My Favorite Andrew Dominik Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

2.   One More Time with Feeling (2016)
(Documentary)

3.   Mindhunter – Season 2 (2019)
3a. Episode 4 (2019)
3b. Episode 5 (2019)
(Streaming Series)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Killing Them Softly (2012)

2.   Chopper (2000)

My Favorite Alan Rudolph Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Choose Me (1984)

2.   Remember My Name (1978)

3.   Afterglow (1997)

4.   The Moderns (1988)

5.   Trouble in Mind (1985)

6.   Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Songwriter (1984)

2.   The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002)

3.   Welcome to L.A. (1976)

My Favorite Milos Forman Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Loves of a Blonde (1965)

2.   Taking Off (1971)

3.   The Firemen’s Ball (1967)

4.   Black Peter (1963)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Man on the Moon (1999)

My Favorite Richard Fleischer Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Mandingo (1975)

2.   The Narrow Margin (1952)

3.   The Boston Strangler (1968)

4.   10 Rillington Place (1971)

5.   The Vikings (1958)

6.   20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   Compulsion (1959)

2.   The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955)

3.   Violent Saturday (1955)

4.   So This Is New York (1948)

John Charet’s Take On: Elgar (1962)

Along with Always on Sunday, Elgar may be the most accessible of director Ken Russell’s television documentaries/docudramas on famous historical artists during his years at the BBC (1959-1970). Far from damning it with faint praise though, I am actually lauding Elgar as the perfect one for viewers to start with.

On the surface, Elgar plays out as a conventional television documentary on a celebrated artist. In this case, it would be that of British composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934). Throughout it’s 56 minute running time, we get all of the interesting details about him; courtesy of BBC broadcaster Huw Wheldon (1916-1986), who serves as the program’s narrator. Basically, the viewer is treated to everything from his upbringing to the last years of his life.

Like all of director Ken Russell’s television films, Elgar is a masterpiece of both form and content. Unlike a majority of his later work, Elgar sticks merely to the facts. At first glance, this approach may seem shockingly reverential for diehard Russell fans like myself. Fortunately, this fear is more than overshadowed by Russell’s visual approach to storytelling.

Aside from partly dramatizing British composer Edward Elgar’s life through a re-enactment (though with no dialogue whatsoever), director Ken Russell further celebrates it by employing his compositions as background music throughout. Russell’s use of dissolves and voiceovers evokes legendary American filmmaker Orson Welles back-to-back masterpieces of Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). In fact, some of the techniques displayed in those last two titles, were borrowed from filmmakers associated with the French New Wave movement. One perfect example comes from esteemed French filmmaker Francois Truffaut in his 1962 classic Jules and Jim. Similar to Elgar, Truffaut employed newsreel footage, photographic stills and voiceovers to visually tell part of the story. Nevertheless, this is where Elgar’s similarities to Jules and Jim end.

Not unlike most of director Ken Russell’s work, Elgar (in some ways) unofficially feels like a semi-autobiographical account of Russell himself. While he may not have been born and raised as one, like British composer Edward Elgar was, Russell did convert to Roman Catholicism during the 1950’s (read here). Even with all of the cinematic influences he carried around with him (Die Nibelungen and The Secret of the Loch), Russell (like Elgar) was professionally self-taught. Even though this can’t be confirmed with any kind of authenticity, Russell (as with Elgar) may have detested large-scale wars as well; or at least war for war’s sake. Though still horrified by the prospect of World War I (1914-1918) itself, Elgar did compose a few patriotic pieces for the effort (read here) and joined the Volunteer Reserves on the side. Though, as the war went on, Elgar became disillusioned with it. During this time, he had also hoped that A.C. Benson’s nationalistic lyrics for his composition of Land of Hope and Glory would get axed (read here). Russell, on the other hand, joined the Royal Air Force and was a merchant marine during his teenage years (read here). Neither of these stints lasted very long though. A perfect example of Russell’s unconfirmed anti-war position comes during a battlefield sequence. Here, a large number of soldiers are getting killed and wounded set to the music of Elgar’s well-known Pomp and Circumstance Marches. The uplifting tone of the composition is intended to sharply contrast with the horrors of war being presented to the viewer. This may be Russell’s way of thumbing his nose at imperialism. Russell’s view can also apply to that of both America’s involvement in both Vietnam and Iraq. Even though both Elgar and Russell were more or less appreciated in their time, this is only to an extent. Germany may have been the first country to recognize Elgar’s genius, but the British press did finally catch up; even If it seemed more muted when he was alive (read here and here). Nevertheless, while Elgar was at least knighted during his lifetime, neither of Russell’s films have ever been truly appreciated by the majority of critics. As of 2019, Women in Love serves as the only film of his to have earned a spot on the BFI’s Top 100 British Films list. While far from completely alike, Elgar and Russell both came off as reclusive (or semi-reclusive) artists, who were actually gentle at heart. Despite the way he is often portrayed in the press (read here), which include, but not limited to, his appearance on Big Brother, Russell actually comes off as a very articulate and intelligent man based on his interviews alone.

