Mad Villainy: Oliver Reed on how to play a bad guy
10.30.2013
07:13 am

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Movies
Television

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Oliver Reed


 
Since I couldn’t have a dog when I was a child, it became my ambition to turn into a werewolf. Vampires were dull and superstitious. Frankentstein’s monster was clumsy and no good with kids. The Invisible Man appealed, though he wasn’t too good at small talk, and being invisible could get awfully cold. My short list, therefore, was pared down to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the werewolf. Both had interesting dichotomies, but where Jekyll’s was about repressed guilt and sexuality, the lycanthrope was driven by a powerful animal nature, which I saw as my untamed spirit.

That summer, when I was six, I became a werewolf for a week or so, and howled at the moon.

I learned my lupine behavior from Henry Hull in The Werewolf of London, who was then my favorite lycanthrope, putting a beefy Lon Chaney Jr.‘s Wolfman into second place. This was, of course, until I saw Oliver Reed possessed by a silvered moon in The Curse of the Werewolf.

Reed had the werewolf routine down pat. He knew all the moves, and did a fine line in shirt-shredding and wet-eyed remorse. I quickly realized that being a werewolf wasn’t as much fun as being an actor, and I began to follow Reed’s on-screen career.

I caught-up with his early swash-buckling double-bills at the Astoria cinema, where I also saw Reed as the definitive Bill Sikes in Oliver!, then as a comic and unlikely brother to Michael Crawford in The Jokers, and finally as animal-loving POW taking an elephant to safety across the Alps in Hannibal Brooks.

Reed had a joy for living that radiated form the screen, and unlike all the other fodder on offer, Ollie’s films were different, quirky, and, most importantly, fun.

It was through Reed that I arrived at Ken Russell, the man who made me aware of just how brilliant and original cinema could be.

Looking back, Reed’s films were all peculiarly British. Moreover, during the 1970s, as every other Brit actor fled the country’s eye-watering rate of taxation (75%), it seemed like Reed was only actor keeping British cinema alive.

Ultimately, it proved a losing battle, as the American summer blockbuster brought an end to individuality, intelligence and the art of the cinematic auteur.

Of course, things could have been much different, if Reed had gone for the Hollywood lifestyle: those big budget movies, the box office success, and a life by the swimming pool sipping Evian water.

It wasn’t so far fetched, as at the height of his fame, in the 1970s, Reed was offered two major Hollywood movies that would have changed his career for good.

The first was The Sting, where he was to be the villain, Doyle Lonnegan; the second was Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, in which he was to play the wise, old fisherman, Quint.

Reed turned them down, and both of these roles went to Robert Shaw.

Going to Hollywood, Reed later admitted, “might have made all the difference,” but it wasn’t in his nature, as he explained to the actress, Georgina Hale:

”You know, Georgie, I could have gone to Hollywood but I chose life instead.”

Interesting how he made a difference between “Tinsel Town” and “life.”

But “life” had to be paid for, and over the next two decades, Reed made a small library of bad B-movies that hardly used his talent and did little for his reputation.

When his brothers, David and Simon asked Oliver to go to Hollywood, Reed would always shake his head and reply:

”I don’t think I can do it. I don’t really want to do it.”

Reed’s lack of confidence stemmed from his dyslexia, which saw him damned as dunce throughout his school years, and led him to doubt his own intellectual potential. He covered-up this lack of confidence with drink. Lon Chaney once advised his son to find a movie role he could make his own. Junior soon hit on The Wolfman and became a star. By the 1980s, Reed was making the role of a drunk his own. It was a performance that shortchanged his talents.

Robert Sellars in his authorized biography on Reed What Fresh Lunacy Is This? notes an exchange in an early Reed movie, which parallels the actors own fears.

There’s a scene in The System where Jane Merrow’s character asks Oliver’s Lothario of a seaside photographer why he stays in a small town, thinking him to be the type who would have moved on to a bustling city long ago.

Asked if he likes living in the town, he replies, ‘No, not particularly.’

‘Then why stay?’

‘Perhaps I’m a little nervous of going anywhere bigger.’

Reed was a star, it’s just the movies that got small. But in his work/life balance, Oliver probably got it right. He achieved a memorable body of work, with at least a dozen important films; and he lived a life of excess that became the envy of beer-bellied frat boys and suburban barflies.
 
