Scandal when Les Diables was released in 1971! The film by British troublemaker Ken Russell, freely inspired by the affair of the possessed women of Loudun which had hit the headlines in France in 1634, gave censors a hard time, stirred up conservative crowds and embarrassed its main investors. In the form of a spirited soap opera where testimonies from the period and unpublished interviews intersect, Richard Crouse looks back on the genesis of this cult film, its extravagant shooting and its eventful exit.
An essential book to immerse yourself in the world of the singular filmmaker Ken Russell and to better understand the mechanisms of censorship and the fascination that Les Diables continues to exert more than fifty years after its production.
At the end of the book, find a long interview with Guillermo del Toro, great laudator of the film and the work of Ken Russell. As well as the press review of the French release to have an overview of the reception of the Devils at home.
Order the French language translation of Richard’s book HERE!
Read more about the Aardvark edition of the book HERE!
This is movie review of THE DEVILS directed by Ken Russell! My guest is Richard Crouse who wrote the book “Raising Hell And The Unmaking Of The Devils”. This is a segment, which was part of my interview with Richard Crouse on his life and career!
Welcome to the House of Crouse. We welcome two film directors to sit a spell at the HoC today. William Friedkin is a legend, the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection among many others. We don’t talk about those. Instead I asked him about one the most trangressive movies ever made, The Devils. Listen in to hear his opinion on why naked nuns may have cost Ken Russell a box office hit. Then Christopher Nolan brings his big brain over to talk about Dunkirk and why cinema matters. It’s good stuff, swing by.
This weekend professor of religious iconology and symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) returns to theatres in Inferno, the third movie in the Da Vinci Code franchise.
In 2006 the fictional Harvard prof made his big screen debut, uncovering the complicated personal life of Jesus Christ in The Da Vinci Code. Three years later he used his knowledge of symbology to unravel the mystery of a secret brotherhood called the Illuminati and thwart a terrorist act against the Vatican.
In between those two movies I received dozens of outraged emails, long tracts regarding Dan Brown’s books, the up-coming movie, The Illuminati and the veracity of the stories.
In response to the anxious folks who contacted me, concerned the film, which had not been released yet, would be a dangerous piece of anti-Catholic propaganda, I wrote a forward to my Angels and Demons review, pointing letter writers toward the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. They described Angels and Demons as “harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity.” Their review noted it is filled with historical inaccuracies but went on to suggest that one could make a game of pointing out all of the film’s historical mistakes.
In other words, don’t take it seriously and you’ll have a good time. Despite the Vatican newspaper’s warm embrace, the film still ignited a firestorm of criticism from people upset about the story’s alleged anti-Catholic sentiments, “malicious myths” and churches being associated with scenes of murder.
Inferno sidesteps religious controversy with a tale of a deadly virus that threatens all of humanity, but cinema and religion have often made for uncomfortable pairings.
In 1999 the Catholic League denounced Dogma’s tale of two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) trying to get back into heaven as “blasphemy.” More recently uproar erupted over Darren Aronofsky’s unorthodox take on the story of Noah. Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, loudly objected to the film’s “insertion of the extremist environmental agenda.”
Perhaps the most controversial religious film ever was The Devils, based on Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction book The Devils of Loudun. Years before Ken Russell made the movie, a filmmaker approached Huxley wanting to turn the story of a radical 17th century French Catholic priest accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, into a film. Huxley said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t make a movie out of this.’ He thought there was no way the story could be presented in an entertaining way without short-circuiting people’s minds. Turns out maybe he was right.
Forty-five years after its release Russell’s film is little seen but much talked about. Banned, censored and still unavailable in its complete form on Blu-Ray, the movie’s graphic church orgy offended many—and was cut to pieces and removed by censors—but it’s more than shock and titillation. It’s a film that makes a serious statement about the struggle between church and state but does so in an entertaining and provocative way.
Lots of movies contain violence or sex or religion, but Russell mixed all three together in one toxic cocktail. If released today The Devils may not inspire riots in the streets, as it did in 1971, but if presented in its complete form the following indignation would make the Angels and Demons protests seem tame.
