Back in 1975, my parents took me to see the "Tommy," the film, not the stage version. The fact that it was playing at the cinema across the street from the university should have given us all the hint about the content. Part of this dynamic was fueled by having an older brother who wanted to go see it, and since the rating suggested Parental Guidance, they probably figured it was safe. Safe from the post-traumatic stress of witnessing the murder of Tommy's father by the man who would become his stepfather. Safe from the summary abuse Tommy experiences from Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie. Safe from the twitching smile of the Gypsy, the Acid Queen. Safe from the image of Ann Margaret rolling about in a sea of baked beans.
Ken Russell died on November 28, and that memory did not die with him. Nor did all the images from "Altered States," or "The Devils" or "Salome's Last Dance." Mister Russell could be the first director whose work I began to notice by style and content. The lurid and sweaty visions of art and artists stuck with me from the time I was in the theatre across the street from the university to the time I was a student studying film there. I learned about Ken's beginnings as a director of TV commercials and watched as his vision progressed. I had discovered an auteur. All of that mind-blowing celluloid sprang from the mind of one man, and it opened the door for me to find Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorcese, and David Cronenberg. Though I had always loved going to the movies, "Tommy" was the beginning of my film study.
And those baked beans.
Aloha, Ken Russell.