Ken Russell’s Dance of the Seven Veils

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Ken Russell’s long-suppressed Omnibus film Dance of the Seven Veils (1970), a “comic strip” biog­ra­phy of “Also Sprach Zarathus­tra” com­poser Richard Strauss, has turned up on YouTube in six parts.

If Song of Sum­mer reached for the sub­lime, Dance of the Seven Veils, aims straight for the ridicu­lous — and ridicule was Ken Russell’s inten­tion, as the programme’s sub­ti­tle ‘A comic strip in 7 episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864–1949′ makes clear. Com­fort­ably his most extreme tele­vi­sion film, its broad­cast was pre­ceded by a warn­ing about its vio­lent con­tent, though it still caused wide­spread outrage.

Russell’s com­poser biopics were usu­ally labours of love. This was the oppo­site: he regarded Strauss’s music as “bom­bas­tic, sham and hol­low”, and despised the com­poser for claim­ing to be apo­lit­i­cal while cosy­ing up to the Nazi regime. The film depicts Strauss in a vari­ety of grotesquely car­i­ca­tured sit­u­a­tions: attacked by nuns after adopt­ing Nietzsche’s phi­los­o­phy, he fights duels with jeal­ous hus­bands, lit­er­ally bat­ters his crit­ics into sub­mis­sion with his music and glo­ri­fies the women in his life and fantasies.

Later, his asso­ci­a­tion with Hitler leads to a graphically-depicted will­ing­ness to turn a blind eye to Nazi excesses, respond­ing to SS thugs carv­ing a Star of David in an elderly Jew­ish man’s chest by urg­ing his orches­tra to play louder, drown­ing out the screams. Unex­pect­edly, Strauss is cred­ited as co-writer, which was Russell’s way of indi­cat­ing that every word he uttered on screen was sourced directly from real-life statements.

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This faded copy with bleary sound was smug­gled on VHS from the BBC archives and illic­itly uploaded online as an AVI, because the Strauss estate took excep­tion to Russell’s comic strip, which deals, among other things, with the composer’s rela­tion­ship with the Nazi party in the 30s. When Rus­sell looked back on his career in a 1990s TV doc­u­men­tary, the only way he could even show a clip from this film is by chang­ing the music.

Here, before it dis­ap­pears, is a link to Part 1 that should also pro­vide you with links to the other five parts. The print is time­coded and has turned mostly pink, but mind you, it was shown in B&W dur­ing its only BBC broad­cast. Don’t let these minor annoy­ances deter you.


Prom It’s a Pleasure: Etiquette Film From1961

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The Prom It’s a Plea­sure is a well-produced color film that stars the 1961 Coca-Cola Junior Miss Pageant win­ner as the guide to a well-mannered prom night.

From the phone call ask­ing Junior Miss for the date, to the drop-off at the end of the night, this film details prom eti­quette for the curi­ous and uncouth teenager. It also explains that the boy should call his date’s mother before the dance to find out the color of her dress so he can match the cor­sage to it.

Whole­some six­ties movies often dealt with Amer­i­can morals, and this prom night film is a clas­sic exam­ple. At the high school dance itself, the film shows how to dance, how to ask some­one to dance, ways to ask some­one to dance, how to fill out a dance card, and how to nav­i­gate the refresh­ments, which con­sisted mostly of Coca-Cola, not sur­pris­ingly. In addi­tion to all the prom do’s and don’ts eti­quette tips, this film fea­tures great footage of a typ­i­cal six­ties prom.


Ken Russell’s Altered States

We’re all try­ing to ful­fill our­selves, under­stand our­selves, get in touch with our­selves, face the real­ity of our­selves, explore our­selves, expand our­selves. Ever since we dis­pensed with God we’ve got noth­ing but our­selves to explain this mean­ing­less hor­ror of life.”
–Eddie Jessup

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the sheer will­ful­ness of John Corigliano’s chal­leng­ing score that dur­ing a view­ing of Altered States (1980) the sound­track mirac­u­lously holds its own against Ken Rus­sell’s visual orgies of Para­janov­ian icono­graphic tableaux, each esca­lat­ing in insan­ity as we delve head-long (and nightmare-deep) into a highly sub­jec­tive hero’s jour­ney from hope­less­ness towards redemption.

Though Paddy Chayef­sky’s script cov­ers sev­eral years in the courtship, mar­riage, and sep­a­ra­tion of two dri­ven Ivy league aca­d­e­mic pro­fes­sion­als, pro­tag­o­nist Jes­sup (William Hurt) painfully and glar­ingly can not bring him­self to say “I love you” to his part­ner until the last line of the movie. If the L-word’s con­spic­u­ous absence hangs over the resul­tant daz­zlingly brazen hal­lu­ci­na­tory pro­ceed­ings, Jes­sup is haunted in his state of arrested devel­op­ment by another word that fills the wounded neg­a­tive space left in a soul lack­ing love: “ter­ri­ble,” both a defin­ing word and world­view that Jes­sup declares at the film’s out­set of hav­ing con­tracted dur­ing his father’s drawn out death of cancer.