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On British TV back in the 1980s, there was a show called In at the Deep End, where user-friendly presenters Paul Heiney and Chris Serle were given the challenge of mastering a different profession every week. These jobs ranged from working as a chef, becoming a female impersonator, making a pop promo (for Banarama), and acting in a movie.

In 1985, Heiney was given a bit part in the Dick Clement / Ian La Frenais movie Water, a flop that starred Michael Caine, Valerie Perrine and Billy Connolly. With no acting experience, Heiney sought out the advice of Oliver Reed, who gave impromptu acting lesson of how to be a bad guy.

As Heiney later told Robert Sellers:

’[Reed] was wearing a heavy army overcoat,’ says Heiney. ‘Like the ones the Russian army wear, and he said there was nothing underneath. I had no reason to disbelieve him. He was wearing a pair of wore-rimmed spectacles; one of the lenses was cracked. He had a sort of look of death about him, although I’m sure that was put on, and he had in his fist a pint mug with this clear, colourless liquid in it which he said was vodka and tonic, and I’ve got no reason to doubt that, either. Clearly he’d decided from the outset that he was going to play the bad man every inch of the way. Come in, sit down, shut up, don’t sit there, all that kind of stuff, and he was clearly enjoying it. And I wasn’t enjoying it.’

The advice Ollie gives in the interview is like a master class in how to play a villain on film. His big thing was not to blink: bad men do not blink. ‘You don’t see a cobra blink, do you?’ he says.

The next thing was the voice. Villains don’t shout, they don’t need to. Dangerous men have a great silence and stillness about them.

The one thing that’s missing from this clip is Reed’s finally, knowing wink to camera. But it’s all priceless, and shows a flash of Reed’s talents.
 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘The Debussy Film’: The making of Ken Russell’s TV masterpiece starring Oliver Reed

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Ken Russell had thought about making a film on Debussy for some time. He was ‘hovering on the feature film fringe,’ having just made his first movie French Dressing, in 1964. But it had sadly flopped and he had returned to work as a producer and director for the BBC’s arts series Monitor.

Making a feature film had encouraged Russell’s ambitions, and he now had a revolutionary idea for a new kind of documentary arts film, but he wasn’t quite sure how best to achieve it. This was when Russell met Melvyn Bragg, a young Northern writer, who was also working in the Monitor office.

At twenty, Bragg had decided to become a writer, but thought ‘quite rightly as it turned out,’ that he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. So, he got a job, to support his literary ambitions.

‘I got a BBC traineeship when I was twenty-one,’ Bragg told me in 1984. ‘Went into radio, which I liked an awful lot. Worked in Newcastle. Worked in the World Service, Bush House. Then I worked in Broadcasting House, in the Features Department. I was going to stay there—I didn’t like television, except for Monitor—and I said I’d only go into television if I could get an attachment onto Monitor. Eventually, one came up, and I got it.’

Russell wanted to share his idea with Bragg. He met him in a cafe, and told Bragg about Debussy and his plan for a new kind of arts documentary—a film-within-a-film. Together they wrote a script, and Bragg turned it into a screenplay.

‘When I did Debussy, Ken’s first talkie on television, nobody had done that before I did that as a screenplay as a way to make it work. The real problem you’ve got with biopics about people is that there is no structured drama in anybody’s life. You’ve got to make it.

‘What you’ve got are pits, which are very good, all over the fucking shop, and you’ve got to have that bit because [they’re] terrific, and you’ve got to have that bit because there’s hardly any relationship between them. Where, if you write a play, or write a book, there is a relationship because you’ve written it like that. But in people’s lives, something happens there, and 7 years later, something else happens. This enables us to dip in-and-out.’

It was a lunchtime in May, and I was interviewing Bragg in his office, at London Weekend Television, where he worked as editor and presenter of the (now legendary) arts series, The South Bank Show. Bragg sat behind his desk, dressed as usual in a suit (‘Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person that I am talking to’), eating an apple for his lunch.

Bragg said he thought Russell ‘a very brilliant, eccentric and erratic talent, he can be marvelous.’

The Debussy Film was the first of several highly successful collaborations between Russell and Bragg—as director and writer. A partnership that lasted until The Music Lovers (‘I had a big row with [Ken] on that which is fairly public. I hated it.’) The pair later worked together again on several documentaries for The South Bank Show .

It was also Russell’s first collaboration with actor Oliver Reed, who later described the director as:

Jesus is not Christ, only Russell.

