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Mark Kermode | 13:59 UK time, Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The great British film director Ken Russell died on Sunday.

He was a friend and a hero to me and made some of the best, the most exciting and the most experimental films in all of cinema.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry for your loss.

  • Comment number 2.

    I live close to the country estate where some of "Women in love" was shot - Every time I walk past the folly where Glens Jackson stood on the balcony with Oliver reed looking up at her I always go and stand where he did and look up - You can also go on a tour and go in the room where the naked wrestling took place -

  • Comment number 3.

    Can the BBC or Film Four please show a retrospective of his films as a tribute

    Sorry for your loss Mark

  • Comment number 4.

    As someone who has never seen any of Ken Russel's work I feel like I have to ask where to start? I know through this blog how highly revered ''The Devils'' is but which version should one seek out? Or should i just wait and hope for the Director's Cut to be released?

  • Comment number 5.

    A sad loss for British cinema Ken Russell was and is misunderstood as a visionary filmmaker. He directed great cinema like The Devils, Women In Love, Tommy and Altered States. Many people forget that without Tommy we would never seen Dolby Stereo at the end credits which most people believed it was Star Wars... Well Ken got there first.

    I even liked Ken's final film Kitten for Hitler and had the pleasure of shaking Mr Russell's hand and had a brief chat about filmmaking down at Newport three years ago.. He was an inspiration when told me to keep making films.

    I like to give my condolences to Mr Russell's family and friends, and we should celebrate the greatest british filmmaker. Looking forward in seeing The Devils.

  • Comment number 6.

    Sorry for your loss Mark, I know you and Ken were very close and that as a fan as well as a friend the grief must be hard to bear.

    I was talking about Russell with a friend of mine not long ago and we came to the conclusion that while he made films that were great and some that were poor, he never made one which was boring, and that was by far more important.

    By my reckoning he's up there with Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell, David Lean, Lindsay Anderson and Nic Roeg in terms of great British directors. I love The Devils, Altered States and Tommy and I'm desperate to see more of his work.

    A true artist.

  • Comment number 7.

    This was sad news indeed. Ken Russell was one of those directors who's work I always watched when they were on, there was just always something to take from them. I remember taping "Lair of the White Worm" one night because he made it - and I remain a fan of that film, despite what people say about it. In fact, I'm rather taken of his later films in general, such as "Gothic" and "Salome's Last Dance". And "Billion Dollar Brain" remains the best of the Harry Palmer trilogy. Yes, his films were often bonkers, but that's what made them so great. The imagery was always powerful and occasionally upset people.

    We have plenty of great film makers in the UK, but I worry we no longer have someone of Ken's fierce imagination now.

  • Comment number 8.

    A very nice tribute indeed and a very deserving one too. We've been missing someone who pushes the envelope like Ken Russell for many years. I love Altered States and Women in Love and whilst Tommy is far from perfect, it is a unique piece of cinema the likes of which we will never see again. Even though I have yet to see The Devils I am as excited about seeing it as any other movie in memory

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry for the loss of your friend - he was truly one of the greats!!xx

  • Comment number 10.

    A great and impressive body of work, mostly misinterpreted and/or unrecognised. Produced great work without compromise despite constant struggles to fund his filmwork. Our Orson Welles. RIP.

  • Comment number 11.

    Sorry to hear about Mr. Russell's passing and sorry for your personal loss, Dr. K. I've only seen a handful of Russell's films but all of them were distinctive from the typical moviegoing experience. Condolences to his friends and family.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry to hear about the passing of your friend, especially one you idolised. A movie and touching tribute.

    As for Russell's films I was never much of a fan. 'Altered States' would have to be my favourite, from the one's I've seen. 'Billion Dollar Brain' would have to be his worst. The Harry Palmer series started off as a downbeat realistic alternative to the Bond films, that were becoming flamboyant and fantastical. 'Billion Dollar Brain' went down the same route and it ended a great franchise. Still surely the overall blame must not lay with Russell. Maybe the producers wanted to go down the Bond route.

  • Comment number 13.

