Not since Fellini Satyricon (1969) have I’ve felt cinematic indigestion from an overload of visuals and sound. Sadly once the music numbers start taking place off stage as well the film, overlong, does start to collapse. It’s also an issue that, in making a full blown musical for MGM, Ken Russell’s baroque surrealism, where high and low taste blur to the point the debates that they were separate all these decades seem delusional, is used simply for musical numbers when it always had a deeper meaning. Say what you want about how extreme he could get, but even the most perverse and bizarre moments in the films I’ve seen always were a comment on themes such as religion and fame filtered through images he thought made sense for them.
Nonetheless, in its flaws, the sense of joy even when ‘The Boy Friend’ skirts dangerously near to the pointlessly grotesque is vast, which one wishes existed more in cinema. The cast is perfectly picked – Twiggy in particular doing well for herself in the lead – while the imagination shown here is enough to squash entire catalogues of films I’ve viewed that were insipid and creatively stunted. That Ken Russell still had enough imagination – helped by the talents of costumes designers, set creators and other production members over the years like the late director Derek Jarman – to continue creating these vivid images, including The Devils (1971), Lisztomania (1975) and Altered States (1980) just goes to show how much a director like him will be missed after his death last year. Despite my issues with the film, it’s still superior in its flaws then many others. Hopefully after his death – although it is a sad concept to celebrate artists of any trade in obituary rather than in their life – his work will be furthered acclaimed and rightly placed in the high points of British cinema.