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Overall Rating
4.4

Awesome77.08%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 14.58%
Pretty Bad: 2.08%
Total Crap: 6.25%

2 reviews, 36 user ratings


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Devils, The
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by John Linton Roberson

"THE ONLY KEN RUSSELL FILM YOU WILL EVER NEED TO SEE..."
5 stars

...that is, if you want to avoid the steaming mounds of shit he's turned out, which tend to distract one with stench & volume from the few perfect roses hidden within. Some have their favorite films by a director; most I know have instead with Russell a LEAST favorite they recall quite well. But oh, what a fantastic film this one is.

Ken Russell, when you think about it, is one of the weirdest figures in the history of Hollywood; certainly one of the most idiosyncratic talents ever. One can always tell it's old Uncle Ken--the fast shouting, the amazingly inappropriate sets, the obligatory sexual hallucinations like something dreamt up in an opium haze after falling asleep reading D.H.Lawrence poetry, the great clashes of avant-garde classical music to let you notice when you're supposed to be shocked, and you often are at those moments anyway; the music just makes it more unpleasant. Even his most commercial films bear his mauve stamp. If one were to sum up Ken Russell's style in a single incontrovertible word, it would probably be "tacky." It's no wonder the 70s were his heyday(a decade in my mind that was the golden age of British & American film, a time of freedom killed by STAR WARS); in no following decade would he have been allowed to lodge himself so firmly, and now there's no getting this embarrassing uncle out of film history. Glaring and glittering like a disco queen from hell, Ken Russell has left his mark. God help us all. THere's nothing that can be done now.

And yet, here is a director ferociously in love with the classics, and not just any; the often-ignored--in cinema, at least--20th century classics. D.H. Lawrence, whose work I violently detest on the printed page(perhaps he's just too dated; his Victorian sense of what is naughty I find laughably prudish), turned to gold the twice Russell's adapted him--WOMEN IN LOVE and THE RAINBOW. He fell most magnificently on his face in tributes to his favorite classical composers(including the what-the-hell-was-that? LISZTOMANIA and the incredibly vulgar MAHLER)--you can't deny they were works of love.

And then there's the time he did Aldous Huxley's non-fiction bit of historical journalism, THE DEVILS OF LOUDON, as a film. And this time, he was wholly in his element as he would not be again till the wholly different ALTERED STATES, which with this stand as his wildest and most artistically successful films.

There's nothing wrong with excess. It's when the idea of excess is in fact corny that the problem occurs. The trick, I think, is to keep it escalating at a gradually sliding level, and not to vomit baked beans up at me on the screen when things get slow(TOMMY, 1975).

Story in short: Urbain Grandier, a priest, is made governor of the fortified, and mixed(Protestant, but loyal to the crown, and Catholic)town of Loudon shortly after France's 17th century religious wars, in the wake of the death of the town's governor, who just happened to be a friend to the king. The Church won, and Cardinal Richelieu wants all fortifications across France pulled down--so that any place that gets out of hand can be easily razed to the ground. Grandier will not allow this, and invokes an old promise of the KIng to leave it untouched. Immediately the authorities set about finding an excuse to remove him. As Grandier doesn't take the vow of celibacy at all seriously(even marrying a girl, himself both groom and priest simultaneously, in a ceremony that oddly doesn't seem at all blasphemous) this isn't difficult. But the killing testimony comes from a hunchbacked, bitter nun from a convent of girls who were simply put there by their families to keep them out of the way; the convent is a pressure cooker of bitterly repressed ids. The hunchbacked Mother Superior claims Grandier molested her(which she wants him to, very badly, but he never even noticed--or met--her), and possessed her with demons. She is taken eagerly at her word. Grandier is tortured, tried, and burned, the entire town--whose death his death assures--against its only protector because of an irrelevant scandal and madness about witchcraft.

Oliver Reed makes this film. Vanessa Redgrave and the others, they all do their part, but Reed sinks all his teeth into this part and will not let go till he's burnt out. The film is a remarkably good dramatization of the facts presented in Huxley's book--and keep in mind when watching: all this really happened.
Reed presents Grandier as he was described by both himself and others: brilliant, urbane, clever, handsome, and courageous as a man who believes in God but indulges in private vice can. When watching I was reminded of what, at least, people would like to think of Bill Clinton: if we let him indulge himself, he'll be twice as good a president for the guilt. Grandier attempts to make up for his private vices by protecting the town selflessly and firmly till he is killed for doing so. Of course we do not care about his vices, nor, really, do the other characters; everyone seems to understand it's a lie, but a deadly formality that still has real power. As a study of what true integrity is, this film has a thing or two to teach A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. What he is killed for is being good where it really matters. As so often in church history, killing in Christ's name is much easier than loving in it, and takes up about as much time. This is the greatest attack on the church ever devised by a filmmaker, vicious and unsparing as the church has always been when threatened, after all, just as is described here.