    Dear Mark,
    I`m very sorry you have lost such a good friend. The studios,money men and some critics were very unkind to Ken Russell. But he has a very real friend in Time.Long after The Hurtlocker,Chicago, Driving Miss Daisy etc,etc are long forgotten about, film fanatics will sit down and watch The Devils and be blown away,as i was, by a unique cinematic experience. If i had to make a comparison it would be with The Shining. That rarest combination of a great image maker, a wonderful story and an actor at the peek of his powers. Mix that together and you produce something UNIQUE. Once in a blue moon a film punches you in the face, says wake up and pay attention, i am what you have been waiting for, I`m what you sit through dross for, i AM GREAT. Its a wonderful feeling , it doesnt happen very often, but that`s what Ken gave to me,and for that i will always be grateful.

  • Comment number 14.

    Ken Russell never compromised, and he never went mainstream; he demanded that the mainstream come to him. Those who rose to the challenge and threw themselves headfirst into his works know why this is such a tragic loss.

  • Comment number 15.

    He was Ken.

    Nothing more needs to be said.

  • Comment number 16.

    RIP Ken Russell

    Wonderful movies never to be forgotten

  • Comment number 17.

    Sorry for your, and our, loss, Mark.

    It has been a long time since I have seen any of Ken's films but they all stay with me. The atmosphere, the images, the drama - all unique. I don't care what the majority think of him, I will never be a part of the majority. Even the worst, which I would say was the Lair, from those I have seen, gave you things to talk and think about for a long time after. In the case of the Lair, chuckling over the sheer, pure B-film stones of it. As Ozymandias and his friend realised, he was never boring.

    Lump in my throat, lovely tribute.

  • Comment number 18.

    A wonderful & obviously heartfelt tribute Dr K.

    RIP Ken.

  • Comment number 19.

    Been watching this blog since its inception. Never seen you so genuinely moved throughout the whole thing. Let's hope as many of his films as possible are released for as large an audience as possible so people can see a truly unique artist.

    Thanks for this post, Mark

  • Comment number 20.

    Excellent tribute, Mark.

    These days film marketing departments throw the word 'visionary' around willy-nilly. But Ken Russell was absolutely a visionary director. A brilliant craftsman with the raging, restless soul of an artist.

    Godspeed, Ken Russell.

  • Comment number 21.

    An excellent epitaph from Mark for an iconic director. I wrote a few words on my blog about Ken Russell:

  • Comment number 22.

    Thank you. Perfectly lovely.

  • Comment number 23.

    People may not have liked the films of Ken Russell but his films were ALWAYS distinctive and NEVER boring and as a film making he would not compromise in any way. You can't say that about many directors.

    Furthermore, I would like to say that his documentary on Elgar (made in the 1960's) is brilliant and is well worth seeking out.

    He willl be sadly missed as the British film industry needs more people like Ken Russell.

  • Comment number 24.

    A sad loss indeed - the only Ken Russell movie I saw in the cinema was "Lair Of The White Worm" in a tiny cinema off Oxford Street in the late Eighties with the cast of Nightbreed in attendence (random I know). As a genre fan, I loved it, and while it was clearly a black comedy, it still contained his trademark "visions of hell". Disturbing, funny, sexy and unlike anything I'd ever seen up till then. Of course, his earlier work will be the most revered (and The Devils in particular deserves the accolades) but I have a fondness for his later work (I also really enjoyed Altered States).

    If there's a heaven, Ken Russell will be up there now, rearranging the furniture to music and causing a ruckus.

  • Comment number 25.

    Sorry for your loss Mark. I truly believe Ken Russell's work was highly underrated. His films he made for the BBC were outstanding, and having only watched 'Song of Summer ' for the very first time recently, I have felt compelled to sing his praises. If anyone could answer this question, why is Russell at the BBC only available as an US import. Looking back at my life, if only I had pursued a career in film making. Thank goodness for Ken Russell.

  • Comment number 26.

    Sorry for your loss, and thank you for this beautiful blog. I've been a fan of Russell's work for years, after stumbling on Savage Messiah on Finnish TV in the middle of the night in the late 90's. Only later I realised that I'd already seen something by him when I was a lot younger, the weird & haunting final sequence of The Music Lovers, a sequence I was equally thrilled and terrorised by!
    His films really mean a lot to me, they're brilliantly made, courageous, smart, funny, wild, beautiful, full of marvelous visuals. To me he was like an adventurous & prolific Kubrick. (I think his cameo in Color Me Kubrick sort of says the same thing.) Maybe now we get the box sets and the director's cuts and the rest. Savage Messiah should be the first on the list, after the Devils, of course. I always hoped some crazy producer would revive his career and get him to make a couple more composer movies. (Yeah, right, and then go revive Jodorowsky's career immediately afterwards.)
    A few questions: what's the best book about him? & have you read any of his novels, what are they like?