Reed was a rare talent, who had been slightly over-looked by film producers because of a scar on his face, which he had received on a drunken night out. But Reed was more than just a feared Hell-raiser, he was a brilliant actor who brought an incredibly complex and emotional depth to the role of Debussy.

‘Debussy was an ambiguous character,’ Russell told one of his biographers, John Baxter in 1973.

...and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.

Born in his music and his life, Debussy was a great sensualist. There’s a line of his in the film: “Music should express things that can’t be said,” which simply means to me that music is something which, the moment you talk about it, disintegrates and becomes meaningless. That’s what I mean by sensuality—something that’s felt rather than reasoned.

 
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Ken Russell directing ‘The Debussy Film’ (1965)
 
While The Debussy Film may at first appear a film that is “felt rather than reasoned,” it has to be understood that every element of it is based on fact, taken from letters and personal details of the main characters. Also, by presenting inter-linking narratives, Russell was able to question, examine and comment on Debussy’s creative life, and the damage it caused him to those he loved.

With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life.

I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.

The Debussy Film is Russell developing the style and technique that would make him internationally recognized as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. His approach was revolutionary and brilliant, and The Debussy Film changed television and cinematic biography for good. It also revealed another side to Oliver Reed (who is quite brilliant) and Vladek Sheybal, who was usually typecast as KGB agents. The film also contains cameos form artists Duggie Fields and Pauline Boty.
 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Happy Birthday Oliver Reed

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Oliver Reed would have been 75-years-young today. Probably still making movies, entertaining audiences and no doubt fulfilling the needs of unimaginative TV commissioners by appearing, or pretending to be drunk on their tacky chat shows.

I think boredom inspired much of Reed’s bad behavior—it usually took less than 10 minutes of dumb questioning before Reed was playing-up as the resident drunk. It is still refreshing to find an olde interview with the great Hell Raiser, when he was having a night-off and talking (mainly) sense to his interrogator—here Michael Parkinson.

In interviews, Reed could still play the idiot savant (here making daft and knowingly offensive comments about intelligent women—who probably terrified him—Reed was dsylexic, and his own education had been piecemeal), if he had lost interest in the subject matter. Then reveal himself as someone who thought about what he was doing—notably here he discussed making The Devils with Ken Russell, which he tied directly into the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, where Religion had once again divided a country and set its people murderously against each other.

‘I’m still getting paid for that film. Neither Ken Russell or I got any money for that film [The Devils]. We got our expenses—but we made that film because we thought it was the proper time, and in light, maybe, of the Troubles in Ulster now, it was the proper time for that film to be made. We weren’t trying to afford anybody proper niceties, any proper little entertainments, little asides before tea, we were showing them the bigotry that goes on, or that humanity is capable of, and that was all we were doing….

....How many times have armies fought under the banner of Christianity, and how many lives have been destroyed? Let’s not have it again, please.’

The interview is from the Parkinson chat show in 1973, and amongst the guests are novelist Mickey Spillane and TV personality (famed for being on What’s My Line? in the 1950s, who sadly committed suicide after a shop-lifting charge in the 1980s). Throughout, Reed’s self-deprecating humor is evident and he did couple of funny impressions of Michael Winner and James Stewart. However, it’s still sad to think that such a naturally talented actor is no longer with us.

Happy Birthday Oliver Reed!
 

 
Bonus: the full interview with Oliver Reed, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The Other Side of a Hell Raiser: At Home With Oliver Reed

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Oliver Reed wanted a field for his horse, Dougal, and ended up with Broome Hall, a 56-bedroom mansion, with 50 acres of land. Reed fell in love with Broome Hall and with help of 2 or 3 drinking friends set about renovating the dilapidated property. It was a such a passion for the international star that he refused to become a tax exile, instead giving the bulk of his earnings over the government, to ensure he could live in this beautiful former monastery.

This is a delightful short film from 1977, first shown on Nationwide, which reveals a a funny, charming and sensitive-side to the well-known Hell-raiser. Valerie Singleton asks the questions
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Incredible Friendship of Oliver Reed and Keith Moon


Oliver Reed: Early interview on the set of ‘The Trap’ from 1966


 
With thanks to NellyM
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Oliver Reed: Early interview on the set of ‘The Trap’ from 1966

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To perfect a French-Canadian accent for his role in the 1966 film The Trap, Oliver Reed spent several days around the docks and bars of Montreal. One would suspect the great Hell-raiser spent most of that time in the bars, rather than around. However, the film company were smart enough to ensure Ollie didn’t spend too much time in the bars, and assigned a local to read him newspapers and teach him the lingo.

