Russell is very selective about what he chooses to include in his life story, mentioning, for example, nothing about The Boy Friend. Lisztomania or Valentino, and next to nothing about his first wife, Shirley Russell, who provided the marvellous costumes for a number of his films. He describes his career in terms of the films’ provocation of scandal, and as a continual struggle for financing. Ironically, for a filmmaker who has so often been described as vulgar, excessive and puerile, and whose work features a fondness for bold, startling images of eroticism, physical revulsion and violence enhanced by shock editing effects, Russell presents his own life with the most spartan of means (in the first shot following the credits, his birth is visualised as simply a rocking cradle). Family members portray various people, the film’s new material looking very much life one of the home movies that Russell says he enjoys making but that don’t pay the bills. A British Picture is itself evidence of Russell’s difficulties securing funding, for its deliberately modest special effects look surprisingly similar to those in his first amateur film effort, Peepshow, a clip of which is included.
Although producers have shied away from him because of his scandalous and excessive approach, Russell revels in his role as British cinema’s enfant terrible. He is happy to repeat his once shocking description of The Music Lovers, a film about Tchaikovsky and his disastrous marriage to Nina Milyukova, as ‘the story of a love affair between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac’. Until the end of A British Picture, Russell is portrayed by his young son, with the director’s own voice lip-synched on the soundtrack, as a literal innocent child among men, wrongly stigmatised as outrageous. As an enfant terrible, the boy Russell suddenly sports a rainbow-coloured wig that he wears until the end, at which point Russell appears as himself. Accompanied by a clip of the conclusion of The Rainbow, Russell suggests that at this point he, like that film’s protagonist Ursula Brangwen, has attained a new maturity, and tosses away the wig. In the way he uses clips of his own films to comment on his life, as when he refers to the domestic tensions at home during his divorce from Shirley with the memorable shot of the lake house exploding in flames in Mahler, Russell provides further proof that he is one of the greatest auteurs in the history of British cinema. —Barry Keith Grant & Jim Hillier, BFI Screen Guides: 100 Documentary Films
British director Ken Russell started out training for a naval career, but after wartime RAF and merchant navy service he switched goals and went into ballet. Supplementing his dancing income as an actor and still photographer, Russell put together a handful of amateur films in the 50s before being hired as a staff director by the BBC. Russell made a name for himself (albeit a name not always spoken in reverence) during the first half of the ‘60s by directing a series of iconoclastic TV dramatizations of the lives of famous composers and dancers. And if he felt that the facts were getting in the way of his story, he’d make up his own — frequently bordering on the libelous. If he had any respect for the famous persons whose lives he probed, it was secondary to his fascination with revealing all warts and open wounds.
A film director since 1963, Russell burst into the international consciousness with 1969’s Women in Love, a hothouse version of the D.H. Lawrence novel. No director… read more
The 'enfant terrible' writ large and literally in this generally engaging subjective summary of Russell's early life and pre-occupations largely conveyed by the directors own son in mute mime overplayed with lip-syncing from the director himself. One is left none the wiser at the end except that Russell has a good line in self-depreciation and can turn a low budget to reasonable effect.