"Shock Value: A Weekend With Ken Russell," an American Cinematheque presentation at the Directors Guild, provides a unique opportunity to see some of the tempestuous British director's celebrated work for television along with several of his best films.
Opening the retrospective is the 65-minute "Isadora Duncan: The Biggest Dancer in the World" (tonight at 7), an astonishingly powerful and economical 1966 work that leaves you believing that Russell and fearless actress Vivian Pickles caught the spirit of the iconoclastic, ill-fated modern dance pioneer better than the subsequent Karel Reisz-Vanessa Redgrave film.
Borrowing frankly from "Citizen Kane," Russell creates a brief newsreel encapsulation of Duncan's extravagant life. Retaining the newsreel as a narrative framework, Russell tells of the San Francisco-born Duncan, who takes off for Greece--this sequence was shot by Leni Riefenstahl, no less--for inspiration and who then proceeds to fascinate and scandalize the world with her revolutionary approach to dance, love and politics. Pickles is wonderful, as brassy as Texas Guinan yet ineffably courageous, honest, foolish--and, at heart, endearingly self-mocking. Russell will be on hand afterward for a discussion.
The two-part, 104-minute "Clouds of Glory": "William and Dorothy" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.) is flat-out brilliant, representative of both Russell and his actors at their finest. Russell catches up in the challenging relationship between poet William Wordsworth (David Warner) and his sister Dorothy (Felicity Kendal). A notable poet in her own right, Dorothy, in Russell's 1978 telling, coped with their profound love for each other bravely, with Wordsworth marrying an adoring, unsophisticated woman (Kika Markham) to serve as a saving buffer between them. Russell celebrates Wordsworth's poetry in the incomparably beautiful countryside from which he drew strength and inspiration.