Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

Alas the fleeting years!!!

Earlier today, fastfwd was complaining about how, the trouble with ageing, is that the cultural landmarks in your mental landscape die, and are not there any more.

And of course this is true. But it is not the whole story, because one of the weird things about ageing is that it gives you perspective, not only on the big things, but on quite minor cultural artefacts.

I've just been watching 'Billion Dollar Brain' which was the second cinema movie Ken Russell made, after several of the really good films for the BBC, and before he went crazy in public with things like Liztomania and Tommy. Not that I don't love those films in their own way, but sometimes I wonder what Russell might have been if someone had stopped him being terminally self-indulgent.

This was a Q and A I did for Amazon...

Roz Kaveney Mike and Gaby's Space Gospel is an interesting book, particularly from a Catholic convert. Some might find it blasphemous...

Ken Russell I object to the word 'blasphemous'...

RK Where did the idea for it come from?

KR About 25 years ago, I had an idea for a film script - it was a time when science was in the air and a lot of science gurus were on television and I started thinking about miracles, and asked around for the word on miracles, and the answer came back that people could see ways to fix all of them except raising the dead. It turned into an idea for a serious script called Space Gospel - the Mike and Gaby figures were space aliens rather than robots - but the people I showed it to had problems with the blasphemy issue, and were worried about the budget - same thing in film-making circles. In fact, I had already shown it to a Jesuit pal, who had passed it to an ecclesiastical lawyer specializing in blasphemy, who had said that it could not possibly be blasphemous because it was so clearly science fiction.

RK It is a very heart-felt book, and was obviously a project dear to your heart. How did you come to get back to it?

KR I sent it to a publisher on someone's suggestion, and then started reworking it because I had decided that my original angel figures were too serious, and I liked the idea of robots worried about rust. As I worked on it, the whole tone became more satirical.

RK And of course in a novel you don't have to worry about the constraints of budget...

KR I got to go back to Herod's court. As you will know from Salome's Last Dance, Herod's court is one of my favourite locations, and Salome.../Just a sentence or so in the Bible and she instantly comes off the page a star, a bit like the young Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver only without the platform shoes.

RK You like the idea of biblical characters as having star quality...

KR Well, I do compare Jesus to Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia - pure charisma.

RK You have always been fascinated by star quality...

KR I never really worked with stars - well, Glenda Jackson, of course, and Ollie Reed.

RK And Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins in Crimes of Passion.

KR And I suppose William Hurt counts.

RK And Hugh Grant. Wasn't The Lair of the White Worm something like his first film?

KR Funnily enough, he never mentions that one when he talks about his career - every other twopenny-ha'penny thing he has been in...

RK I get the feeling that the science fiction you are interested in is classics like Wells and Karel Capek...

KR Oh, you spotted the reference to Capek's R.U.R....

RK Rather than anything more recent...

KR I took the idea to Random House, to their Legend list, and talked to their John Jarrold, nice chap who told me that cigar-shaped space ships were a thing of the past, which saddened me, because I'm an Amazing Stories sort of guy. He gave me some of their current books to read, but I couldn't get through them, and decided that my best bet was to stick with what I liked, closer to Jules Verne than Cape Canaveral.

RK And yet, in Altered States, you made one of the classic sf movies...

KR I had made Valentino, which was one of my bigger flops, and needed an offer of work. I had been in Chicago visiting my Jesuit pal, and I was rung up in the airport by my agent, who told me to go to New York rather than back to London. The director on Altered States had resigned, and they had asked 26 directors and I was the 27th. I accepted the project with alacrity, without even looking at the script. Then I met Paddy Chayefsky - I hadn't previously been especially aware of him as a key figure in the Golden Age of American TV drama with various Oscars, and so when I got the script, I went through it and crossed all sorts of things out.

This did not go down well, and I realized that as far as he was concerned, the director was just a vehicle for getting his ideas on the screen. He was never satisfied with the way I did the visuals - the trouble was that he had written things like 'In the blackness, a black wave rushes towards us at a million miles an hour' and how do you put that on screen? He had made the principal character a Methodist, and so I decided to base his inner life of hallucination on Christian images. The nice thing was that no-one ever complained about money, and so I got to turn the whole thing into something that looked like my own project. Paddy probably assumed that he could rework the material after I had gone home, but I shot most of it in long one-take scenes that he couldn't re-edit....