That was the thing about Reed - he was a great actor, but his life and work was over-shadowed by his off-screen excesses - even this interview from the set of The Trap ends up on his brawling. Of course, it made him a lovable rogue and, yes, at times a terrible bore, but the main affect was to lower the appreciation his performances deserved. Let’s be clear, he never had the critical acclaim his fellow mavericks Burton, O’Toole, Harris or Hurt achieved, even when Reed regularly proved himself to be a far better film actor, or at the very least their equal.  From early fodder like Curse of the Werewolf through Paranoiac to his collaborations with Ken Russell (The Debussy Film, Women in Love, The Devils) and Michael Winner (Hannibal Brooks, The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘is Name) Reed was an exceptional actor.

Even take for example, his performance in The Trap - a movie with primarily two actors - Reed as a trapper who unwillingly takes a mute girl, Rita Tushingham, as his wife in, to live together in the remotest wilds of Canada, and what happens when he falls into a bear trap - and watch how he delivered a complete range of emotions that carried the film beyond its very slim storyline. Tushingham is equally as good, and their pairing works well.

Reed died too soon, and too young. But fuck it, he left behind a major body of work, which still needs to be properly assessed. And let’s not forget, he died pissed and arm-wrestling in his favored place - the bar.
 

 
Previously on DM

When Oliver Reed Met Keith Moon


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Rising Star: An interview with Glenn McQuaid director of ‘I Sell the Dead’ and ‘V/H/S’

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Sometimes there comes along a director, whose talent is so apparent that you wonder why they’re not more famous. Glenn McQuaid is such a director, and his first feature, I Sell the Dead, in 2008, offered everything I want from a horror film.

It was my brother who tapped me in to Mr. McQuaid’s work. My brother and I had grown-up under the spell of the horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s (with Karloff and Lugosi, and Lon Chaney jnr.), and Hammer films (with Cushing and Lee) from the fifties and sixties. Of course there were also the Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborations, as well as the Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg anthology films of the 1960s and ‘70s.

We also had a love of stories by Dennis Wheatley (in particular his series of classic horror novels published under his Library of the Occult - Stoker, Shelley, ”Carnaki, the Ghost Finder”, and Guy Endore), and the tales of terror penned by Poe, Blackwood and Bloch.

My brother raved about I Sell the Dead, and when I saw it I had to agree. Written and directed by McQuaid, it stars Larry Fessenden, Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman and Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, and is near perfect - a witty, clever and engaging story, presented in the style of the best, classic horror film. I was smitten, the same way I was when Boris Karloff as the Monster first walked backwards into the laboratory; or by Oliver Reed when he turned into a werewolf. McQuaid knows his genre and its cinematic traditions.

For his next film, McQuaid is one of the directors (alongside David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard ) of the soon to be released anthology film, V/H/S, for which he wrote an directed the “unconventional killer-in-the-woods chiller Tuesday The 17th”. When V/H/S previewed at the Sundance Film Festival, it received the kind of exposure of which publicists dream.

At its screening two audience members fled in terror – one fainted, one puked. The last time I recall such a response was for The Exorcist in 1973, where there were reports of fainting, vomiting, and even an alleged possession.

When was shown at SXSW, V/H/S was described as ”an incredibly entertaining film that succeeds in being humorous, sexy, gross and scary as fuck.” While Dead Central gave it 5/5.

Though all the directors have been praised for the quality of their films, the reviews have singled out McQuaid for the excellence and originality of his contribution.

Before all this kicked off, I contacted Glenn McQuaid to organize an interview. Over the following weeks emails went back-and-forth, until the following arrived. The interview covers Mr McQuaid’s background, his influences, early work, The Resurrection Apprentice, working with Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan on I Sell the Dead, to V/H/S.
 

 
The full interview with Glenn McQuaid, after the jump….
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Legendary Film Director Ken Russell has died

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The film director Ken Russell died peacefully in his sleep yesterday, he was 84. Russell was one of England’s greatest, most important and influential film directors, whose work revolutionized television and cinema. Russell will be remembered for his original TV docu-dramas, Elgar, The Debussy Film, Delius: The Song of Summer, and Dance of the Seven Veils, and for his cinematic work, Women in Love, The Devils, The Boyfriend, The Music Lovers, Savage Messiah, Mahler, the rock opera Tommy, Altered States, Gothic, Crimes of Passion, Lair of the White Worm, Salome’s Last Dance and The Rainbow.

