea of what would become LISZTOMANIA. However, what is surprising is that Warner Bros. was so eager to get the movie made. What would have made the Big Warner Bros. “Suits” think that Russell’s script could ever be anything but a confusing mess is a cultural-head-scratcher. This is especially true when one thinks about the woes that their previous funding of Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS had caused them. True, that film was highly praised by some — but it is also true that it spurred equal amounts of anger. Audiences either loved THE DEVILS or hated it. One can argue that a work that can cause such extreme reactions is most likely a very valid work of art. But, this does not usually spell “blockbuster” — and, as with THE DEVILS, it resulted in being banned all over the world. But whether it was some sort of frenzy over the fact that TOMMY was destined to be a huge hit, or the drug-out culture pervading Hollywood at the time or just the simple idea that “the kids” will pay good money to see anything with the lead singer of The Who, rock music and the “weirdness” of TOMMY — Ken Russell’s next infamous feature was approved and set quickly into production. It is perhaps the biggest budgeted example of Experimental or Surrealism ever made by a major Hollywood studio.

Roger Daltrey is Franz Liszt and he is enjoying one of his groupies.  LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Roger Daltrey is Franz Liszt and he is enjoying one of his groupies.
LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Ken Russell’s concept for the movie is not a bad one. Combined with his love of classical musical history, the creation of art, the cultural rebel and his new found interest in 1970’s Glam Rock Pop Culture — the basic idea of LISZTOMANIA is a seemingly valid and interesting cinematic idea. Anyone familiar with classical music history knows that Franz Liszt enjoyed a whole new sort of popularity during his lifetime. In the classical music “scene” of last quarter of  18th Century Europe, classical composers / musicians normally performed before a hushed audience who were there to take in the pleasure, power and essence of the music and “to be seen” — but Franz Liszt was inspiring something totally new in the world of performing arts. He didn’t just appeal to the wealthy. He appealed to almost everyone — particularly women. Reports of young women following him just to steal a tossed cigar or to catch a glimpse of their favorite composer.

Roger Daltrey in the prime of his Erotic Superstardom as Franz Liszt. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Roger Daltrey in the prime of his Erotic Superstardom as Franz Liszt. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

And, many reports on record state that patrons often had a hard time concentrating on Liszt’s music due to the noise of the young women who would scream and push forward to the stage. Though, the word did not yet exist — Franz Liszt had a loyal fan following. And these fanatic “fans” would swoon and be totally swept away by his playing as much as his mere presence.

Heinrich Heine first coined the term, “Lisztomania” in 1844. Heine saw the reaction of Liszt’s following as becoming hysterical and falling into a “Liszt Fever” — audiences literally going crazy as he took to the stage. Swooning, dazed and applauding throughout his performances. Franz Liszt had “groupies” and apparently enjoyed the pleasure of their company.

LISZTOMANIA, 1975

LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Though, modern scholars would most likely warn that this was nothing like Western culture experienced in the early 1960’s with The Beatles. But, a valid argument can still be made that Franz Liszt may have been the first “Pop Star” — with one of compositions we now refer to as “Chop Sticks” being a signature piece he would perform to the delight of the young women.

Princess Carolyn rests on a somewhat oddly yonic bed while enjoying a joint as Franz serenades her with his magical music…  LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Princess Carolyn rests on a somewhat oddly yonic bed while enjoying a joint as Franz serenades her with his magical music…
LISZTOMANIA, 1975

No doubt, Ken Russell saw the correlation between what is known about Franz Liszt and the 1970’s rock star. A rock star like Roger Daltrey. And, Ken Russell appears to take great joy in the meshing of costume with 1970’s Glam Rock fashion.

Franz Liszt about to leave the wife behind as he heads on to another lengthy tour. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Franz Liszt about to leave the wife behind as he heads on to another lengthy tour. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

LISZTOMANIA movie promotion, UK. 1975

LISZTOMANIA movie promotion, UK. 1975

Unfortunately, Ken Russell didn’t stop with the Rock Superstar metaphor / allegory. After the creative energy and sheer delight of creating outrageous set pieces for TOMMY, he wanted to push his idea even further. Suddenly, the story of Franz Liszt was an opportunity to illustrate the hipocracy of The Vatican and the vile politics of The Pope.  Here, Ken Russell had the “inspired” idea to cast Ringo Starr as The Pope. Religious icons were replaced with Pop Culture Icons such as modern rock and movie stars.

Ringo Starr is The Pope. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Ringo Starr is The Pope. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

And to examine the evil of humanity that would spawn Fascism and The Third Reich.  Oddly, there is a valid connection here to the story of Franz Liszt. His daughter, Cosima, would go on to marry Richard Wagner – both were vehement anti-Semites and were part of an idea that would eventually lead to the creation of The Third Reich. An idea that would corrupt German culture and plant a seed that would grow into The Nazi. All of this historical information fueled Russell’s imagination and pulsated into a comic book re-telling of the horror of The Holocaust — featuring Richard Wagner as the Ultimate Evil Villain vs. Franz Liszt as The Ultimate Super Hero to fight and beat down the Oppressive Nazi “Superman”.

The Creation of Wagner's Evil Nazi. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

The Creation of Wagner’s Evil Nazi. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

On top of all of these strained conceptual ideas, Ken Russell wanted to create a world of cinematic pop culture. A Surrealist take on both history and the creation of art. And, of course, where their is a pop star there will be sex. Ken Russell’s LISZTOMANIA Is obsessed with sex and the erotic. It is also obsessed with cartoonish takes on phallus symbology. One can hardly keep up with the number of penis substitutes in the set and costume designs.

