Song of Summer

So farewell, then, Ken Russell.

It's hard to think of him as possessing the physique of a ballet dancer, but dancer he was before training as a photographer and then becoming probably the most original film director in British cinematographic history. I heard one critic on the radio yesterday describe his 1969 adaptation of the D.H.Lawrence novel 'Women in Love' as being 'better than the book' and - at his best - that was what Ken Russell did. He took a subject and made more of it than could ever have been conceived by anyone else, sometimes even the subject.

He was a one-off, a flawed genius but a genius nevertheless. He wallowed in self-indulgent nonsense rather more than many thought strictly necessary, but he's forgiven - all is forgiven - for the flashes of utter beauty, the moments of genius, the sequences that no-one else but Ken Russell could possibly have directed. And I'm not talking naked male wrestling. Personally, my own favourites are the old 'Monitor' films - not so much the Elgar biopic everyone always talks about but the fully acted 'Song of Summer' about the final years of the composer Delius.

I suppose I feel a very tenuous personal connection, having lived not-so-far from Scarborough, the home town of Deluis's amanuensis Eric Fenby, on whose memoir 'Song of Summer's is based. I also came very close to writing Fenby's biography, having contacted him when he was working at the Royal College of Music in London and begun working on the project with him. A subsequent offer from a publisher for his autobiography put paid to that scheme, unfortunately - the more so as I'm not sure whether the autobiography was ever completed.

Here's Fenby, played by Christopher Gable (who really was a ballet dancer) in the final section of the film, when Fenby returns home to Scarborough after completing his work in France with Delius.


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