The term genius is over-used these days to describe third-rate karaoke singers, but in its proper use, as a person of extraordinary intellect and talent, Ken Russell was a genius, and his films are without question some of the greatest cinematic works ever produced. As film writer Tim Lucas noted this morning:

I am reading that Ken Russell has died, and there is nothing else to do but damn the mediocrity that’s outlived him and be immensely grateful for all he gave us—in my case, many films that changed my way of seeing things, and a few that literally changed my life. There was no other film director like him, and we will not see his like again.

Born Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell in Southampton, England, on July 3 1927, to Ethel and Henry Russell. His father owned a shop and was distant and bad tempered, which led to the young Ken spending much of his childhood with his mother watching films in the local picture house. It was here that he saw Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen, which inspired Russell towards film-making.
 

 
Ken Russell’s full obituary, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Oliver Reed interviews Oliver Reed

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Since I couldn’t have a dog when I was a child, it became my ambition to become a werewolf. Vampires were dull and foolishly superstitious. Frankentstein’s monster whiney and self-pitying. Though the Invisible Man appealed, he was too cracked and not much company. So, it was the werewolf that clicked, for here was a creature driven by things that could not be so easily explained.

This fascination led me to Oliver Reed and The Curse of the Werewolf. I’d already seen Henry Hull in The Werewolf of London, which was running as favorite, putting Lon Chaney jnr’s The Wolfman into second, that was, of course, until I saw Reed possessed by the cast of a silver moon.

It was a metaphor I liked - life usurped by genetic code, oddly confirming Philip Larkin’s belief we are but dilutions of dilution. In its way it was an easy metaphor for Reed, that instinctual, soft-eyed actor possessed by a brilliant talent and a greater thirst for life.

There was great sense of joy about Reed, no matter how drunk or sober he always exhibited a relentless joy for living. It may have damaged his career, and limited his talents, but it was part of who he was - like Leon Corledo or Larry Talbot and lycanthropy. It made him always worth watching, even in his shittiest of films, for Reed was a life force, the like of which we have rarely seen since.

Here, Reed interviews himself on French TV, in a bizarre publicity package for The Return of the Musketeers in 1989. In it Reed asks himself questions other interviewers would never dared ask - that his career owed everything to Ken Russell, like Eliza Doolitlle to Henry Higgins in the play Pygmalion; and why did he drink? His answers range from the unfocussed to the honest, but underneath, there is the growl of a beast waiting to get out.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Incredible Friendship of Oliver Reed and Keith Moon


In Praise of Oliver Reed


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Ken Russell’s early documentary: ‘A House in Bayswater’

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Between 1959 and 1969, Ken Russell flourished as a brilliant director of television documentaries for the BBC, where he single-handedly advanced the documentary genre by creating a hybrid of the drama-documentary. Firstly with his splendid film on Elgar in 1962, developing the form with Oliver Reed in The Debussy Film in 1965, then making the classic drama on Delius, Song of Summer in 1968, before finally and most controversially making his masterpiece Dance of the Seven Veils A Comic Strip in Seven Episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864-1949, which infamously depicted the German composer of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as a Nazi, and lead to questions being raised in the British Parliament, before it was eventually banned.

Russell’s brilliant style of film-making was a long way from how things worked when he first arrived at the BBC. Then ‘biography’, as Joseph Lanza explained in Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films, was:

...more like strict documentary. There was no place for metaphors or speculative drama. The network’s purists felt such tactics were synonymous with the kinds of exaggeration [the Futurist artist] Henri Gaudier championed and that Russell longed to create. So Russell kept a humble exterior while secretly plotting to subvert the BBC’s codes of propriety.

“Ken was different in every way from what he is now,” Russell’s BBC boss Huw Wheldon reflected in the early 1970s on working with Russell in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “To start with, he was virtually wordless. He was shy and quiet. Quiet in every way: his clothes, his haircut, his countenance. A little watchful, but silent and completely modest. I couldn’t make head nor tail of him, partly because he wouldn’t help me. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me.”

