Ken Russell: Perspectives, Reception & Legacy

I was fortunate to attend this ground-breaking conference and experience all its delights. Here are a few pictures (the rest on Facebook). Host Matt Melia is looking into publishing the proceedings, so I’ll certainly let you know when that happens. There was a really high ratio of excellence, as might be expected with many people waiting years to have a opportunity like this: really a terrific bunch of folks. I finally got to meet the lovely Lisi face to face and we were all graced with Murray Melvin‘s stellar presence. Yes, I got to hold Ken’s Peruvian madonna.

Southbound

kingston kenI am bound for London — well, actually Kingston-on-Thames first for the conference. Never been to this campus before but it looks lovely. I’ll be near Hampton Court so I might finally go there. The Royal Horticulture Society had a big show there: the gardens are bound to be lovely.

Of course the conference ought to be a blast. I really get to enjoy it because I am the first speaker after the welcome! Heh, that makes a difference from going in the last panel of the last day. Far more relaxing. All the papers look interesting — after all, it’s Ken Russell!

I’ll be flying down which is a change. Rail tickets have gone up so much it was actually cheaper (not to mention quicker). Going by way of Surbiton which always puts me in mind of Monty Python.

I will have adventures to share, of course: at least a couple of concerts in London afterward, too. I will doubtless share my opinions here. In the meantime I’m just glad to have my paper finished well before time!

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Representing the skulk always!

Film for a Friday: Woman Who Came Back

Yes, it is written like that in the title card: no article on Woman. Low budget offering from Western Television, Woman Who Came Back (1945) offers a tale of the past invading the present in the form of a witch burned at the stake who wants revenge. In New England — where of course no one was burned as a witch.

Criminy people: witches were not burned in the US, they were hanged (and occasionally pressed). Also EARLY MODERN ERA was the time of the  wild witch crazes: you needed the print era to really get propaganda going on a massive scale.

Anyhoo: this is a fun little no-budget film. Including great creepy vintage Halloween costumes.

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The story is simple: Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly) on a bus returning to her hometown and the man she ran away from at the altar meets an old woman who claims to be Jezebel Trister (Elspeth Dudgeon – best name I’ve heard in a while), the witch who had been condemned by Lorna’s great grand pappy. Of course she’s back to curse his progeny and the bus crashes killing everyone except Lorna and the old woman’s dog who haunts her the rest of the film.

Her paternalistic head-patting fiance (Now Voyager’s John Loder) assures her everything will be fine and the epically old guy pipe-smoking Rev. Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger) agrees. Let’s just all forget this bus full of dead people and get on with our charming New England lives of small town paranoia: Shirley Jackson meets Grace Metalious.

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Of course weird things happen: everything Lorna touches dies and it spooks people, like Expositio her housekeeper (okay, her name’s not really Expositio but she does explain a lot of back story before giving notice presumably because the windows won’t stay shut and the curtains billow mysteriously in the ever-present wind).

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Naturally, Lorna discovers the truth about her curse from a volume in old grandpappy’s study that just happens to be in a mausoleum in the crypts under the church. The townfolk don’t like these goings on especially when her fiance’s niece falls ill and they react accordingly.

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Will they gather into an angry mob or will clearer pipe-smoking heads prevail to show they’ve all been Scooby-Doo’d? It’s only a little over an hour so you can watch and find out for yourself. Hardly a masterpiece, it’s nonetheless fun and goes on my list for the course on witch films I’m thinking about doing sometime in the near future.

I learned about this film from a terrific piece on the folk-horror of Powell & Pressburger’s Gone to Ground.

Film for a Friday: Sweet Charity

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I just needed some Fosse to get me motivated on finishing grading. Some great stuff but no time to enjoy it all — but I have some really sharp students (of course!). Once all this is done and graduation over, I’ll be updating more frequently. And having a little fun, laughs, and good times.

Panel Tonight: SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY

marque-3Thanks to Peg Aloi, I’m going to be appearing with her (and possibly some other folks) on a panel tonight after the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry on 2nd wave feminism of the 60s & 70s. Join us for a lively discussion. See The Linda’s site for more info.