One day I thought I heard him say some­thing. I got up and leaned over him, my ear an inch away from his lips. ‘Did you say some­thing, Pop?’ Then I heard the word he was des­per­ately try­ing to say, a soft hiss of a word. He was say­ing… ‘terrible.’…Terrible. So the end was ter­ri­ble, even for the good peo­ple like my father, so the pur­pose of all our suf­fer­ing was just more suffering.”

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Lis­ten­ing to Corigliano’s tracks on their own, divorced from Russell’s ver­tig­i­nous com­pli­men­tary imagery, it is easy to imag­ine that you are lost within a con­found­ing, con­fus­ing, cold, and harsh uni­verse that may never truly make sense.

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Once Upon a Honeymoon

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When our soci­ety went from “buy­ing to replace” to “buy to be happy”, the effect snow­balled over the decades with the force needed to keep from expe­ri­enc­ing a real exis­ten­tial crisis.

Once Upon a Hon­ey­moon is a 1956 musi­cal spon­sored film about a cou­ple wish­ing for a new home. It starts off with a group of angels who decide to help a cou­ple have a hon­ey­moon. The hus­band (Jeff) tries to write a song, while the wife (Mary) day­dreams about a new home, and imag­ines what it would be like to have the lat­est house­hold prod­ucts with the help of the angel. The angel then helps the man come up with a new song called “A Cas­tle in the Sky”.

The film was directed by Gower Cham­pion, and starred Vir­ginia Gib­son, Ward Ellis, Alan Mow­bray, Chick Chan­dler, Veron­ica Pataky and Rus­sell Hicks. In recent years the film has gained a small fol­low­ing, after it was mocked on the show Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000. It is in the pub­lic domain.


Design for Dreaming, General Motors’ Futuristic High Camp

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Set at the 1956 Gen­eral Motors Motorama, this is one of the key Pop­u­luxe films of the 1950s, show­ing futur­is­tic dream cars and Frigidaire’s “Kitchen of the Future.”

Design for Dream­ing (1956) is a musi­cal spon­sored film about a woman (played by dancer and chore­o­g­ra­pher Tad Tad­lock; real name “Thelma Tad­lock”) who dreams about a masked man (dancer and chore­o­g­ra­pher Marc Breaux) tak­ing her to the 1956 Gen­eral Motors Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Frigidaire’s “Kitchen of the Future.” The entirety of the dia­logue is sung, though the actors do not move their lips to their char­ac­ters’ pre­re­corded voices.

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Design for Dream­ing has gained a small cult fol­low­ing, with some enjoy­ing it for its per­ceived camp value, and oth­ers enjoy­ing it for nos­tal­gic rea­sons. One promi­nent show­ing of the film was as a short fea­ture in a fifth-season episode of Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000 (MST3K).

The BBC doc­u­men­tary series Pandora’s Box by Adam Cur­tis made exten­sive use of clips from Design for Dream­ing, espe­cially in the title sequence. Some footage was also used in the music video for Peter Gabriel’s 1987 sin­gle “In Your Eyes”, Rush’s 1989 music video for “Super­con­duc­tor”, a 1989 com­mer­cial for the Nin­tendo Game Boy game Super Mario Land, a 1994 com­mer­cial for Power Mac­in­tosh, and in brief clips on an episode in the 2nd sea­son of Penn and Teller: Bull­shit. Clips were dis­played dur­ing Nine Inch Nails con­cert per­for­mances. Part of the film, with dia­logue, is played dur­ing the open­ing titles for The Hills Have Eyes. Some snip­pets (with­out dia­logue) are played in the video watched by Michael Dou­glas dur­ing his phys­i­cal in The Game and in the open­ing titles for The Step­ford Wives.


Keep Off the Grass, Anti-Marijuana Propaganda Film

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Mom dis­cov­ers her son’s stash. Instead of smack­ing him sense­less, his chain-smoking, booz­ing dad lec­tures him on the dan­gers of pot smok­ing. Tom decides to dis­cover the Truth for him­self and learns a harsh les­son before decid­ing to “Keep Off The Grass”.

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Keep off the Grass is a edu­ca­tional film writ­ten, pro­duced and directed by Sid Davis. Like all of Sid Davis’s films they were made very heavy hand­edly. Tom gets in trou­ble when his mother finds a joint in his room. Instead of pun­ish­ing Tom, his father chal­lenges him to learn more about mar­i­jua­nas evil effects on soci­ety. Nobody gets killed in this Sid Davis film, yet Tom still learns a harsh les­son after being mugged by drug­gies and learn­ing that his best friend sells pot to school chil­dren. One of the last Sid Davis films to focus on drugs.


