Lenya sings songs by Kurt Weill her husband, the composer who worked with Bertolt Brecht- Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny, Sarabaya Johnny and Alabama Song. Huw Wheldon introduces each song, then Lenya sings. Sometimes she is singing against a background of Nazi power, in others she is in a bedroom. Russell says “it was in the early 60s that I met the legendary Lenya herself and was able to talk her into appearing on the BBC Arts programme Monitor. I staged four numbers for her, including Surabaya Johnny and The Alabama Song of which I still have dazzling memories”. Huw Wheldon says the film shows the first ever performances from Mahagonny in Great Britain.
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