Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Savage Messiah (1972)

Helen Mirren in one of her first film roles...

A biographical film of the life of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made by Russ-Arts and distributed by MGM. It was directed and produced by Ken Russell with Harry Benn as associate producer, from a screenplay by Christopher Logue, based on the book Savage Messiah by H.S. Ede. The music score was by Michael Garrett (though music by Debussy and Scriabin was also used), and the cinematography by Dick Bush.

Gaudier meets the much older and prim Sophie Brzeska. They develop a friendship leading to them sharing names (Gaudier Brzeska) though they never married. Ken Russell's imagery is as always breathtaking.

In one of Russell's best scenes Brzeska waits for Gaudier at a station. The train comes and goes but no Gaudier. Another train leaves and there is Gaudier on the wrong platform, arms full of roses for Brzeska. He runs towards her, jumping from platform to rails. He slips as a train emerges but rather than escape the train he picks up the roses, at the last moment avoiding the wheels of the train and falling into Brzeska's arms.

Gaudier joins the war. The superb line "I have succeeded in making the enemy angry..." is a true letter quoted in H.S. Ede's biography of Gaudier. The film ends, just as Ede's book does, with Gaudiers work.

Gaudier could be seen as Russell's fictional autobiographical character. When Russell read H.S. Ede's biography he was the same age as Gaudier "I was impressed by Gaudier's conviction that somehow or other there was a spark in the core of him that was personal to him, which was worth turning into something that could be appreciated by others."
Russell also says (Films and Filming Oct 1972) "I wanted this film to be totally different from the big companies and back into the small studio, back to the BBC sort of style with a small unit".

(pictures from another source)

Alex Russell, Ken's son, who plays a role in the film, says "On Savage Messiah, I remember when filming on the sea coast some oil or tar was on the lens of the 35ml camera; but was not discovered till the evenings rushes screening: so a whole days shooting was ruined! Also: the rain seen was done via the fire brigade pumping salt water straight from the sea! Also: the Gaudier Breshka charcoal and pastel drawings (well faked) for the film were later stolen and sold as originals down Bond Street and at Sotheby's!"

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