How to describe High-Rise, the darkly funny film from director Ben Wheatley?
Here goes; imagine the love child of Lord of the Flies and The Towering Inferno. An adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel about class segregation in a luxury condo, High-Rise is chaotic and completely bonkers.
“There’s material in here that is difficult and there’s structure in here that’s difficult but there’s also fun,” says Wheatley.
“There’s anarchy and sex and dancing and music. I always like to think about it like those 40s and 50s Hollywood movies and what they used to look like. There’d be no contradiction in a cowboy movie stopping for someone to sing a song.
“You don’t think about the pacing being really odd. The idea behind it was that those films were broken up into chunks. There’s a variety to them that make them really enjoyable. That’s what I was hoping for with this.”
Wheatley says the story of social warfare in the closed environment of an apartment building is just as relevant now as it was when Ballard wrote it in 1975.
“Ballard used to describe it that he was standing by the side of the road waving that there is danger ahead. But when I reread it when I was 40, it’s like, Crap, it’s not a warning anymore. It’s like it was taken from the newspaper. This is actually happening, which is kind of shocking but also kind of interesting.”
Known for his uncompromising films like Kill List and Sightseers, movies that critic Sheila O’Malley described as “black comedy thrillers involving crime, murder” and notable for their “absence of a moral compass,” the 44-year-old director is the cinematic spawn of mavericks like Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell and John Boorman, British filmmakers who broke taboos in big budget movies like Don’t Look Now, The Devils and Deliverance.
“That was the mainstream,” he says. “When you dig into the BFI archive and look at the Jack Bond stuff and see the other end of the avant guard cinema that was being made at the same time, it was absolutely crazy. It’s a real shame that has been lost. What also makes me chuckle is you see reviews saying that High-Rise is insane or incredibly experimental and you think, ‘This film wouldn’t have stood out as all that strange in the ’70s.’ It would have been a more conservative film of that period.”
Today it’s a little tougher to raise money to get challenging films like High-Rise made. He says Hollywood-y or famous actors help, and to that end he signed Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss to tell his outlandish tale.
“I like what (producer) Jeremy Thomas says about it. His whole career has been about smuggling weird into the mainstream and I think that’s about right. It’s a deal between you and the audience.”
Part of that audience is Ballard’s considerable fan base.
“The Ballardian website have interviewed us a few times and they seem to be convinced that we haven’t totally pissed up the leg of the memory of J.G. Ballard. There was never any intention to rile those people. They are partly the reason we are able to do the film, they are the fan base. Why would you go out of your way to irritate people like that?”
“… Speaking by phone from Toronto, film critic Richard Crouse, who wrote the 2012 book “Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils,” said, “It’s a film that is about sex, about religion, about violence, and that corner in which all three of those things intersect. Good does not necessarily triumph over evil, and in that way I think Ken Russell, who was a devout Catholic, presented a story that helped him question his faith, deepen his faith, but also have a long hard look at his faith. And he did it on film, for everyone to see…”
Read the whole Boston Globe article by Ed Symkus HERE!
From the Facebook page Free Ken Russell’s The Devils: To answer another question many people have asked; yes, there WILL be a petition to sign. As this campaign is in its early days, I’m still working out the details, but keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime; SHARE, TWEET, BLOG, COMMENT and WRITE. Go to Twitter and tweet #FreeTheDevils
Read Guillermo Del Toro’s fiery plea for this hard-to-see masterpiece’s release on Blu Ray and DVD HERE.
Read about Richard’s book “Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils” HERE! Buy it HERE!
Guillermo del Toro and Richard Crouse appeared at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday November 24, 2014 for an extended introduction and post-screening discussion on Russell’s fevered adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun.
In 17th-century France, a vain priest (Oliver Reed) becomes the object of a literal witch hunt when a mad nun (Vanessa Redgrave) accuses him of being a sorcerer, in Ken Russell’s fevered adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun.
‡This screening is eligible for our Rush policy. Ticket holders must arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the screening in order to ensure entry. If this event goes Off Sale, tickets will be made available to the Rush line 10 minutes before the start of the screening. MORE INFO HERE!