Our Ken

Our Ken

Every conference is a curate’s egg, and you always hope that the good parts make up (and more) for those that are less so. A two-day gathering in Brussels this week dedicated to the films of Ken Russell (above, on the set of Tommy, 1975) had a very decent tally of the good, and at the same time was curiouser than most such events. Taking part in Imagining the Past: Ken Russell, Biography and the Art of Making History were scholars and academics along with some like editor Roger Crittenden who had worked with Ken Russell in the 1960s and ’70s. Present too was Russell’s indefatigable biographer Paul Sutton, who is one book into a projected five-volume ‘Life’ (he it was who suggested the comparison with James Boswell’s life of the good Dr Johnson). And then there was the filmmaker’s widow, the delightful Lisi Tribble Russell (@awhitetable). All of which made for a significantly more diverse discourse than academia usually accommodates.
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The only blonde in the world

The only blonde in the world

To the always delightful Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, to catch the exhibition Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman before it closes on Sunday. This is a show from Wave in Wolverhampton and it travels on, slightly strangely, to the also delightful Muzeum Szutki in Lodz, Poland, which owns Boty’s My Colouring Book, 1963, one of the paintings on show. Pauline Boty was an artist and sometime actress who before her death at the age of 28 in 1966 painted works now seen as key to the story of British Pop art. But for many years she was all-but forgotten, and her rediscovery is an essential part of the story that co-curator Sue Tate tells in the valuable catalogue. The show is displayed in just two small rooms and it’s most definitely worth the trip, but what I want to do here is to collect together a handful of the traces and writings about Boty so that you can undertake your own journey through her work and life. Essential exhibit no 1. is Pop Goes the Easel, directed by Ken Russell in 1962 for BBC Television’s Monitor:


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Videos for the weekend

Videos for the weekend

I have my colleague Todd Macdonald to thank for the weekend’s first clip: a timelapse panorama of the courtyard observed by Jeff (James Stewart, above) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). Todd was laid up with a bug for much of the week and instead of spying on his neighbours he watched a lot of stuff online – and chronicled this on a blog post. Jeff Desom‘s remix was one of his discoveries – and it’s a revelatory reworking of the film and the studio space in which it was made. The artist also shows this as an installation. Across the jump there are nine other clips that I encountered during the week that I hope you may enjoy.


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Weekend links

Weekend links

Here’s a little campaign that is well worth supporting: Save the 35 Ken Russell BBC Films. Or, as the Facebook page (above) also – and more accurately – argues, Free the 35 BBC Films of Ken Russell. The late, great director made wonderful documentaries and drama-documentaries for the BBC between 1959 and 1968 (for details, start with Michael Brooke’s BFI ScreenOnline page). These include the much-loved Elgar, produced for Monitor in 1962 and repeated on BBC Four last week (available on iPlayer until 30 January). But thanks to extortionate commercial expectations from BBC Worldwide, not one of these films is legally available in the UK on DVD (although a number have been released in the USA). A decade back the BFI partnered with the BBC on releases of Elgar and Song of Summer (1968), but when it came time to re-licence these, the terms expected were such that the BFI had to discontinue the titles. So it’s a wholly worthwhile aim to try to get at least some of the films out into the world. Go to the campaign’s Facebook page for more – and go below for further links to interesting stuff.
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Something for the weekend

Something for the weekend

We have highlighted the excellent Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire website before. But there’s a further excuse now with the publication of two new books linked to its project: Empire and Film and Film and the End of Empire, both edited by Lee Grieveson and Colin MacCabe. Also, drawing attention to its very good freely accessible print of Basil Wright’s still remarkable Song of Ceylon (1934, above), started under the Empire Marketing Board and finished by the GPO Film Unit, offers a link back to this blog’s discussion of the GPO’s films from the 1930s. There’s much else to explore at Colonial Film, including numerous other films in full and extensive notes about films from and about the Empire. Below, nine further recommendations for alternative weekend viewing freely and (mostly) legally available online.
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Ken and me

Ken and me

Like many others, I was sad today to learn of the death of Ken Russell. There are already tributes aplenty online, including Derek Malcolm’s Guardian obituary, a Telegraph obituary, some excellent short interviews with those who worked with him, and an artsdesk Q&A with Jasper Rees about his photography and early films. Film Studies for Free has a great page of links titled ‘Pity we aren’t madder’ (it’s from Women in Love) to academic engagements with the films. My thought here is simply to record the place that Russell had in my life. I’m sure a similar storycould be told by ten or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. But perhaps its particularity gives it an interest. In any case, it’s one very small way of saying ‘Thank you’.
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