Director Ken Russell may have gone on to make even better films within and out of television, but If you are looking for a rather fitting introduction to his cinematic resume, Elgar is not a bad place to start at all. Visually, we are treated to only one of many important aspects of his style, while at the same time, witnessing how one important artist of the past century personally connect to that of another.

-(Star Rating)-
* * * * (Out of * * * *)

P.S. If you are interested in watching the whole film, here are four links to it below:

The link to the first part

The link to the second part

The link to the third part

The link to the fourth part

John Charet’s Take On: Ken Russell at the BBC (1959-1970) – An Introduction

Originally, I was going to post a review on another film, but I am currently suffering from a case of writer’s block on that right now. In the meantime and in an attempt to get my mojo back (so I can finish that review), I am going to post reviews on something a little more simpler, but no less complex. In this case, a series of TV bios on famous composers (among other types of giants).  

 

When anybody hears the name Ken Russell (1927-2011), the first words that come to mind are either flamboyant or controversial. A majority of the time, one could say that both terms can apply to him all at once. According to wikipedia’s entry on legendary British filmmaker Ken Russell (read here), these are at least two proper descriptions that can be applied to him. Nevertheless, let us rewind the clocks back to 1959 – 10 years prior to his 1969 breakthrough film Women in Love – a critically acclaimed adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s equally controversial 1920 novel of the same name. From 1959 to 1970, Russell made documentaries/docudramas on celebrated composers (among other figures) for the British Broadcasting Corporation (a.k.a. the BBC – read here). He directed at least 22 of them for Monitor (1959-1965) and 3 of them for it’s official/unofficial successor Omnibus (1967-1970). In between his last for Monitor (Always on Sunday) and his first for Omnibus (Dante’s Inferno), Russell contributed one for BBC’s Sunday Night (Don’t Shoot the Composer) and another as a stand-alone TV film (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World) in 1966. The following year, he would helm his second feature film (his first was the 1964 comedy French Dressing) entitled Billion Dollar Brain – a British Spy thriller for the American-based studio United Artists. Two days after Billion Dollar Brain’s American premiere (December 20, 1967 – read here), Dante’s Inferno (Russell’s first for Omnibus) premiered for UK television viewers on December 22 of that same year. Based on my calculations alone (read here), Russell directed at least 27 television bios for the BBC. Out of the 27, only 6 of them (at least to my knowledge) are available for home viewing in North America. They are in a 2008 DVD collection entitled Ken Russell at the BBC (read here). The available titles are: Elgar (1962), The Debussy Film (1965), Always on Sunday (1965), Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), Dante’s Inferno (1967) and Song of Summer (1968). The first three were for Monitor and the last two were for Omnibus. As I mentioned earlier, Isadora Duncan was a stand-alone TV film for the BBC. Russell’s last work for Omnibus during this period entitled Dance of the Seven Veils is not included in the box set. That last title incited a huge ton of controversy due to it’s portrayal of famed German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) as either a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer (read here). This angered the Strauss family so much that they withdrew the music rights for it. Apparently, the ban expires sometime this year in 2019 (read here).  Currently, the only way one can watch it is on a faded print posted on youtube.

