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Ken Russell: The Great Passions – BFI (BluRay / DVD Combo) 
Written by: on April 21st, 2016


Theatrical Release Dates: UK, 1965 (Always on Sunday), UK, 1966 (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World), UK, 1968 (Dante’s Inferno)
Director: Ken Russell (All Films)
Cast: James Lloyd, Annette Robertson, Bryan Pringle, Jacqui Cook, Roland MacLeod, Iza Teller, Dorothy-Rose Gribble, Sheila Van Bloemen, Ann Mitchell (Always on Sunday), Vivian Pickles, Peter Bowles, Alexei Jawdokimov, Murray Melvin, Jeanne Le Bars, Alita Naughton, Sandor Elès (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World), Oliver Reed, Judith Paris, Andrew Faulds, Iza Teller, Christopher Logue, Gala Mitchell, Pat Ashton, Clive Goodwin (Dante’s Inferno)

BluRay released: March 28th, 2016
Approximate running times: 45 minutes (Always on Sunday), 65 minutes (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World), 90 minutes (Dante’s Inferno)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Interlaced / MPEG-4 AVC  (All Films)
Rating: 12 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English (All Films)
Subtitles: English SDH  (All Films)
BluRay Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £29.99 (UK)


Before Ken Russell rose to prominence in the 1970’s as one of the most provocative and innovative directors working during that era of cinema. He began his career a documentary filmmaker and Ken Russell: The Great Composers gives fans of his latter cinema output a chance to see three of his most acclaimed documentaries from this era of his career. With the common link between these three selections being music.

Always on Sunday: This documentary chronicles the life of French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau. During his lifetime his paintings were ridiculed by critics and his legacy is his influence on avant-garde artists.

Always on Sunday marked the first time that Ken Russell was allowed to make a dramatized documentary and without any restrictions for Monitor. And the end result is another spectacular accomplishment that is filled with innovation. And nowhere is this more evident than is how this documentary has two actors’ doings voice over narration for the same character. Another strength of this documentary was the use of real actors and the performances from its entire cast, especially James Lloyd in the role of Henri Rousseau.

Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World: This documentary chronicles the life of American dancer Isadora Duncan. She is most known for moving away from established techniques in favor of focusing on natural movements.

Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World opening montage is reminiscent of Citizen Kane’s news reel opening. And from a production stand point this documentary literally throws everything including the kitchen sink in! Most notably its unconventional editing and visuals techniques which drive home this film frantic pacing. And then there is stock footage from Leni Riefenstahl’s (Triumph of the Will) Olympia. And not to be overlooked is Vivian Pickles (Harold and Maude) delightfully manic portrayal of Isadora Duncan.

Dante’s Inferno: This documentary explores Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a 19th-century artist and poet’s relationship with his sickly wife and his mistress. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Dante’s Inferno explores themes that would reappear throughout Ken Russell’s character. With this film center piece being a love triangle that ultimately leads to jealousy and death. And without a doubt one of this film’s greatest strengths are its Gothic horror inspired visuals. Another strength of this documentary are its performances from the entire cast, especially Oliver Reed’s (The Shuttered Room, Revolver) extraordinary portrayal of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The BluRay:

Ken Russell: The Great Passions comes on a 50 GB dual layer (44.4 GB) BluRay. This release has been flagged for interlaced playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The sources used for these three films are in very good shape and print debris is minimal. Black levels and contrast levels remain strong throughout and the image looks sharp. There are no issues with DNR or compression and grain looks natural. It should be noted that Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World contains stock footage and these moments are a few notches below what these transfers look like for the bulk of their presentations.

The release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in English and also included with this release are removable English SDH subtitles. The audio sounds, clean, clear and balanced.

Extras for this release include, an interview with editor Michael Bradsell (17 minutes 32 seconds), a vintage documentary shot during the making of Isadora titled Late Night Line Up: Russell at Work (30 minutes 32 seconds), three audio commentaries – the first audio commentary with Brian Hoyle for Always on Sunday, the second audio commentary with Paul Sutton for Isadora and the third audio commentary with Brian Hoyle for Dante’s Inferno and an audio extra titled Paul Sutton Tapes, which is essentially a second audio commentary for Isadora that was compiled from audio interviews with cast & crew, who reminiscence about their contributions to this documentary.

Topics discussed in the interview with Michael Bradsell include, his initial collaborations with Ken Russell, Always on Sunday, Isadora: The Biggest Dancer in the World and Dante’s Inferno, the music featured in their collaborations, the cast and their performance and how his working relationship with Ken Russell evolved over the years.

Topics discussed in the audio commentary track for Always on Sunday include, why there are two voice over narrations, painter Henri Rousseau and Ken Russell’s cinema influences.

Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Paul Sutton include, Isadora Duncan, visuals and how Ken Russell’s frames compositions in this documentary, cast and information about them, music and locations featured in the documentary and other production related topics.

Topics discussed in the audio commentary track for Dante’s Inferno include, 19th-century artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, how Ken Russell’s documentaries were not always based in fact and why said scenes where created by Ken Russell, the cast and information about them, the music featured in this documentary and the visuals.

Rounding out the extras is a thirty-two-page booklet, an essay titled My Life with Ken written by John Wyver, cast & crew information for the three films included with this releases, essays for each film – the first essay titled Always on Sunday written by Kevin Jackson, the second essay titled A Slightly Red-Blooded Thing: Ken Russell’s Isadora written by Christophe Van Eecke and the third essay titled Dante’s Inferno written by Brain Hoyle and information about the transfers. Also included with this release is a DVD that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release. Overall Ken Russell: The Great Passions is another solid release from BFI, recommended.

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