Wilhelm Reich

Wil­helm Reich is a wildly inter­est­ing fig­ure on many dif­fer­ent lev­els. Nor Nazi Ger­many nei­ther post War World II Amer­ica were ready for his ideas and both ended up per­se­cut­ing him, which leads me to think he must have been right on many of his the­o­ries. ‎As the say­ing goes, there is no left or right, there is only tyranny or freedom.

He  was born on March 24, 1897 in Gali­cia, in the east­ern­most part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Ukraine. He grew up in the Bukov­ina on a large farm oper­ated by his father. His first lan­guage was Ger­man, and until 1938 he was an Aus­trian citizen.

Reich worked with Sig­mund Freud in the 1920s and was a respected ana­lyst for much of his life, focus­ing on char­ac­ter struc­ture rather than on indi­vid­ual neu­rotic symp­toms. He tried to rec­on­cile Marx­ism and psy­cho­analy­sis, argu­ing that neu­ro­sis is rooted in the phys­i­cal, sex­ual, eco­nomic, and social con­di­tions of the patient, and pro­moted ado­les­cent sex­u­al­ity, the avail­abil­ity of con­tra­cep­tives, abor­tion, and divorce, and the impor­tance for women of eco­nomic inde­pen­dence. Just to be clear, my per­sonal opin­ion regard­ing Marx­ism and com­mu­nism goes along the lines of a pre­vi­ous post about John Henry Mackay if you care to read it.

His work influ­enced a gen­er­a­tion of intel­lec­tu­als, includ­ing Saul Bel­low, William S. Bur­roughs, Paul Edwards, Nor­man Mailer, and A. S. Neill, and shaped inno­va­tions such as Fritz Perls’s Gestalt ther­apy, Alexan­der Lowen’s bioen­er­getic analy­sis, and Arthur Janov’s pri­mal therapy.

Reich was liv­ing in Ger­many when Adolf Hitler came to power in Jan­u­ary 1933. On March 2 that year the Nazi newspaper,Völkischer Beobachter, pub­lished an attack on one of Reich’s pam­phlets, The Sex­ual Strug­gle of Youth. He left imme­di­ately for Vienna, then Scan­di­navia, mov­ing to the United States in 1939. In 1947, fol­low­ing a series of arti­cles about orgone in The New Repub­lic and Harper’s, the U.S. Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (FDA) obtained an injunc­tion against the inter­state sale of orgone accu­mu­la­tors. Charged with con­tempt for vio­lat­ing it, he was sen­tenced to two years in prison.

In the case of the United States of Amer­ica vs. Whil­hen Reich, the US dis­trict court ruled that his pub­lished works be destroyed. The Dis­cov­ery of the Orgone Vol. 1, The Func­tion­ing of the Orgasm Vol. 2, Can­cer Biopa­thy, Ether, God and Devil, Cos­mic Super­im­po­si­tion, Lis­ten Lit­tle Man, The Muder of Chhrist, Peo­ple in Trou­ble. These books were burned in the pub­lic incin­er­a­tor at the cor­ner of Hud­son and Gan­sevoort St. in New York city under the super­vi­sion of Fed­eral Food and Drugs admin­is­tra­tion agents. This occurred on August 10, 1956 and again on march 17, 1960. Fahren­heit 451 comes to mind, not to men­tion how ironic it is to have escaped Nazi Ger­many to have his books burned in America.

Here is a very inter­est­ing doc­u­men­tary named Who is Afraid of Wil­helm, that is a very good intro­duc­tion to get to know more about him.


Are You Afraid Of Islam?, DV8’s Can We Talk About This?

This is Islam­o­pho­bic shit,” cried an angry spec­ta­tor two-thirds of the way through DV8’s inves­ti­ga­tion of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in ‘Can We Talk About This?’.

This’ being free speech, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, Islam, Islamism, the issues at the heart of DV8’s extra­or­di­nary new show.

Lloyd New­son’s com­pany has, for more than quar­ter of a cen­tury, blurred the lines between dance and the­atre as a way of, in the company’s own words, ‘rein­vest­ing dance with mean­ing, par­tic­u­larly where this has been lost through for­malised tech­niques’. It has always tack­led con­tro­ver­sial and dif­fi­cult sub­jects, but the lat­est is likely to be the most chal­leng­ing yet.

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The show opens, as most of those in the audi­ence must have known, with a cast mem­ber demand­ing of the spec­ta­tors ‘Do you feel morally supe­rior to the Tal­iban?’.  It’s a nod to Mar­tin Amis who asked that same ques­tion to a hos­tile audi­ence in a noto­ri­ous debate at London’s ICA, back in 2007. It is hardly the most sophis­ti­cated of ques­tions. Yet its very unso­phis­ti­ca­tion reveals so starkly the spec­tre haunt­ing the lib­eral moral swamp.