Review: Love & Friendship

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What absolute joy this film is. The sense of fun and delight in being bad is not what one usually associates with Austen but it is exactly the reason her best observations cut so deeply. I may have to reconsider Whit Stillman.

First I should admit to being a hoarder. I had not read Lady Susan which is the text for this adaptation despite the title. With so few Austen novels in existence, I had always kept this early epistolary novel in reserve for a day so terrible that only some ‘new’ Austen could cheer me. I suppose I ought to be happy that day has not yet arrived, but having seen the film of course I hoard it no more.

Kate Beckinsale is flawless in the title role, which is a challenge: she is so awful that everyone hates her and yet she is such a genius that they cannot help admiring her. How wonderful it is to see a woman on screen called genius with genuine admiration. Her confidence is unflagging and no set back cannot be out-maneuvered. Her pleasure in manipulating others is too great to be kept to herself, so she needs a confidant in Mrs. Johnson, married to respectability though it is not to her liking. Indeed she finds her husband, ‘too old to be agreeable, and too young to die’.

Chloë Sevigny is certainly not the obvious choice for the role and I found her American tones a bit discordant at first (cf. Sarah Polley as ‘Selma the Witch Woman’ in Beowulf & Grendel) but they did a smart thing in making her nationality the point. Her husband’s only real weapon against her is the ever-present threat of moving to the US. I laughed out loud at her shuddering in the face of the horrifying prospect of being sent to –gasp! — Hartford.

The cast is terrific. Small roles are made vivid: Jenn Murray as the wailing Lady Manwaring, who conveys incredible frustration and fury. Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet as the DeCourceys convey effortlessly the rich complications of a long relationship. Morfydd Clark, in addition to having a wonderful voice, brought to life the transformation of Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica from a timid and frankly abused child to a young woman who blossoms under her first experiences with kindness.

Tom Bennett’s comic turn as Sir James Martin verges on going too far but stops just short of it. His misunderstanding about the name of the Vernon estate had me guffawing. Not an idiot, just ‘a bit of a rattle’ is an Austenian phrase we really need to bring back.

But this is Lady Susan’s story and it is so much fun. It has all the brashness of youth: Austen’s mature work is both kinder and more sharply observed, but this is spirited and reckless, a tone the film captures precisely. Watching Lady Susan turn the prejudice of the smug Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel) into admiration offers a showcase of both Lady Susan’s skill and Beckinsale’s. Fabulous.

The trailer has some of the really good lines, so watch it at your peril.

Deliberately Lost SF Classics

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Can they actually be classics if they were deliberately lost? I don’t know, but inspired by Jane Gutter of the Cultural Gutter with all her movie-watching shenanigans, I decided they needed to exist. The hard part was stopping once I started…

Thanks to the Short Humour site for being willing to host my nonsense. Thanks to the Pulp-O-Mizer for the cover mock up.

A snippet to whet your appetite:

LLAMA RIDERS OF THE SEVENTH MOON (1953)

Despite a cast that included several purebred llamas and enthusiastic jockeys, the film failed to take off—perhaps for the same reasons. Rumour had it that producer Alana Perez refused to work the llamas for the grueling shifts that director Jimenez Arlberg demanded, citing the concerns of the Quechua handler of the beasts who claimed they were never used as mounts at all. Indeed throughout the production it is possible to see llamas doing their best to dislodge riders with bucking, rolling and lying down on top of them. By the end of the shoot, the disgusted breeder took off with his llamas and it became necessary to shoot several key scenes with large dogs. It is to the credit of editor Roberta Santiago that in most of the scenes the change is hardly obvious. However, with the majority of the budget spent on acquiring the llamas, the sets were rushed and poorly constructed. In fact during the infamous crater scene, it is possible to glimpse the surprised crew revealed as one panel of the set falls away. Arlberg’s attempts to connect the script to a Ray Bradbury story for publicity purposes backfired when the angry writer sent him a fake vicuña scarf in retort.

Read the rest here.