British film director Ken Russell, who was Oscar-nominated for his 1969 film Women In Love, has died at the age of 84. His son, Alex, said he died peacefully in his sleep in a hospital on Sunday.
During his career, he became known for his controversial films including Women In Love, which featured Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling nude. He also directed the infamous religious drama The Devils and The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, in 1975.
Russell frequently crossed swords with the film censors at the BBFC who took issue with Billion Dollar Brain, Women in Love, The Devils, and Crimes of Passion.
Perhaps a suitable Melon Farming tribute is a summary of Russell’s strength of character in pushing through his outrageous vision for The Devils. He was up against the BBFC, his own distributors and the British establishment.
The Devils was first seen by the BBFC in an unfinished rough cut on 27 January 1971. At around the same time, this rough cut was also shown to senior executives from Warner Brothers, the film’s distributor. Both the BBFC and Warners expressed strong reservations about the strong religious and sexual context of the film, which seemed likely to provoke significant controversy. Warners and the BBFC therefore drew up separate lists of the cuts they would require before the film could be distributed in the UK. Warners were content with their own plus the additional cuts requested by the BBFC and a full list of required changes was forwarded to the director.
The cuts were intended to reduce:
- (i) the explicitness and duration of certain sexual elements, including an orgy of nuns
- (ii) elements of violence and gore during an interrogation scene and the final burning of the character played by Oliver Reed
- (iii) scenes that mixed sexual activity and religion in a potentially inflammatory fashion.
A modified – but still technically unfinished – version of the film was seen again by the BBFC on 8 April 1971, incorporating many (but not all) of the cuts requested by both the BBFC and by Warners. Ken Russell had toned down or removed what had been regarded as the most difficult scenes, including the entire Rape of Christ sequence in which a group of nuns cavort on a crucifix, whilst hoping that the significant reductions he had already made would perhaps allow certain other shots to remain. The BBFC requested further reductions in four sequences. Russell responded by complying fully with three of the cuts but insisted that the fourth additional cut could not be made properly because it would create continuity problems.
On 18 May 1971 the BBFC awarded an X certificate to the cut version of the film. Because of the scale of the changes made to the film (including the deletion of one entire scene) it is difficult to calculate accurately how much was removed from the film between January and May 1971. However, it is safe to say that several minutes were removed.
The resultant version suffered cuts as follows:
- A scene showing nuns assaulting an effigy of the cross was deleted (approximately 30s)
- An enema scene loses some details
- The crushing of Grandier’s legs loses details.
- Grandier’s tongue torture loses details
- Shots of a priest being assaulted by nuns after the King’s visit are missing
- Jeanne masturbating with a chard bone was cut
- Whippings scenes throughout were removed
A Timely Tribute to Ken Russell. The BFI re-release of his Masterpiece, The Devils
See article from criterionforum.org
After much arm-twisting the BFI has indeed persuaded Warner Bros to let them handle The Devils, and a packed two-disc lovingly-curated special edition will be out next March.
I’ll get the bad news out of the way right now: as already spotted, it’s DVD only, and it’s the 1971 British theatrical cut, not the 2004 restoration. Since BFI DVD Publishing is demonstrably run by Blu-ray evangelists and has a policy of sourcing the longest available version of the films they put out, you probably don’t need to live at 221B Baker Street to work out the reasons for this.
But that really does appear to be all the bad news. I’ve seen the full specs, and it looks like an absolute blinder of a release – and hopefully all will be revealed in a matter of days.
UK 2012 BFI R2 DVD at UK Amazon for release on 19th march 2012