Many thanks to Robert Hubbard and Tim Lucas for passing along news of what Tim describes as a “delightful” and “surprising,” not to mention almost totally improbable event in Internet history, the unveiling, as it were, of Ken Russell’s long-suppressed episode of the BBC’s Omnibus series The Dance of the Seven Veils, in which the director mounts an elaborate and irreverent “comic-strip biography” of composer Richard Strauss. The episode is significant in that it so outraged the Strauss estate that they forced an injunction to keep it out of circulation—the episode was not included in the recent Ken Russell at the BBC box set of a few years ago—but also because it marks the first real flowering of the sensate, unrestrained aural/visual cacophony that would be a hallmark of Russell’s style as a feature director.
It’s pretty easy to draw straight lines from images, ideas and sequences that occur in Dance of the Seven Veils through to the mayhem wrought in big-screen Russell masterpieces like The Music Lovers (1970), The Devils (1971), and lesser works like Savage Messiah (1972), Mahler (1974) and even the sublimely ridiculous Lisztomania (1975). Strauss is played by Christopher Gable, star of Russell’s wonderful The Boy Friend (1971), while Judith Paris shines as his wife Pauline, Kenneth Coffey does amazing transformative things involving crucifixes and swastikas as Hitler, and Vladek Sheybal does Goebbels as memorably as Sylvester Groth did this past summer. (I always wondered, in the rush to bury Inglourious Basterds with its outrages against history if anybody remembered the kinds of things Ken Russell came up with in this arena.)
The print of Dance of the Seven Veils has time-code markings, and the quality of the color goes wanting, but regardless of those blips this is an opportunity to see this very rare film that, given YouTube’s penchant for taking down controversial material, should be taken advantage of as soon as possible, before it disappears altogether. The film runs just under an hour, and I have posted all six parts for your convenience here. Thanks to Tim Lucas and Robert Hubbard for passing the word along on this eye-popping event. For more information on Dance of the Seven Veils and the entirety of Russell’s career, including his Omnibus period, I refer you to Savage Messiah, Iain Fisher’s comprehensive web site devoted to the films of Ken Russell.