RK You have never been afraid of religious imagery, though sometimes it is pantheism rather than Christianity. The animals rushing through the night wood in Mahler, say.

KR When I started working for the BBC on Monitor, Huw Weldon, who had seen some of my early work, said 'Not too many bloody crucifixes, Russell', but I managed to put the odd one in, where it seemed appropriate - I snuck three into the Elgar film. And of course the Delius film is all about self-sacrifice, which is a very religious theme.

RK What happened to the Strauss film?

KR It is locked up in a vault somewhere at the BBC deteriorating - people keep promising to steal me a copy, but they never do. The Strauss family got onto the BBC and threatened them with their copyrights and they put Norman Del Mar on the following week to explain that my film was a libel on a great German Composer.

RK Which it isn't really - I think it is fair-minded about what Strauss went through during the Nazi era and the pressures he capitulated to....

KR And of course there was Mary Whitehouse threatening to prosecute us...I always see my films as humanizing their subjects, not denigrating them. We were taught on Monitor to look objectively at our enthusiasms, to make them available to the public so that they came across as painlessly accessible, and not esoteric. I hope that this book adheres to that spirit.

RK What film projects did you want to do, and never get to?

KR D.H.Lawrence's St.Mawr, I wrote a script for that. And 'The Angels' which was going to be a sort of counterpart to "The Devils'. And a sequel to 'Lair of the White Worm' in which terrible things happen to the royal family. And my Gershwin film 'Gershwin Dream', and the Scriabin project that I did as a radio play with a commentator explaining, during the Poem of Ecstasy just when they should put out breadcrumbs to get some bird-song, and when they should take off their partner's clothes...

And there is a J.M.Barry script - his brother, who died at thirteen in a skating accident, had dressed up as Pan, and the young Barry put on his loin cloth and picked up his pipes to cheer up their mother, who was not best pleased.

RK Are you working on a new novel?

KR At the Christmas of the new Millennium, a boy is left under a goosberry bush, and thirty-four years he starts his public ministry in a Britain entirely converted to the religion of football, and we are not sure whether he is Christ or the Devil.

RK And what are you reading for pleasure?

KR G.K.Chesterton's The Man who was Thursday; it is a wonderful surreal book about anarchists and the police chief who sits in a darkened room sending out agents to catch them, and tells his agents that he has sentenced them to death, which is an extreme and witty way of talking about God. It has this elegant terse wit - a chubby pretty man is told to put a pair of dark glasses on and children will scream at him in the street. And there is a chase scene with an elephant and a balloon - quite a good movie in there...

RK You've done your classical music films, and your rock films - never jazz?

KR I wanted to film Charles Mingus' autobiography Belly of the Underdog. We met and talked about it when I was showing Savage Messiah, but after his death, the rights ended up being owned by some conglomerate.

RK You wrote two non-fiction books - A British Picture and Fire over England. Any future non-fiction plans?

KR No, no more non-fiction. I like fiction more - it is a constant daily voyage of exploring new things, wondering what I will do next.

RK Lastly, Oliver Reed recently died...

KR Ollie - lovely man, who looked just like Debussy and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, when I needed him to for the films. He was wonderful in the right role; he had a system of acting
which consisted of expressions he would call 'Moody One,Moody Two and Moody Three.'

RK Which one is it in The Devils when he fights off the apothecary with the stuffed crocodile?

KR Oh, that is definitely Moody Three

And in those days Michael Caine was young and cute and oddly hot.

And wonderful character actors like Ed Begley and Karl Malden and Vladek Sheybal were around to be in cold war thrillers.

Come to that, there was a cold war, and it seemed like it would go on forever.

Only twenty-five years later, there was no Soviet Union, and the Latvians had their independence ( which is what the film is about - a mad US millionaire tries to invade ).

Deighton moved on, but I wish he would write the book about what happened to all his characters of the sixties thrillers. Did Stock, the brutal, fair-minded Russian patriot live to see it all fall apart, or was he lucky, and died with his illusions? And Harry, what happened to him? Surely he did not end up as Harry in 'Spooks' - that would be a scary thought.

The other thing about the movie is the computer - which Midwinter (Begley) uses to plot his invasion. Rooms and rooms of banks of tape decks, doubtless with less processing power than my mobile phone has. Old ideas of future tech look strangest when one was there at the time and remembers.


I want to find a new ISP, preferably a reliable free one. CIX has been annoying me. Any thoughts?
Tags: shostakovich 7th - quoted by russell in
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