Famed U.S. film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001) once said of late master filmmaker Robert Altman, that he could make film fireworks out of next to nothing (read here). This sentiment can also be applied to that of director Ken Russell. Compared to Russell’s more outrageous later work (The Music Lovers, The Devils and Lisztomania to name just a few), the style of his early television films may initially come off as subdued on the surface. Deep down though, each of the available six films prove to be every bit as radical (albeit different) to those previously mentioned titles. Even with their low-budgets, Russell amazingly managed to break the rules on what was widely accepted within the documentary format. Instead of traditionally relying on still photographs and old film footage alone to tell his story, Russell would not only dramatize it through a re-enactment, but he would also (in the case of Elgar) use different actors to portray the lead character as he/she ages (read here and here). And this only marks just one of Russell’s many talents at successfully making the most out of very little.

My full review of Elgar – the first of director Ken Russell’s six films in the aforementioned 2008 DVD collection  – should be up sometime by tomorrow.

My Favorite Wong Kar-wai Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   In the Mood for Love (2000)

2.   Fallen Angels (1995)

3.   Chungking Express (1994)

4.   2046 (2004)

5.   Days of Being Wild (1990)

6.   Ashes of Time (1994)

7.   Happy Together (1997)

8.   The Grandmaster (2013)

9.   My Blueberry Nights (2007)

10. As Tears Go By (1988)

My Favorite Agnes Varda Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Faces Places (2017)
(co-directed with JR)
(Documentary)

2.   The Gleaners and I (2000)
(Documentary)

3.   Vagabond (1985)

4.   Daguerreotypes (1976)
(Documentary)

5.   Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

6.   Jacquot de Nantes (1991)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

7.   The Beaches of Agnes (2008)
(Documentary)

8.   Happiness (1965)
(no relation to the 1998 film)

9.   Cinevardaphoto (2004)
(Documentary)

10. Far from Vietnam (1967)
(co-directed with Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais)
(Documentary Anthology)

11. Mur murs (1981)
(Documentary)

12. La Pointe Courte (1955)

13. Jane B. for Agnes V. (1988)

14. Documenteur (1981)

15. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

16. Kung-Fu Master! (1988)

17. The World of Jacques Demy (1995)
(Documentary) 

18. The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993)
(Documentary)

19. The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later (2002)
(Documentary)

20. One Hundred and One Nights (1995)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

21. Lions Love (and… Lies) (1969)

* * * * (Out of * * * *) (Short Cinema)

1.   Cleo from 5 to 7: Remembrances and Anecdotes (2005)

2.   La cocotte d’azur (1958)
(Documentary Short)

3.   Ydessa, the Bears and etc. (2004)
(Documentary Short)

4.   Ulysse (1983)
(Documentary Short)

5.   Salut les Cubains (1971)
(Documentary Short)

6.   Along the Coast (1958)
(Documentary Short)

7.   Black Panthers (1968)
(Documentary Short)

8.   Uncle Yanco (1967)
(Documentary Short)

9.   The So-called Caryatids (1984)
(Documentary Short)

10. Elsa la rose (1966)
(Documentary Short)

11. 7p., cuis., s. de b., …a saisir (1984)

12. Diary of a Pregnant Woman (1962)

13. Women Reply (1975)
(Documentary Short)

14. You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know (1986)

15. Le lion volatil (2003)

16. The Pleasure of Love in Iran (1976)
(Documentary Short)

My Favorite Wim Wenders Films

* * * * (Out of * * * *)

1.   Kings of the Road (1976)

2.   Paris, Texas (1984)

3.   Alice in the Cities (1974)

4.   Wings of Desire (1987)

5.   The Wrong Move (1975)

6.   The American Friend (1977)

7.   The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972)
(a.k.a. The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty)
(I saw it on an old VHS tape)

8.   Lightning Over Water (1980)
(co-directed with Nicholas Ray)
(Documentary)

9.   Beyond the Clouds (1995)
(co-directed with Michelangelo Antonioni)

* * * * (Out of * * * *) (Short Cinema)

1.   Ten Minutes Older (2002)
(Segment: “Twelve Miles to Trona”)

* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *)

1.   The Salt of the Earth (2014)
(Documentary)

2.   Pina (2011)
(Documentary)

3.   Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
(Documentary)

4.   The Soul of a Man (2003)
(Documentary)
(Episode of PBS’s “The Blues”)
(TV Documentary miniseries)

5.   Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)
(Documentary)