September 2017


Ken Russell’s The Devils
Rated X Series at the American Cinematheque
Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood
Review By: Jaime Pina

A controversial film not available on disc, it was rated X with Russell making some cuts and then the studio making cuts as well. Produced in 1971, it offended the Church, the studio and the general public all at once with its stark look at how religion and state struggle for power with both abusing citizens to suit their own selfish needs. Mixing social commentary on religion and politics with outrageous sex, sarcastic humor, nudity and violence was too much and the film remains a powerful statement on hypocrisy. It’s the eternal struggle to separate church from state preserved perfectly on film.

Based on a book by Aldous Huxley, the film tells the story of the fortified village of Loudun in France. Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest who is worshipped much like a modern rock star and as such, is a shameless seducer of young women. He fights against the takeover of the village’s independence by the tyrannical Cardinal Richelieu (Charles Logue). Richelieu uses his influence on King Louie XIII (Graham Armitage) to rule France while the king leads a hedonistic lifestyle staying away from the politics. At a nearby convent, Sister Jeanne des Anges (Vanessa Redgrave) is a hunchbacked disciplinarian with a deep, sexual obsession with Grandier. Feeling snubbed after she requests his services at the convent and is denied, her sexual fantasies of Grandier become more and more obsessive. When she finds out he has fallen in love and decides to give up sin and marry the woman he loves while devoting his life to God and family, she accuses him of possessing her like an incubus. With his public denouncements of Richelieu’s intentions, he is accused of heresy and put on trial.

Russell created a truly unique, gorgeous, disturbing, hilarious and heart-wrenching film that takes the viewer away on many different levels. With Reed leading the story he draws us in with his wicked charm and when he seeks redemption we believe he is sincere. On the other hand Redgrave is a maddening foil for Reed’s Grandier. She is a neurotic, delusional, severely depressed mental power tripper and gives her performance the manic energy that is a perfect counterpart to Reed’s subtle and sublime turn. A perfect yin and yang expertly directed and photographed by Russell. When the film reaches its powerful ending the audience is relieved, drained and ultimately satisfied that they just experienced something that they will never forget. From the performances to the cinematography to the brilliant set design by Derek Jarman to the brilliant music score it is a total work of confrontational art.

Still Dazed. Through a Grunge Rockers Eyes. Nikki Palomino