The Devilsi is probably the best film ever made, and this because of the details (wherein it truly lies). Everything Ken Russell touched within it turned to gold -- take for instance the simple case of replacing the 80-something priest in the script with the juvenile Murray Melvin. It works way the fuck better that way, and so does everything else, literally and quite absolutely everything else. It's exceedingly rare for me to sit through a screening and find no flaw with itii ; but by the time the scene rolls around where the ambitious upper crust cuntlet prays postcoitally and in English (something that character self-obviously would have been doing in Latin) we're like a third in, and that's the only thing I'd have changed in the whole two hour production!iii
The haphazardly built "modernist" city, self-obviously a construction of cardboard on a soundstage works, the enchanted fiction of a fictive Loudun that nevertheless existed could not have been any better served in any possible other way -- which is ultimately the crowning achievement of art : when its means, artificial as they may be, and self-obviously artificial to the artifex, to the man possessed of enough humanity to be both privy and party to their making, work better for the telling of the story than any "more real" supposed alternatives ever could. There's also a lot of Chaplin's notions of industrialized city life in the movements on stairs around and about Richelieu's fortress of evil, and very aptly so, for what's The State besides the state of survival of the insects ? The scenery aside, about half of the frames positively make for stills that effortlessly outgun any of Hogarth's seemingly endless "Progress"es of dubious artistic value but deeply felt melodramatic silliness. At 24fpsiv over 117 minutesv we're talking eighty thousand or so prints! This can be readily underplayed, because it requires such superlatives to half-adequately render as no human tongue's readily prepared to offer, my own included. Nevertheless it shouldn't be underplayed, nor should it have been. Had Russel been put in charge of Hollywood, such that no project could move without his go ahead the quality of American cinema'd have greatly leaped forward (or, just as well, the spurious pretense to cinematic production on the dismal continent'd have went the way their spurious pretense to "democracy" is going).
But the beauty, the sheer untouchable mastery with which Russel stuffs a hunchbacked gigglefuck in a sort of ad-hoc sewer, to watch her hysterical fixation pass by unaware... there's problems of mass in sexuality, especially in the mental digestion of sexual impulse, and never before were they so well approached, nor is any medium so adequate to handling it. Moreover, in having the visual anchor provided for it literature can now use a point of reference to discuss what prior stood to it hermetically unapproachable. There are few people who've done genuine service to representation -- the men who "first explored" some geographic feature according to some particular culture's remnant histories are inconsequential by comparison. The men who first document some nook of gnoseology, thereby opening thought for all coming after them, those are the true heroes of a very typical, specifically human kind ; and Russel is among them like Plato is among them -- only, I'd very much rather do without Plato, useful in depicting error congealed as he may be, than without Russel. And then the colors, good Lord this thing... it could've been a silent movie without even trying, and it'd have blown straight out of the water everything those people managed to put together, what cabinet, what Caligari ?
The scoring's perhaps the most amateurish part of the whole thing (though the Bourree d'Avignon opening is very strong, and on that strength the rest may be allowed to sail free), but... well, what can you do.
PS. Read the Huxley book, it's as far from fiction as he ever traveled.———
- 1970, by Ken Russell (after an Aldous Huxley original and a wreath of derivatives), with Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Jones, Georgina Hale, Judith Paris, Catherine Willmer, Izabella Telezynska, Nike Arrighi, Imogen Claire, Barbie Denham, Selina Gilbert, Cheryl Grunwald, Tina Simmons, Doremy Vernon. [↩]
- Incidentally, that Ebert ass pompously giving it "zero stars" is all anyone will ever need to know about him. I'd rather hear the cinematic judgements of pewter cutlery. [↩]
- There's no telling that he didn't actually try for it, only to discover Jones so painfully impossible at the task as to leave him no choice. [↩]
- 35mm film was pretty well specified, 4 holes per frame, 16 frames per foot, it's all well known. Or was, at any rate. [↩]
- There's a 111 minute version for Brits, which excludes most frames of the "evil" scenes, because Brits can "fill them in with their imagination" ; there's also a 106 minute version for Muricans, which excludes pretty much everything, making the film about as disjointedly incomprehensible as everything else of Europe's culture those sad twits "ran off" with. [↩]