BOOKENDS REVIEW: Richard Crouse's Raising Hell
***Listen to my interview with Richard Crouse about his book Raising Hell: Ken Russell and The Unmaking of The Devils. Richard talks about how terrified he was to interview the filmmaker, the controversy behind the film and how film censorship has changed since the '60s and '70s. You can find the podcast of the interview, "INTERVIEW - Oct 7 - Richard Crouse on Raising Hell", here.
Richard Crouse calls his new book, partly, “The Unmaking of The Devils,” because that is what censors have done to the film over the years – they have unmade it.
Raising Hell: Ken Russell and The Unmaking of The Devils is about one of the most controversial films ever made.
For those of you who have not seen (probably many of you, as The Devils is still very difficult to find in legal form) or heard of the film, The Devils is a historical account of a 17-century priest who was executed for witchcraft. Sixteen nuns in Loudun, France alleged they had been possessed by demons and blamed Urbain Grandier, who was then tortured and burned. There were apparently personal reasons why the nuns accused the priest, and political ones why he was eventually executed.
The filmmaker, Ken Russell, was fascinated by the story and decided to retell it on screen, as realistically as possible. He argued that it was more a political film, than a religious one.
Richard starts the book by recalling the night he interviewed Russell at the Bloor Cinema in 2010. I was there that night and now I know why he seemed so tense before the interview.
Richard was practically sweating buckets, nervous to interview a filmmaker known for being pretty tight-lipped. There’s nothing more difficult than trying to interview someone who isn’t very talkative.
But somehow, Russell warmed up to Richard and the conversation became quite entertaining. Russell even made a few jokes. He called the film’s star, Oliver Reed, “a terrible actor,” and named himself as the filmmaker he admired most.
Russell got many laughs from the audience, and what a relief that was for Richard.
In Raising Hell, Richard talks about the inspiration behind the film, the writing of the screenplay, the casting, and the filming of The Devils.
He speaks with some of the film’s actors, its editor and composer, and some of its fans like Guillermo del Toro and David Cronenberg.
My favourite part of the book is the second half, where Richard gets into the context of the 1971 release of the film, censorship within the industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and what has happened to The Devils since.
The full, uncut version of the film has yet to be released. Apparently, when you add religion to sex and violence, it’s a bit too much for the industry to take.
Russell passed away before he could witness his film released to the public in the way he meant for it to be seen, and that really is a shame.
This is a great book for film buffs, or anyone interested in learning about how film censorship works and how it has evolved.
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