Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Devil Always Throws the Best Parties, Or Thoughts on Ken Russell’s The Devils

Arguably Superstar Director Ken Russell’s most infamous work (in a stellar list that includes Tommy (1975), Altered States (1980) and The Lair of The White Worm (1988)), The Devils (1971) is decadent, stylish and surreal; a period piece set in 17th Century France yet reflecting the mood and aesthetics of the Swinging 60’s.  Based on the novel The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley, the film is tangentially about witchcraft, demonic possession and sexual repression in Loudun, France.
Legendary British actor and personal hero Oliver Reed portrays the impassioned and charismatic Father Grandier, who acts more like a 70’s rock star or a cult leader than a traditional man of the cloth.  He is accused of witchcraft and heresy by Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Jeanne of The Angels, the hunchbacked nun who is in love with him.  Her literally twisted performance as she fantasizes of Grandier as Christ on the cross, complete with crown of thorns, is the start of a crazy and profane roller-coaster of a movie that is unrelenting in pushing every boundary Ken Russell could imagine.  And trust me, he had quite an imagination.
Urbain Grandier was an historical figure who was actually burned at the stake in 1634, so you know where this movie is probably going to end up.  The movie paints a bleak portrait of the Catholic Church in 17th Century France, including plague pits, state of the art medical theory involving wasps, leeches, and crocodiles scenes of sexual violence combined with religious fervor and of course, the infamous naked nun-orgy in the cathedral.  Subversively blasphemous, the scenes were shocking enough in the 70’s to merit an X-rating in the UK and US upon release.
With Michael Gothard of Scream and Scream Again (1970) and For Your Eyes Only (1981) as Father Barre, the perverted Witch Hunter and monochromatic sets and costumes by Derek Jarman.  Also featuring Gemma Jones, the Duchess of Duke Street and Madame Pomfrey from Harry Potter, in her big screen debut as Madeleine De Brou, the secret wife of Father Grandier.
The film remains powerful and relevant even today, considering the polarizing stranglehold that organized religion still has on world politics.  And while we don’t burn anyone at the stake anymore we pillory them in the news and social media, and the naked nun orgy scenes seem tame and artistic by today’s standards.



my first novel? thanks for asking:)  it’s the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins,  and a 24hr diner with the best pie in town…

read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).