I don't think Ken Russell was a particularly good director, but I'm nonetheless quite saddened to hear that he has passed. The one film of his that I did like, Altered States from 1980, was a good film indeed, and perhaps one of the most influential experiences in setting me on the path of being a real film buff.
It was Christmas vacation in 1980 when my sister, younger brother and I took the Shortline bus into Manhattan to do a double feature of Simon at the Cinema 1, followed by Altered States at the Loews Astor Plaza. I hadn't to that point had a lot of big screen 70mm experiences at the movies, a few including The Empire Strikes Back that summer, but there was something about Altered States that effected me in an entirely different way. It didn't just use 70mm sound to make spaceships and light sabers woosh by. It used 70mm and six-track sound to heighten everything, to make the low points in the movie a little bit lower and the high points a little bit higher. Even more than with Empire, it used makeup and music and sound effects and just about everything to really really show me everything that a movie could do. Ultimately, if there's any one moviegoing experience that I have to say did it for me, that made me fall in love with going to the movies, it was seeing Altered States at the Astor Plaza on that December day in 1980.
I think it's also important to mention that the film holds up for me. Altered States got some good reviews, has a cult following, but screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky divorced himself from the film, the reviews weren't all raves by any measure. But when I saw it as an adult many years later in 70mm on the much smaller screen or the Riklis theatre at the pre-expansion Museum of the Moving Image, the film still worked its magic. If I could see it again on the big screen tomorrow, I happily would.
Interestingly enough, it wasn't until I was reading about the movie many years later and saw somehow or other that it had opened at the UA Gemini and Loews Astor Plaza that I actually realized it was the Astor Plaza where I'd seen the movie, and this was my introductory experience with what became my favorite movie theatre. I didn't live in NYC then, I didn't go back to the Astor Plaza for another couple of years.
Au Revoir, Ken Russell. And thank you.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.