Monday, November 28, 2011

RIP: Ken Russell... Billion Dollar Brain

Director Ken Russell has passed away - he was one of those interesting British directors from the 60s and 70s who was making films up until his death. The thing about a Ken Russell movie was that it would always be visually interesting, often in an acid trip kind of way.

I wrote this a couple years back about his very first film...

Last week I had an entry about one of my favorite movies, THE IPCRESS FILE starring Michael Caine. That was his first starring role after playing bit parts and supporting in films and TV series, and he performed like a veteran. The film was both a critical and financial success - and based on the first in a series of novels by Len Deighton - so you know what happens next...


The first sequel, FUNERAL IN BERLIN, is one of those great Cold War movies - directed by James Bond vet Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER) and is pretty good. Not as great as IPCRESS, but it’s a fine second film. Maybe because it didn’t measure up to the wild director of Sidney J. Furie, the producers decided to bring in someone arty for the third film, so they hired the flamboyant Ken Russell to direct BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN.

Ken Russell is an interesting director, and I believe this is his first feature film. He would go on to direct WOMEN IN LOVE a couple of years later, which features Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling naked - I am still trying to remove those images from my mind. He would then specialize in over the top musicals and musical biographies like THE BOY FRIEND, THE MUSIC LOVERS, TOMMY, MAHLER, LISZTOMANIA, and VALENTINO before going through ALTERED STATES and coming out the other side as a kind of kinky horror movie director with the wacky CRIMES OF PASSION and GOTHIC and LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM. I believe he is now making erotica with a consumer camcorder - and I’m sure it’s inventive and strange. Russell is one of those crazy geniuses like Orson Welles who needs someone to tell him when he has gone too far, someone to tell him when he has ventured into the really weird.

There was no one like that on BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN... so we have a movie where the army is dressed in white outfits with purple helmets and look like a bunch of penises (or penii) and everything is bright and crazy and the plot goes way off the rails about halfway through and it seems to be a parody of James Bond movies. You keep expecting a big musical number to break out. Ed Begley Sr is so over the top he ends up in the stratosphere somewhere. I have no idea what this movie is - but it is *not* a Harry Palmer movie. I saw it at the American Cinematheque a couple of years ago double billed with FUNERAL IN BERLIN, and it was entertaining in a "How Much Acid Did Ken Russell Drop Before Making This Film" sort of way... but not a Harry Palmer movie.

But here is the trailer...

And here are Maurice Binder's opening titles - you can see they are turning Harry Palmer into some sort of artsie-fartsie James Bond, instead of the more realistic look at espionage from the first two films.

Though this movie is completely crazy, and killed the franchise dead for a couple of decades, you may want to check out Russell’s WOMEN IN LOVE and some of his other films - he’s a wild director, and with material that isn’t supposed to be realistic he makes some interesting films. I've seen most of them. (Amanda Donahoe is mostly naked in LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM...)

- Bill

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1 comment:

Richard J. McKenzie said...

Glad to read that you're doing so much writing, and keeping up with your bike riding. Good for you.

Hitchcock on TV alert: 7 pm Thursday on TCM - REBECCA.

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