Russell’s first short film for the BBC’s Monitor series was Poet’s London - an effective evocation of John Betjeman’s poetry; quickly followed by Guitar Crazy on the rise of guitar music; Portrait of a Goon, a look acclaimed comic and scriptwriter, Spike Milligan; and a profile of dance legend, Marie Rambert and her ballet company. Then in 1960, during a summer break from the series, Russell wrote, directed and produced his first full-length documentary film, A House in Bayswater.

In An Appalling Talent - Ken Russell, film writer and critic, John Baxter described Russell’s film as ‘...ostensibly a protest at the razing of tall old buildings to make way for office blocks…’

‘Beginning as a systematic representation of Bayswater as a hive of creative activity - his chosen terrace houses a painter, a photographer, a ballet dancer and ex-pupil of Pavlova, a retired lady’s maid who pines for the affluent USA of the Twenties, and an odd but lively landlady - the film changes tone as both artists reveal themselves as tedious poseurs, and Russell’s sympathy swings towards the old people, sustained and enriched by the past. The dancer, leading her willing, wispy pupil through a two-woman show hazed in memoriesof better days (“My next solo is one I did on Broadway in 1929 and I am wearing the same costume”) is faded but not absurd, the maid’s images of New York have the insouciant fever of Scott Fitzgerald, and the concierge who sells her junk to the photographer for props, offers bumpers of sherry as rent receipts and cultivates toadstools and deadly nightshade in the garden with a philosophical “They might come in useful” celebrates the indestructible eccentric. The last Cocteauesque image, of the dancer and her little pupil battling in slow motion against a windy torrent of streamers and balloons (to be recalled in the 1812 episode of The Music Lovers) holds the promise of immortality for all those who survive and, above all, keep faith.’

A House in Bayswater is a beautiful piece of documentary-making, which slowly develops towards a memorable finish. What isn’t revealed is that the fact this was this house in Bayswater was Ken Russell’s home during the 1950s.

I have lived most of my life in rooming houses, and shared apartments, and run-down hotels, where there is great comfort in anonymity and company amongst strangers, and understand Russell’s nostalgia for a life that is being slowly removed, as cities are carelessly gentrified. Watching it in the month when New York’s Chelsea Hotel announced its demise, only reinforced how much of our shared environment is now monetized for the benefit of a few. This is apparent in Russell’s film, as the film details the lives and hopes of the tenants, connected by a house that was soon to be lost to demolition and replaced “by a soulless office block.”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Book, The Sculptor, His Life & Ken Russell


Ken Russell’s banned film: ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’


Ken Russell on Antonio Gaudi


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Gillian Hills: Keeping time with the Beat Girl

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You will have seen the beautiful Gillian Hills before - in A Clockwork Orange with Barbara Scott, sucking on an ice lolly, getting chatted-up by Malcom McDowall’s Alex in the Melodia Diskbootik; or perhaps in Blow-Up posing, wrestling and getting intimate with Jane Birkin and David Hemmings; or maybe looking like a teenage Brigitte Bardot doing the hippy-hippy-shake with Oliver Reed in Beat Girl.

Born in Egypt, raised in France, daughter of a writer and adventurer, grand-daughter of a poet, Gillian Hills was discovered by Roger Vadim, who thought he’d found his next Bardot, he gave her a small part in his film version of Les liaisons dangereuses, (1959) with Jeanne Moreau. It wa senough to attract interest and led to the teenage Hills starring, alongside Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed in Beat Girl (1960).

An auspicious start, which should have brought bigger and better, but Hills switched direction and signed a recording deal with Barclay Records, who released her first EP “Allo Brigitte..ne coupez pas!”. Over the next 5 years Hills concentrated on her singing career, which saw her headlining at the Olympia Theater with the legendary, Johnny Hallyday, and working with the brilliant Serge Gainsbourg.

Even with such A-list names, Hills jolly toe-tapping tunes had mixed success and she was eventually dropped by Barclay in 1965. Hills then signed for AZ Records and released a cover of The Zombies hit “Leave Me Be”, she also returned to films with appearances in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, the film of John Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence, Three and the Kubrick classic A Clockwork Orange. Her acting career never took off, and after a final leading role in the Hammer horror Demons of the Mind, Hill retired and moved to New York, where she started her career as an artist and illustrator.

Now Gillian Hills lives in England (with apparently the manager of AC/DC), but thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we do have some of her hit Euro-songs and career highlights to look back on. Bliss.
 

