British director, photographer, writer, and occasional actor Ken Russell passed away at the age of 84. But I'm not going to offer an obituary for him, there are professionals doing that. What I am going to talk about are his films, and what they meant to me.
Now Russell's oeuvre cast a wide net, but were best known for their then daring explorations of madness, sexuality, and spirituality.
Many of his films were the definition of edgy, tackling controversial subjects in bold new ways.
They were also wildly uneven. Some were cleverly constructed films that challenged the narrative conventions and mores of his times. Others went past simple surrealism into the realm of the incoherent mess.
However, I never got the sense that they were unnecessary.
I'm not an expert on Russell or his work, but I do remember getting a sense that for the times they were made, they were needed, they were necessary, even if only to shake things up, to make people go: "You know, his direction may not be for me, but it's made me think of finding my own direction to make things fresh and new again."
I don't really get that from the so-called "edgy" filmmakers that followed him. Challenging an audience the way Russell did has been replaced with insulting the audience by rehashing some of the things Russell did, but with a heavy layer of elitist condescension.
Russell's "edgy" work always seemed to be looking for something that lay beyond the films' obvious style and subject matter. Today's so-called "edgy" artists don't strike me as looking for anything beyond cheap attention, and pats on the back from their circle of peers for their "courage" in "speaking truth to power" against those who can't and won't do any harm to them in the first place beyond simply ignoring them.
Essentially, it just all seems so unnecessary to me.