  • Comment number 27.

    The definitive eulogy, Mark. He was an exceptional filmmaker, a true visionary.
    Rest in peace.

  • Comment number 28.

    A fine tribute to a fine man. I met him whilst he was filming his documentary on English folk music and was impressed by his charm, his humour and his fierce enthusiasm.
    The tragedy of his death is the eulogising from people whom he would have been unable to get on the phone the day before.
    A pioneer and flag-bearer for British cinema as a distinct and vibrant industry rather than a group of Hollywood clones. We will not see his like again.

  • Comment number 29.

    Great director, great epitaph... great shame.

  • Comment number 30.

    Sorry for your personal loss, and sorry for our cultural loss.

    Particularly appreciate your observations, Ken Russell shouldn't be remembered just for the over the top bits which is all everyone else goes on about. His films didn't rely on the kitsch, ripe, or full on stuff, it's just that he wasn't afraid to use those things if it served the film he was making. All his films display a spectacular cinematic sense, an artist's eye, and a composer's sense of emotion, tone, and tempo.

  • Comment number 31.

    RE-POST 41. At 20:07 28th Nov 2011, You wrote:
    Sad day today as I hear news of 'our' Ken Russell passing. A truly underrated maverick, a great director. Bold and brave and fun.

    "I don't care if people like my films or dislike my films, as long as they don't go off to make a cup of tea in the middle of them." -Ken Russell.

    A real artist who's perceived career lows where nearly always as interesting as his many highs. Dullness was banished, never allowed and cinematic beauty was shown in so many ways as to make you giddy with pleasure. A great filmmaker and a true British original, he will be missed.

    Thoughts go out to his family and those fortunate enough to have counted him as a friend.

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks for the kind words Mark.
    An Appalling Talent if ever there was one.
    R.I.P. Ken :'(

  • Comment number 33.

    Ken Russell's death has, as with many other people, saddened me greatly, and I agree particularly with the correspondant who says that although some of Ken's films were not exactly the best they were NEVER boring - oh, so very important! My only gripe about this blog (which I have never, in all honesty, read before) is the somewhat ludicrous contention that Mr Kermode is "the UK's leading film critic". Oh, please! I can think of all manner of appropriate soubriquets, but certainly not that - not by a very long chalk indeed.

  • Comment number 34.

    I am a young filmmaker and I would have worked on the films Ken Russell was making in his garage, for nothing. I wish I had found a way to do that. The Boy Friend is one of the most beautiful, touching and accessible works I have ever seen. He is my hero - the last of the great masters - the 'Anti-Tarkovsky' is up there with Kubrick, Fellini and Kurosawa.

  • Comment number 35.

    Since Ken Russell died, I've lain awake for a few minutes each day thinking of all the bounteous images he composed and chuckling to myself - one can't put into words just what a renegade master conductor he was.

  • Comment number 36.

    Mark, thanks for this heartfelt tribute to Our Ken. You were obviously a long-time fan of his work when others wavered and wondered what the hell he was up to. Ken was certainly a supreme visualist, which is what cinema is primarily about otherwise you might as well write a book to tell the story, but his lavish visual flamboyance was mostly treated with suspicion by the British 'realist' media and I'm not sure he ever quite made his mark on the European arthouse stage along with other cine-poets like Herzog, Wenders, Kieslowski, Tarkovsky et al - and Ken's best work deserves to stand alongside their work. In terms of post-war British cinema he is there in the pantheon of great mavericks with Michael Powell, Peter Watkins, Derek Jarman, Bill Douglas, Peter Greenaway, Nic Roeg, Patrick Keiller and Ken Loach, to name but a few. On a personal note, it was Ken's 70s films that I saw as teenager that introduced me to artistic cinema - i.e. non-Hollywood fodder - and made me realise that cinema was telling a story in pictures (montage) and not merely an adjunct of literature. My own personal favourite of Ken's work is 'Gothic' which, apart from the rather too noisy Thomas Dolby score, is a wondrous, decadent visual feast. Pure Ken, in fact.

  • Comment number 37.

    I've just been reading about one of Ken Russell's unmade projects, his 1978 script for Dracula...what a shame that it was never made. The author of a book on the vampire in pop culture relates that there were many touches of the Count as Byronic anti-hero stripe that sprung up in 70s critical approaches to the work. He would have done something extraordinary with it. RIP Ken.


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