Ken Russell was truly the big guest of the Belgrade International Film Festival, held in March 2003. I'm sure that everybody remembers Ken Russell's "Women in Love," based on the book by D.H. Lawrence and starring Glenda Jackson, Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. "Women in Love" was a landmark for British cinema, giving Russell four Oscar nominations in 1975. His film about British composer Elgar (1962) became one of the most popular shows in British television history. Russell made 32 films for the BBC "Monitor" and "Omnibus" programs. Russell also gave birth to "Tommy" (1975).
And today, the International Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia,
honored Russell who, at 72, is still working. This is an exclusive interview
from the FEST press conference.
It is difficult to make a film about yourself and for the film to not become pompous. So I've overcome that problem by casting, for the part of myself, my 4-and-a- half-year-old son Rex. So he went through my entire life, meeting all sorts of problems that I've met, while I was growing up, getting on with my life. The dialogue with my voice came from my 4-year-old son.
And it went very well; he took directions very well. Until he was interviewed
by journalists about the film, where he was asked what was the essence
of your filmmaking style, where he had to reply "satire." So
he came to the camera, and when I said "action" he said: "Twinkle
twinkle little star, how I wander how you are." And I said, "No.
cut. That's not the answer; it is satire." So the camera rolled again,
and I said "action," when he said: "Old mother Hubbard
went to the cupboard to get her dog a bone and when she got there the
cupboard was bare and so the poor dog had none." And I said, "Cut,
you horrible little beast!"
The reason why I did these biographies is because I was the member of this art program called "Monitor," and it was made up out of a group of people. Our job was to portray art and the manufacturing of art, the inspiration about art, to educate a TV audience that is quite unaware of these artists. There were six people on this program and we were all encouraged to make a program about our particular heroes whom we felt everyone should know about. We were preachers, really.
But when you are encouraged to make a program or write words or paint a picture on a subject that means a tremendous amount to you and when your heart is in it, and then you have a chance to bring out your enthusiasm, to bring your love and belief in the subject, to the audience, because that's the inspiration that you have yourself. When you come up with the idea to bring Tchaikovsky on the screen. Then you hear: "It is an awfully wonderful idea, but forget doing it, it was done before you." And it's difficult as long as you really believe, and I rarely made a film on the people I cared about. About the people that I lived with their music for years, and I knew that story backwards. And I think that I've absorbed the spirit, forgetting the fact that you get up at 9 in the morning to shave, but to think about the spirit behind the artist and find the fantastic free spirit. It's just the biggest thrill, the biggest challenge to say, "These are my heroes," and to be able to transmit that enthusiasm to millions of people who never even heard of the person that you're talking about, with inspiration.
Also, this is a little strange, I've felt that I've owed something to
the artist. Something that I wanted to give him back some way.
I would just like to say one more thing about it. Even in those day,
and we are talking about the '60s, it wasn't easy to get the money for
a film about artists in a commercial company. United Artists quite liked
"Women in Love," so they asked me to do another film for them
but to be commercially successful. So they asked me what I'm going to
do now, and I said that I would like to do a film on Tchaikovsky. And
they looked very sad, because they knew that he was a classical composer.
Than they said: "OK, so what's the story?" And I said: "It's
about a nyphomaniac who falls in love with a homosexual." Then they
said: "Hey, here's the money!" And that's show business.