Saturday, January 10, 2009

Olde Review: The Devils

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"The Devils" (Ken Russell, 1971) Ken's Russell's film of "The Devils" is what it is called. The quarter's only a week old and already in a Psychology class I have been told that the difference between an artist and a madman is that the artist can sift the good ideas from the bad.

So this leads me to believe that Ken Russell is a total madman. I don't like his all. Some can accuse Russell of outlandishness beyong taste—but I think it can safely be said that Russell conducts outlandishness beyond sense. Even when he is at his most self-controlled, as "
The Boy Friend " and "Tommy," we are presented such things as a harkening back to the mindless musical days of Busby Berkley in the former, and a chutch that worships the effigy of Marilyn Monroe and a hypodermic filled sarcophagus in the latter. Well, those films were rated "G" and "PG," respectively, and "The Devils" was rated "X." "Presented" becomes "assaulted."

I'm not going to list the excesses out of context, but it involves lecherous priests, mad nuns, and you can take it from there...if you can take it. And as far as I care you can take it and do anything you want with it.

I do have to say, however, that the stars of the thing,
Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed give fascinating performances—I wish they were in another movie— and there is an alright trial scene, but that's it for me to recommend, folks! But you can do a lot of jerky people do during a Ken Russell movie, keep repeating over and over "Ken Russell is a genius—Ken Russell is a genius" You may begin to believe it, and while you're concentrating on saying this, you may be fortunate enough to miss the movie. I didn't.

This was broadcast on KCMU-FM on January 8, 1976

Reading this throws me into all kinds of murky thinking. If you've read my reviews of, say, "Deliver Us from Evil," and "Doubt," you know my issues with the Catholic Church. I am, as I like to say, a recovering Catholic. My final break with "The Papists" came with the scandal of priests molesting kids in their charge and the hierarchy then sweeping the charges under the rug, ignoring the pain of the victims and sending the vioating priests to other do exactly the same thing somewhere else. Given that scenario, Aldous Huxley's "The Devils" merely sounds like a party. "Lecherous priests and mad nuns" sounds a bit like this season's "Doubt." We know longer burn people at the stake for witchcraft, but an Alaskan evangelist did pray to keep Gov. Sarah Palin from the sins of witchcraft.

We've come a long way.

So, has the film. So controversial, so over-the-top, "The Devils" had to have several cuts just to get an "X" rating at the time of its release! A restored version was shown at festivals in 2004, and Warners announced a DVD release for 2009, but plans for that have apparently been shelved. I would like to think that my hostility towards the film was based purely on my latent Catholicism, but I doubt it. I've never been a fan of Russell's, whose aim has seemed to be not so much creating art as causing as big a stink as possible. He's taken a lot of peculiar material, and pitched them as fever-dreams rather than straight-ahead narrative, and he's been quite guilty of burying his points in pretension and obfuscation. And Russell's film of "The Devils" freely adapted from the Huxley novel is heavy on that and high-pitched histrionics.

That's probably what I wanted to say in this review, where I criticized with only faint damnation. The most interesting part of the whole thing is the quote at the beginning, of the difference between a madman and an artist. Really? So Ed Wood, David Lynch, Michael Bay, Tom Cruise...are all mad? The difference between a madman and an artist boils down to "Good Taste?" I think I believe that less now than I did back then. Ed Wood had a lot of problems, to be sure, but I'm not sure he was crazy. Deluded, yes, and we celebrate that blinkerdly delusion. But it was useful as an entree to Ken Russell. I did end up liking his film of "Altered States ," though.

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