 

Gillian Hills - “Zou Bisou bisou”
 

Gillian Hills - “Les jolis coeur”
 

Gillian Hills - “Mon coeur est prêt”
 
Bonus clips of Gillian Hills with Oliver Reed and Serge Gainsbourg, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Rare screening of Ken Russell’s masterpiece ‘The Devils’ at London’s East End Festival

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Legendary film-director and British national treasure, Ken Russell will introduce one of his greatest and most controversial films The Devils on 1st May during the East End Film Festival at the Barbican in London.

The complete version of Russell’s infamous masterpiece arrives for its second ever UK screening. Breathtaking sets by Derek Jarman and Russell’s confrontational use of religious, sexual and violent imagery conjure a vision of damnation in 17th-century France.

Outspoken, promiscuous priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed Mother Superior (Vanessa Redgrave). As rumours of demonic possession spreads to the local nuns, Grandier’s resistance to the encroaching power of the state results in him being made the victim of a show trial in a climate of public hysteria.

Based on events documented in Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun, this is a potentially once in a lifetime chance to see a lost, deeply disturbing British classic.

More details here.
 

 
Previously on DM

The Book, The Sculptor, His Life and Ken Russell


 
Bonus clip of Mark Kermode on Russell’s masterpiece, after the jump…
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The Incredible Friendship of Oliver Reed and Keith Moon

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When Oliver Reed met Keith Moon their lives changed forever. Together Moon and Reed formed a bizarre, unholy and incredible friendship that brought them both to the edge of madness and ultimately lead to their untimely deaths.

Their friendship began during the making of Ken Russell’s Tommy, as Lee Patrick recalled on olliereed.co.uk:

I was living with Keith Moon at the time and they were just about to start filming Tommy, Keith and I had spent all morning driving Soho’s sex shops buying dildoes, rubber stuff etc for Keith to use as props for Uncle Ernie.  

At lunch time Keith decided to drop into Ken Russell’s office and mentioned that he’d like to meet Ollie before they started filming, Ken immediately got on the phone to Ollie and suggested a meeting, Ollie invited us to Broome Hall afternoon so we were off to Battersea Heliport where we boarded a helicopter to take us there.   We arrived on his front lawn shortly afterwards, unfortunately frightening his pregnant horses,  Ollie was standing there in the doorway holding 2 pint mugs whisky for us.   He was a charming host and invited us to stay for dinner.

Dinner was served on a huge medieval oak table and before we started eating Ollie jumped up and grabbed two large swords which were hanging on the wall, giving one to Keith.   The two of them ended up having a sword fight up and down the table, that was the appetiser!   After dinner Ollie invited us down to his local pub, The Cricketers, where we all got very drunk, with Ollie and Keith undressing, each one trying to outdo the drunken antics of the other, they were so alike that it was no wonder they became great friends.

Later on, back at Broome Hall, Ollie insisted we stay the night, we were up for that, expecting to be sleeping in a magnificent bedroom, however, his entourage took up all the furnished bedrooms and we were led out to the stables!!  Keith said we would pass up his invitation and go home, but Ollie would have none of it, and next thing we knew he was standing there pointing an old shotgun at us, so we said OK we’ll stay, we ended up sleeping on couches in the living room!

At the time of their meeting, in the mid-seventies, Reed was Britain’s most successful and highest paid film star, something he was always keen to let any scandal-mongering press know:

‘I’m the biggest star this country has got. Destroy me and you destroy the whole British film industry.’

He had also been voted the sexiest actor alive and told Photoplay magazine:

‘I may look like a Bedford truck, but the women know there’s a V-8 engine underneath.’

Though he also claimed the film world wasn’t where his ambitions lay:

‘I have two ambitions in life: one is to drink every pub dry, the other is to sleep with every woman on earth.’

It was disingenuous, for Reed was serious about his acting and was “always word perfect and unfailingly courteous to colleagues and technicians.” Reed was well respected as an actor, and a professional, and once came within “a sliver” of replacing Sean Connery as James Bond in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but Reed’s reputation as a hell-raiser meant the part went to George Lazenby.

Even so, by 1975, Reed had made an impressive range of films, including I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name (the first film to have the word “fuck” in it); The Jokers; The Assassination Bureau; Hannibal Brroks; The Shuttered room; Women in Love (first male-full frontal nudity, a scene which was not in the original script, and was only included after Reed encouraged Russell to film it); Sitting Target; and perhaps his best film, The Devils.