Are those columns or is she just happy to see Franz. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Are those columns or is she just happy to see Franz. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

The movie is also quite intent on pursuing yonic symbols. From simple heart shapes to a literal giant vagina that sucks Franz Liszt in to a swooping ride.

Franz about to be sucked into the tunnel of wet love. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Franz about to be sucked into the tunnel of wet love. LISZTOMANIA, 1975

And, one of the strangest musical numbers involving the invoking of “Liszt True Muse” — his penis. …And, then chopping it off to free him of his ties to the carnal.

lisztomania1975dvdripxvlisztomania1

Uh, oh. Franz is getting turned on… LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Uh, oh. Franz is getting turned on… LISZTOMANIA, 1975

The historical figures / groupies are seeing Franz's "genius" grow...

The historical figures / groupies are seeing Franz’s “genius” grow…

Taking a ride on the "genius" of Liszt… LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Taking a ride on the “genius” of Liszt… LISZTOMANIA, 1975

The musical boner...

The musical boner…

Oh no! Time to chop it off!

Oh no! Time to chop it off!

In the end, once we come to the conclusion of Ken Russell’s film, Franz Liszt must die. And, only in death can he truly beat The Evil Wagner Monster. Surrounded by his lovers, muses and even Cosima — he leads his ladies in a rock ballad and then they all zoom off in a rocket back to earth to defeat Wagner’s Nazi Demon and rid the world of Evil.

In Heaven, Franz leads his lovers in a rock ballad...

In Heaven, Franz leads his lovers in a rock ballad…

Before heading in a rather phallic "Organ" "Rocket" to kill the Evil Wagner Nazi! LISZTOMANIA, 1975

Before heading in a rather phallic “Organ” “Rocket” to kill the Evil Wagner Nazi! LISZTOMANIA, 1975

The camp factor is notched up to “13” by the time Ken Russell’s film comes to a close.

One of the few truly inspired ideas of Russell’s in this movie is the musical score. Rick Wakeman brings his electronica conceptual musicianship to the film and “reconstructs” Liszt compositions into the form of mid-1970’s rock. While not always creating radio-friendly tunes — the idea is inspired and well worth a listen. However, no amount of promotion could push this soundtrack into a hit recording. The soundtrack, along with the movie, has developed a hardcore fan base.

The Rick Wakeman / Roger Daltrey soundtrack album.

The Rick Wakeman / Roger Daltrey soundtrack album.

The soundtrack itself has an interesting back story. Worried that the music Wakeman and Daltrey had created would never sell, Warners sold the rights to A&M Records who quickly pushed Wakeman to tone down the music actually used in the film in hopes of making it more “commercial” — the result is an uncomfortable mix of classical music and middle of the road rock.

Close to thirty years later, Rick Wakeman, issued a more proper soundtrack of the film via digital version.

Rick Wakeman: The Real LISZTOMANIA soundtrack recording, 2003

Rick Wakeman: The Real LISZTOMANIA soundtrack recording, 2003

This version preserves the more intense and insane concept of the musical score.

Erotic Exotic Fantastic - It out Tommy's Tommy.  LISZTOMANIA promotion, Restricted, 1975

Erotic Exotic Fantastic – It out Tommy’s Tommy.
LISZTOMANIA promotion, Restricted, 1975

The really odd thing about this horrible film is that it is actually so bad it is entertaining. A jaw-dropping cinematic experience if ever there was one, Ken Russell’s totally unhinged and unhindered vision results in a true cinematic curiosity that can only be considered a massive cinematic error. However, the off-kilter balance of Yuk-Yuk Vaudville jokes, music, Avant-Garde sets and waked-out visuals are truly mind-boggeling. It is hard to not enjoy this film and it does enjoy a strong cult following. A couple of years ago a pristine DVD was issued in the UK featuring a commentary from Mr. Russell himself recorded about a year before his death. Sadly, while his sense of humor is strong — his memory seems to have faded and he offers very little insight into what was going on in his head when he crafted this film. Sadly, the DVD was only released in the UK. However, Warner Brothers Archive had made a remastered and letter-boxed DVD version available on its website. They print it by order — as they do with several Ken Russell titles. Tragically, Warners still refuses to officially re-issue any version of THE DEVILS. That film was released to VHS briefly in a severely censored version in the early 1980’s.

I can’t help but feel a great deal of love for this misguided movie. I am filled with wonder and inspired by the simple fact that a mainstream Hollywood studio not only financed this movie but pushed it forward with a great deal of fanfare. If you get a chance, you might just find yourself enjoying the absolute insanity of Ken Russell’s LISZTOMANIA.

As a side note, while he did promote it at the time of its release, Roger Daltrey has refused to ever publicly discuss LISZTOMANIA since a week after it’s initial release. I find that odd, but then again — not as odd as the movie itself.

It's a wrap! And, Roger Daltrey is proudly carrying off a prop which was missing until a fan of Ken Russell met the director and confessed that he had the giant cock in his backyard. He would not tell Mr. Russell how he came to have it.

It’s a wrap! And, Roger Daltrey is proudly carrying off a prop which was missing until a fan of Ken Russell met the director and confessed that he had the giant cock in his backyard. He would not tell Mr. Russell how he came to have it.

And, who knew Franz Liszt spoke with a Cockney accent?!?!!?