Another in the Ken Russell oeuvre: another composer too. Unlike the Elgar film, this is a fully embodied story and not just a biographical overview. Written with the assistance of Eric Fenby, Frederick Delius‘ amanuensis in his final years, it gives us a personal insight into the composer at a specific point in his life. I’ll admit, I first knew of Delius (and as it happens, Fenby) from Kate Bush’s song about Delius that captures the pivotal moment in the film [Kate based a lot of her songs on films — “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”] where Fenby first takes Delius’ dictation for what would become “Song of Summer” and the young man’s initial confusion and panic when he can’t understand Delius’ “Ta ta ta ta!” Her video nods to the images of Russell’s film as well — the wicker wheelchair! When I am old and need a chair, I want a wicker one.
Russell’s film makes as much of their native Yorkshire as of the “exotic” location in Grez, although Fenby’s fish-out-of-water feeling offers the viewer an entré into Delius and Jelka’s world. The arrival of fellow composer Percy Grainger to the quietly obsessive menage breaks open the narrative delightfully. While not as visually arresting as the Elgar documentary, this short film showcases a lot of the visual acuity that sometimes gets overwhelming in later films. Russell had a very fine eye. You can watch this on YouTube if you don’t have access to BBC4.
As always, see the round up of overlooked gems over at Sweet Freedom.