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UK, 1964 (MIFF 2000, Sensational Symphonies – The Unseen Ken Russell)

Director: Ken Russell

Russell is finally permitted to use a real person in close-up in a highly stylised meditation on the Hungarian born Bartok.

"The film's structure is even more significant, especially the counter opening of shots of the isolated composer in his sombre, sparsely furnished room in New York City, with the long, sensuous and terrifying dramatisations of excerpts from The Miraculous Mandarin and Bluebeard's Castle.

The narrative lines of the ballet and opera are preserved, but the visuals are not literal translations of the action. At one point an acetylene torch, fire from a steel mill furnace, a racket launch, and plaster facial masks become appropriate metaphors to reflect the music. The visuals and the music work together in suggesting that these compositions mirror the violence and alienation of the contemporary world—and through the structure of the film and the chillingly sterile skyscrapers, Russell emphasises Bartok's view of himself as an alien in a hostile world.

It must be stressed that the importance of music in Russell's work goes far beyond the fact that he frequently chooses composers as the subjects of his bio-pics. In a number of interviews, Russell claims that music is perhaps the most remarkable event in human history, and further suggests that if he could compose he wouldn't make films."—Joseph A. Gomez, The Velvet Light Trap

See also...


The earliest example of Russell's composer portrait work is a fascinating biography of Sergei Prokofiev which utilise stock footage from Soviet propagand newsreels, stills and live action shots of ... More »


One of Russell's most popular television works, inspired by Eric Fenby's memoir Delius As I Knew Him. The film centres upon the blind and paralysed composer Frederick Delius (Max Adrian), living out ... More »


Russell portrays the flamboyant dancer as a self-indulgent exhibitionist and vulgarian intent on shocking the world with her self-consciously outrageous behaviour, promoting the image of a ... More »


Monitor's 100th program and a highly romantic interpretation of Elgar's life. For the first time actors in a documentary were permitted to play living persons on screen but only in long shot and in ... More »

Amelia and the Angel

An internationally acclaimed amateur film about a little girl in search of a pair of angel's wings. ... More »

Pop Goes the Easel

Monitor cameras spend a day — from dawn until midnight — with four young artists who between them have won critical acclaim, exhibition prizes and Art Council awards. Each of them has ... More »

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