It is that sense of moral ret­i­cence – even of guilt – at the thought of pass­ing judg­ment upon other cul­tures, revealed by the reluc­tance to think that one could be morally supe­rior to the Tal­iban, that lies at the heart of Can We Talk about This?.  The show begins with the infa­mous Ray Hon­ey­ford row in Brad­ford in 1985, and moves through the Rushdie affair, the mur­der in 2004 of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, the Dan­ish car­toons con­tro­versy the fol­low­ing year, and the ban­ning in 2009 of Dutch MP Geert Wilders from this coun­try because of his anti-Islamic film Fitna, all inter­wo­ven with dis­cus­sions of forced mar­riage, hon­our killings, jihadism.  The emo­tion that courses through every scene is a pul­sat­ing anger at the way that lib­eral cow­ardice has inter­wo­ven with mul­ti­cul­tural naivety to allow Islamist extrem­ist to silence crit­ics and to betray both prin­ci­ples and people.

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Newson’s argu­ment that there is a con­spir­acy of silence about Islamist wrongs is under­mined by the fact that most of the cases he doc­u­ments are already famil­iar to us from the media. “To speak out,” some­one says, “is called racist.” No, it’s not: it’s called jour­nal­ism, as evi­denced by the quotes in the show from Mar­tin Amis and Christo­pher Hitchens, and the numer­ous colum­nists cited in the pro­gramme. And, much as I applaud a piece of phys­i­cal the­atre that deals with seri­ous issues, the debate about mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is over-simplified. What is never explored is the idea that inte­gra­tion in some areas of life can be com­bined with preser­va­tion of one’s cul­tural and reli­gious iden­tity. Per­haps such crit­i­cism is unfair. After all, Can We Talk About This? is phys­i­cal the­atre not a round­table dis­cus­sion. The ambi­tion of the show, and its will­ing­ness to stomp all over the debate, is its great strength.

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As always with DV8, the phys­i­cal side of the show is impres­sive: one female per­former illus­trates the deter­mi­na­tion to escape a forced mar­riage purely through sin­u­ous hand and hip movements.

Can We Talk About This? is, like all DV8 works, both thought pro­vok­ing and gut-wrenching, food for mind and heart. It is the kind of bold, polem­i­cal spec­ta­cle that the the­atre so badly needs, a world away from the insipid offer­ings that all too often lit­ter the con­tem­po­rary stage.


Goverment Control & Gay Sex Witch-Hunt: Tearoom

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Sex para­noia, gov­er­ment con­trol and witch-hunt at its finest. Tea­room con­sists of footage shot by the police in the course of a crack­down on pub­lic sex in the Amer­i­can Mid­west. In the sum­mer of 1962, the Mans­field, Ohio Police Depart­ment pho­tographed men in a restroom under the main square of the city. The cam­era­men hid in a closet and watched the clan­des­tine activ­i­ties through a two-way mirror.

The film they shot was used in court as evi­dence against the defen­dants, all of whom were found guilty of sodomy, which at that time car­ried a manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tence of one year in the state pen­i­ten­tiary. The orig­i­nal sur­veil­lance footage shot by the police came into the pos­ses­sion of direc­tor William E. Jones while he was research­ing this case for a doc­u­men­tary project.

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The unedited scenes of ordi­nary men of var­i­ous races and classes meet­ing to have sex were so pow­er­ful that the direc­tor decided to present the footage with a min­i­mum of inter­ven­tion. Tea­room is a rad­i­cal exam­ple of film pre­sented “as found” for the pur­pose of cir­cu­lat­ing his­tor­i­cal images that have oth­er­wise been suppressed.

This is an excerpt  from the orig­i­nal film (16mm film trans­ferred to video, color, silent, 56 min­utes, 1962/2007).


Drugs Are Like That

Anita Bryant (famous Florida orange juice and anti-gay spokes­woman) nar­rates this film that tries to sim­plify its drug abuse mes­sage with an anal­ogy of kids putting together a con­trap­tion out of Lego blocks.

Although the metaphors often don’t make sense, the visual impact of the film is stun­ning and could eas­ily be quite pop­u­lar with indi­vid­u­als con­sum­ing illicit drugs. Also, like most anti-drug films, this could be a tempt­ing intro­duc­tion to drugs for some youths yearn­ing to escape their “bor­ing” lives or to rebel against their parents.

We’ll laugh about this tomor­row.
It’s times like this I hope will fol­low me.
i hope they fol­low me. i hope they fol­low me. oh oh i hope they fol­low me.