Maverick British film director Ken Russell, director of the controversial The Devils (1971), the film adaption of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, Whore (1991), Altered States (1980) and the Academy Award winning Women In Love (1969), died yesterday in London following a series of strokes. He was 84.
Russell’s career started making documentary shorts for the BBC, often about the lives of composers. His fascination with music and composers continued through to films like Tommy, The Music Lovers (1970), which looked atthe life of composer Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Mahler (1974) which examined the life of the titular composer and Lisztomania, which starred Roger Daltry and explored the power of music to do both good and evil.
His first film, the comedy French Dressing (1963) was unsuccessful, but his career started in earnest after directing the 1967 spy film Billion Dollar Brain, part of the Harry Palmer series starring Michael Caine.
In 1969 Russell released Women In Love, based on the novel by D H Lawrence, which received several Academy Award nominations, including one for Russell for Best Director. Star Glenda Jackson would receive an Oscar statue for Best Actress.
Sexuality and the Church were two other themes that Russell would explore through many of his films and combined the two most infamously in the controversial 1970 film The Devils which starred Oliver Reed. To this date, Russell’s original edit of The Devils has yet to receive a release in the United States.
After his 1980 science-fiction film Altered States, Russell found his career in decline, a victim of changing cinematic tastes. His later films were mostly produced independently of the big studios and include the two horror cult classics Gothic (1986) and The Lair Of The White Worm (1988), Salome’s Last Dance (1988), The Rainbow (1989), Russia House (1990) and Whore (1991).