Don’t be put off by those earnest souls who tell you that Savage Messiah is about the role of the artist in society. And don’t be conned by people who tell you it’s a heart warming love-story. It’s both.
Ken Russell makes movies about artists mainly, I think, because he sees the artist, who is at one remove from society, having to suffer yer everyday trials etc on his own far more than yer average man-in-the-street.
I don’t know whether Mr Russell believes that artists feel things more, or any of that old stuff, but all that’s immaterial.
What Ken Russell does with every movie he makes is he comes up with a visually stunning piece of work that has a lot to say about the way we live.
The Russian authorised version of Tchaikovsky’s life is neither as interesting nor as good to look at as The Music Lovers. And Russell cut his teeth on telly biopics of people like Debussy, Rosetti, Richard Strauss and so on. His artists are larger than life. But what the hell? Especially as every movie has a serious core to it – quite apart from the sensational bits the publicity kids like to publish.
The Savage Messiah in question is a young artist, Henri Gaudier, who has a platonic relationship with a neurotic failed novelist lady called Sophie Brzeska. He goes to war, against his principles, and dies.
Scott Anthony – just two weeks out of drama school – got the plum part of being the young artist. Dorothy Tutin is superb as the hopelessly jumpy woman who won’t let her pretence of grandeur go as she gouges out the rotten bits of the vegetables she s picked up to make yet another inedible stew.
Because Sophie won’t let Henri sleep with her (in fact, she even gives him five bob to buy himself a tart at one stage) and because they love each other, they form a union of sorts — they share names. Which makes both of them Gaudier-Brzeska.
Their intimacy and lack of it – and the actual cruel opposites of intimacy that Russell uses makes this an intelligent person’s Love Story. Because, more than any other recent movie, this investigates what love is.