Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)
The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)
The Debussy Film (Ken Russell, 1958)
I love you Uncle Ken.
i was informed last night that he was ON CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER UK. and he left, but offered to come back WITH FAYE DUNAWAY. who says no to that (the producers of big brother, apparently)
Oh, bless you, knob-faced Uncle Ken. I received a frantic phone-call a couple of years back from a Russellmanic friend (so Russellmanic he tolerates The Music Lovers and even Whore - not to be confused with the nunsploitation expert), who told me to get myself to the TV stat because Ken was omigod on Big Brother UK, great big ho that he is, and what jolly good fun that was, and the sodding machine chose that very moment to break.
Ken Russell broke my television.
…Maybe it’s the phallic nose thing that drove me to this especially ridiculous tangent, and I haven’t even had my first coffee of the the day yet, but now I have this demented tableau traversing through my sleep-deprived head in which Ken and Faye Dunaway re-enact the “She’s my sister! And my daughter! Sister! Daughter! Sister! Daughter!” face-slapping Oedipal antics of Chinatown, with nuns frotting crucifixes blamelessly in the background.
The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)
“Shot at Pinewood on awe-inspiringly pristine sets designed by fledgling artist Derek Jarman to evoke Huxley’s image of “a rape in a public toilet”, The Devils was a controversial project from the outset. Initially written for United Artists, for whom Russell had already directed three successful movies (Billion Dollar Brain, 1967; Women in Love, 1969; The Music Lovers, 1970), The Devils was promptly dropped when “somebody at UA actually read the script” and was subsequently picked up by a rival studio. Even before shooting was complete, salacious stories began to appear in the British press of naked nuns being sexually assaulted by drunken extras during the filming of the demonic orgy scenes, and of underage performers being present during the rehearsals for a scene involving nudity. Lengthy negotiations with the British censors resulted finally in the granting of an ‘X’ certificate, which was promptly overturned by many local councils (which simply banned the film outright) and vociferously opposed by Festival of Light spokesman Peter Thompson, who called for the certificate to be withdrawn and for new chief censor Stephen Murphy to resign. Meanwhile, the howl of critical outrage that greeted the film’s release in the summer of 1971 came to a head when an apoplectic Russell physically attacked Evening Standard writer Alexander Walker live on national television, striking him about the head with a copy of his own review in a confrontation that has gone down in the annals of British television history.
But for all the public agitation The Devils provoked, it has only ever been seen in versions which dilute the unfettered excesses of Russell’s intentionally ferocious vision and which temper the on-screen extremities the director had worked such magic to conjure. Twice butchered in America by its own distributors (for both ‘X’- and later ‘R’-rated US releases), the most complete version remains the British ‘X’-rated edition which BBFC records log as having been trimmed by 89 seconds prior to the film’s UK release. Yet my own investigations have revealed that somewhere between four and five minutes of footage which Russell intended for inclusion was slashed from The Devils prior to BBFC submission, consigning entire sequences to the cutting-room floor, most notoriously the orgiastic centrepiece that has become known as the holy grail of Russell’s black mass: the ‘rape of Christ’.
In Russell’s original vision this sequence was to be both the thematic and visual climax of The Devils, bringing the various threads of political, religious and sexual corruption together in a scene of spectacular perversion. In the original assembly this sequence immediately followed an act of deception by the king, who visits the carousing nuns of Loudun in disguise to see for himself the “miracle” of their alleged demonic possession. Handing Father Barre a holy relic which he claims to be a phial of Christ’s own blood, the king watches in amusement as his gift swiftly drives the demons from the gibbering nuns before being revealed to be nothing but an empty box. Spurred to new heights of hysteria, the nuns batter Father Barre to the floor and unclothe a priest before charging the altar where hangs a vast statue of an anguished Christ. Tearing down the crucifix and laying it on the floor, the nuns proceed to engage in a maniacal ravaging of the statue, watched from on high by a masturbating Father Mignon whose breathless exertions are matched by a series of eye-popping crash-zooms from an overhead view of the blasphemous orgy.”
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