Reed had formed a creative partnership with Ken Russell, the director he called “Jesus Christ,” since they had worked together on the BBC TV drama The Debussy film. It was because of this partnership that the non-singing Reed was cast in the role of Frank in the musical Tommy. As Reed and Moon capered and drank copiously off-set, it was to have a debilitating effect for Moon on-set:

Reed’s part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon’s got smaller and smaller, probably due to Ken Russell’s familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into stupor at night and show up on time and line-perfect in the morning, while Moonie remained stuporous.

Their friendship was an unstable chemical compound based on drink, drugs, sex and pranks, as Reed was to remark:

‘I like the effect drink has on me. What’s the point of staying sober?’

The life of excess has but one destination, and as Cliff Goodwin wrote in his definitive biography of Reed, Evil Spirits, the end came during Reed’s 40th birthday party at a swanky hotel in Hollywood, when Moon decided to liven things up with his impersonation of a “human helicopter”.  Moon jumped onto a table, grabbed the blades of an overhead fan, and began to spin around, above the heads of the invited guests. Unfortunately, the blades had slashed Moon’s hands and arms and he splattered the A-list guests with gore.

It was the moment that Reed realized the genie was well and truly out of the bottle and that he or Moon would die from their life of excess. Tragically, it was Moon who died six months later. Reed never recovered from Moon’s death, and later claimed a day didn’t go by when he didn’t think about Moon the Loon.
 

 
Previously on DM

In Praise of Oliver Reed


Oliver Reed: Wild Thing!


Who’s Next?: Scot Haplin the drummer who filled in for Keith Moon


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Oliver Reed: Wild Thing!
05.20.2010
12:11 pm

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
Oliver Reed
The Troggs
Glenda Jackson
Wild Thing

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How the below clip escaped inclusion in my previous post on the stupendously great British actor (and even greater talk show guest) Oliver Reed is UTTERLY beyond me!  So, with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (?!) as his backing band, here’s a relatively coherent Reed taking The Troggs standby, Wild Thing, out for a spin.  Oh, and please watch to the end.  The Reedster makes a hysterically inappropriate comment regarding his Women In Love costar Glenda Jackson.

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
In Praise Of Oliver Reed
10.14.2009
11:03 am

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
Oliver Reed
David Letterman
After Dark

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Back in my Z Channel days, no actor seemed to show up more often—or was more welcomed by me—than England’s late great Oliver Reed.   In his 40-year career, Reed made nearly 100 films ranging from The Brood, The Devils, Tommy, Burnt Offerings, to the film that killed him (in a Maltese pub, of course), Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

I think even as a kid, I was able to identify Reed’s onscreen appeal.  It’s the same element missing from so many of today’s career-focused actors: joy.  Reed loved performing, loved having an audience.  As might be expected from the man who once famously said, “My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet,” Reed loved life, loved living it, and he clearly planned to squeeze from it every possible drop of pleasure, pinball wizards and haunted houses be damned.

Even “King of Cool” Steve McQueen proved no match for the Oliver Reed lifeforce.  The story goes that McQueen flew to London to discuss a project.  Putting business aside for a bit, the pair went on a marathon pub crawl which resulted in Reed vomiting on McQueen.  The project was never consummated.

Fortunately, we have all those many great films to remember Reed by.  But now, thanks to YouTube, we can revisit some of his more memorable small-screen performances.  Reed was a frequent, frequently drunk, guest on television both here and in the UK.

In a testament to the saccharine and stage-managed nature of our current talk show landscape, witness below as Reed gropes feminist writer Kate Millett on British TV’s After Dark.  Thanks to After Dark’s supplying of Reed with a “booze buffet” before and during taping, what starts out as a sober-minded discussion on militarism, masculine stereotypes, and violence to women, soon devolves into something else:

 
And that’s just the mesmerizing endpoint to an escalating, tour de force Reed workout you can watch in its entirety here: I, II, III.  But even on the dog-and-pony circuit this side of the Atlantic, Reed was no more willing to dilute his behavior.  His face-off with David Letterman follows below:

 
Bonus I: Oliver Reed drunk on Aspel and Company

Bonus II: Drinking With Oliver Reed

(Thank you, Chris Campion!)

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion