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UK, 1961 (MIFF 2000, Sensational Symphonies – The Unseen Ken Russell)

Director: Ken Russell

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 hands playing at a piano. The BBC then strict policy (soon to be challenged by Russell in his Elgar) of not permitting actors to portray living persons presented a creative challenge.

"The paradox of Russell's work lies in the combination of dazzling visual imagination and wilful, snook-cocking vulgarity the inspired crystallisation of a musical mood or literary style countered by over the top shock-tactics; genuine poetry anc clodhopping crassness... allied to a non-naturalistic interpretation of facts. His early BBC documentaries... remain gems, both factual and impressionistic. Alan Bennett's TV sketches on Life and Times in NW1 conferred the ultimate accolade, depicting a trendy Hampstead husband absenting himself from his wife's childbirth in favour of 'the new Ken Russell on the box tonight '—Time Out

"I'm setting out to tell the story of a child of the Revolution who fell out of favour with Stalin because he refused to turn out muzak glorifying the USSR. At the same time it's about the responsibility of the artist to the public."—Ken Russell

See also...


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 ... 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 »


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 »

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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