Coming across as a rarified boob, Russell’s version of Rousseau could best be described as an accidental master. Most of his canvases are crackpot versions of reality as seen through the eyes of a naïve painter, and his loneliness and lack of worldly perspective really amplifies his applied amateurishness. Russell treats this tale as sadly comic, and there are many jokes and jibes as Rousseau’s expense. In fact, there is such a lighthearted atmosphere here that when we finally view the artist’s best known masterpiece – “The Sleeping Gypsy” – it comes as quite a shock. Indeed, many of Russell’s films purposely demystify the legendary, showing them just as capable of flaws and foibles as us mere humans. Indeed, as he continued on in his career, the filmmaker would make such an approach his main raison d’etra. Much of his work here can be seen as the basis for Women in Love, Tommy, and his ultimate classical rock god goof, Listzomania.
Always on Sunday (1965), though the onscreen title is Henri Rousseau Sunday Painter. Among its connections with the Debussy film, it’s co-written by Melvyn Bragg and focuses on a French artist of the same period. Oliver Reed is the narrator. Starring as Henri Rousseau is James Lloyd, a primitive artist with some similarities to Rousseau and who had been the subject of another Russell TV film.
The rural, working-class Rousseau (calling himself Henry) is a serious and naive clod who comes to Paris in his 40s with the intention of showing himself a great realist painter, never mind that everyone laughs at the strange, brightly-colored, primitive originality of his pictures. His first friend is “the pataphysical midget” Alfred Jarry (played by a woman, Annette Robertson, who’d played one of Debussy’s mistresses), who romps through this portion of the film. Russell stages the riotous premier of Jarry’s Ubu Roi, a deliberate assault on its bourgeois audience, and Russell clearly relishes the confrontation and the sentiments behind it; look at a similar sequence in the next film, when Isadora Duncan harangues a hostile audience. For all its rowdy moments, this is possibly the gentlest film of the six and the wittiest, because of the qualities of Rousseau himself and his art.
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
Truly truly truly under-appreciated. Scripted by Melvyn Bragg, Rousseau is played as a Yorkshireman in Swinging London/Paris. This plays out like the bastard child of Richard Lester and early Truffaut, in the best possible sense.
Another small peak from Russell's televisual purple patch with an appropriately mordant reading of Rousseau's life and career. The casting of Lloyd - all flat vowels and dour gesticulations - provides a neat counterpoint to the florid naivety of the painter's work and cuts through the beret and garlic cliché of the French artist.