The sets are totally, loopily anachronistic; perfect shining white bricks with blue shadows everywhere, the doing of Derek Jarman. It is not accurate, but works as a stage set would, making of the whole frame a fanciful but dark and effective pictorial composition, perfectly reflecting the delirious thick atmosphere, which fumes from each frame of the film like the humidity of a swamp in summertime.

The acting is absolutely over-the-top and works beautifully, each actor breathlessly trading lines rapid-fire with the other as though Russell had told then he only had 30 seconds of film stock left(or perhaps nostrilfuls of cocaine supplied right before the shoot). There isn't a boring moment in this buzzsaw-paced maniacal, giggling film. There isn't time to breathe. More "historical films" should be as energetic as this; the actors should appear to be having as much fun with it as this. This is historical filmmaking by those who understand it enough to be justified playing around, exuberantly; done not out of reverence but to ram the original source's message home.
They definitely don't make movies like this anymore. Or ever will again.

See it. That's all, Just see it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2208&reviewer=151
originally posted: 09/21/99 16:08:26
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/29/15 stanley welles a beautifully disturbing film 5 stars
6/25/13 PAUL SHORTT MAD, OVERWROUGHT, COLD, TASTELESS AND BORING 1 stars
9/25/09 ROBYN ALEXIS ASTOUNDING, seen it 3x at the movies, check out FELLINIS SATYRICON 5 stars
10/17/06 JLRoberson To add to my review--I found an uncut widescreen DVD on Ebay, and my god, it's even better. 5 stars
8/12/05 Nancy Robinson Unbelievably well done 5 stars
8/09/05 jeanne Oliver Reed at his gorgeos, magnetic best - this was THE ROLE of his life. 5 stars
4/14/05 mdl A masterpiece - dazzling, flamboyant and unforgettable 5 stars
8/22/04 JLRoberson Truly great. AND WHERE'S MY DAMN DVD FOR THIS? WHERE, HOLLYWOOD? 5 stars
3/30/04 Ernesto Catalán Mercilessly Brilliant 5 stars
1/07/04 Louise Harris My God, I love Michael Gothard! 5 stars
12/26/03 Gianandrea enchanting 5 stars
10/04/03 haridam Poor Film 1 stars
10/03/03 Paul Hardy masterpiece 5 stars
7/16/03 Fred Brilliant. 5 stars
3/09/03 Claudio Catallo The best movie you can see 5 stars
1/24/03 james clarke compelling , haunting, fascinating. 5 stars
1/13/03 David Stech It's Oliver Reed at his best. Why he didnt win an oscar for it I'll never under stand. 5 stars
1/09/03 Carl Kamuti Oh My God!!! If you only see one film in your life it should be this one 5 stars
11/27/02 Paul Humphreys I was staggered and moved .... and its a true story! 5 stars
11/27/02 Keith Barnes The review says it all - see it! 5 stars
11/08/02 walter blount the truth as it was 5 stars
10/06/02 cvoptimus truly excellent, engaging, fascinating 5 stars
5/01/02 Jamie Bolton A dark, disturbing picture of the worst of religion 5 stars
3/13/02 stephen clark unpleasant, bizarre, different. 3 stars
2/17/02 Clarance Definitely not a fan...hell the Crow was better than this movie 1 stars
1/31/02 Andrew Carden Oliver Reed's High Point Of His Career. Very Scary and Almost Perfect. 5 stars
1/30/02 John Linton Roberson Oh yes. 5 stars
1/26/02 zol incroyable !!!! 5 stars
1/24/02 Elliot Those hot glass bubbles for plague! This movie is healing 5 stars
1/24/01 dave Underhill larry i dont think you quite got it did you?? an amazing movie and i beleive one of oli's b 5 stars
9/19/00 Antz Pure excess 2 stars
9/16/00 Walt Lockley incredible, excessive, disturbing, over the top, don't drop acid beforehand!!! 5 stars
1/13/00 Chrissy T Too good to pass up, Russell-ites! Oliver Reed is the sexiest! 5 stars
9/23/99 Suzanne Haunting film - I saw it a long time ago, and I need to again; the church sucks anyway. 5 stars
9/22/99 little jerry Yes,this IS the one,an opinion held by Russell himself.Please release original version. 5 stars
9/21/99 the Grinch "NOT the only KenRussell film you need to see:Altered States, Gothic, good review though! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Jul-1971 (R)

UK
  01-Jul-1971 (18)

Australia
  16-Jul-1971 (M)


Directed by
  Ken Russell

Written by
  Aldous Huxley
  Ken Russell

Cast
  Oliver Reed
  Vanessa Redgrave
  Dudley Sutton
  Max Adrian



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