Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 20th, 2016
Theatrical Release Dates: UK, 1962 (Elgar), UK, 1965 (The Debussy Film), UK, 1968 (Song of Summer: Frederick Delius)
Director: Ken Russell (All Films)
Cast: Huw Wheldon, Peter Brett, Rowena Gregory, George McGrath, Carmen Dene (Elgar), Oliver Reed, Vladek Sheybal, Annette Robertson, Iza Teller, Penny Service, Vernon Dobtcheff, Stephanie Randall, Jane Lumb (The Debussy Film), Max Adrian, Maureen Pryor, Christopher Gable, David Collings, Geraldine Sherman, Norman James, Elizabeth Ercy, Roger Worrod (Song of Summer: Frederick Delius)
BluRay released: March 28th, 2016
Approximate running time: 50 minutes (Elgar), 82 minutes (The Debussy Film), 73 minutes (Song of Summer: Frederick Delius)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Interlaced / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: PG (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.
Elgar: This documentary chronicles the life of British Composer Sir Edward William Elgar. He is most known for orchestral works include the Pomp and Circumstance Marches and the Enigma Variations.
The Debussy Film: This documentary chronicles the life of Claude Debussy a French composer who is most known for his contributors to Impressionist music.
Delius: Song of Summer: This documentary has two central characters’ a blind and paralyzed British Composer Frederick Delius and Eric Fenby an English Composer, conductor and teacher. Fenby is most remembered for being Frederick Delius’s amanuensis from 1928 to 1934.
Back when Ken Russell directed these three documentaries for Monitor and Omnibus, he was under a lot of restrictions in regards to how the product could be presented. With the most drastic of these three being Elgar, a production where he was not allowed to use actors in speaking roles and the only spoken words were done via narration. Also when it came to actors and their appearance onscreen, they would never be shown in close up and almost always from a distance.
Fortunately, things would become less confining by the time he made The Debussy Film and this time around he would be allowed to use actors as one would in a feature film. Content wise this documentary takes on a film within a film approach to the story at hand. Also one could easily draw many comparisons to films like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ and Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, both of these films features many of the same themes explored in The Debussy Film.
Without a doubt the most polished of these three documentaries is Delius: Song of Summer and it is arguably one of Ken Russell’s defining moments as a filmmaker. If ever there was a pitch perfect example of a character driven drama, look no further then Delius: Song of Summer. Also it is by far and away the most intimate of the three documentaries included with this collection.
From a production stand point one would be hard pressed to find any faults in any of these three documentaries. And nowhere is this more evident, then when it comes to striking imagery that Ken Russell creates throughout these three documentaries. Another area where these documentaries often excel is in regards to how they are edited. With the most break taking example of editing being the transition from past to present moments in The Debussy Film. And last but most definitely not the least are the performances from the latter two documentaries. With standout performances coming from Oliver Reed (The Shuttered Room, Revolver) in the role of Claude Debussy and Max Adrian (The Music Lovers) in the role of Frederick Delius.
Ken Russell: The Great Composers comes on a 50 GB dual layer (43.4 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 great shape. The image looks crisp, black and contrast levels remain strong throughout. Also grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
Extras for this release include, a Pathetone short from 1931 titled Land of Hope and Glory (3 minutes 22 seconds), interview with film editor Michael Bradsell (10 minutes 4 seconds), three audio commentaries – the first audio commentary with director Ken Russell and Michael Kennedy for Elgar, the second audio commentary with Kevin Flannigan for The Debussy Film and the third audio commentary with Ken Russell for Delius: Song of Summer.
The extra titled Land of Hope and Glory is footage of Sir Edward Elgar conducting the LSO at the opening of the new HMV Studios and this studio has since been renamed Abbey Road Studios.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Ken Russell and Michael Kennedy include, the importance of the television series Monitor, how they shot Elgar with a small crew and quickly, Huw Wheldon’s narration, the visuals and how they greatly enhanced the story at hand, the cast, the legacy of Elgar’s symphonies, how he chose the music selections and when they appear in the film.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Kevin Flannigan include, locations featured in the film, key sequences, the look of the film and how its transitions between the present and the past, Ken Russell and sexuality in his films, the cast and information about them and other production related topics.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary with Ken Russell include, Monitor and his contributions to the T.V. series, Delius: Song of Summer and locations featured in the film, the cast and information about them, his thoughts on the film and what he was trying to achieve with the final product.
Rounding out the extras is a thirty-two-page booklet, an essay titled The Versatile Visionary: Ken Russell in the Sixties written by Kevin M Flanagan, cast & crew information for the three films included with this releases, essays for each film – the first essay titled Elgar written by John Hill, the second essay titled The Debussy Film written by Kevin M Flanagan and the third essay titled Song of Summer: Disturbingly Lifelike! Written by John C Tibbetts, Ken Russell bio and information about the transfer. 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 Composers is another solid release from BFI, recommended.