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The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher (2001)
Director: Ken Russell
   [no star rating]
review by Paul Higson

The Fall Of The Louse of Usher is a surprisingly rare attempt to, primarily, aggravate the viewer with the unabashed shoddiness of it all. Constructive criticism to a 75-year-old filmmaker comes a little late and more fool the one that attempts it, and Ken Russell has probably anticipated every derogatory remark and would delight in them. Infantile? "Damn right it is!" might chuckle Ken. Shambolic? "I agree!" may proudly cluck the terrible one. We could insult him but he has already served the greater insult on us and he knows it. He has thrown down the gauntlet, and that cliché of a phrase is about the only one that he has forgotten to ram into this film. I accept the challenge, he has tormented us with a tap, tap, tap, drip, drip, drip of nonsense and now I will try and stun him with insults back, even though a better person would advise me that in so doing I am merely playing into the big child's mottled mitts.
   Firstly let us quickly dispense with the anti-plot. Unable to find the talent that might have once appeared in a Ken Russell film, the director goes in front of the camera himself in the role of Doctor Calahari, the keeper of an asylum, obsessed with Poe and visited to by Poe in the form of the Usher tale, Roderick Usher, interned upon the death of his Annabel Lee, accused of her savage murder. Murders In The Rue Morgue, Ligeia, The Premature Burial, The Facts In The Case Of M. Waldemar and other Poe stories are also messily slotted into this nonsense. You really will not care. The device is a desperate attempt by Russell to belatedly cover as much of Poe's oeuvre before he goes to his own grave, adamant that when he is gone he will go down in history as the most culturally associated filmmaker, the high king of lurid namedroppers. Who else, after all, has covered so many classical composers, classical rockers, authors, novels, artistes, architects, dancers and thinkers, and Russell appears determined to see out his remaining years throwing together creative links with others. I predict that we can expect subjects previously untouched by Russell over the next few years, and not just a novel but a life and a body of work abused in the fashion of The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher. Tesla follows and his next film is a short called The Revenge Of The Elephant Man, and will be approached in the same style as Louse. Like me, you may upon Louse no longer care what he does new.
   It really is almost indescribably bad. I can give you an impression of the awfulness, but not the degree of it. But how did it get this terrible and are their precedents in his work? There are many examples of his embarrassingly fractured perspective going back to his Monitor Dance Of The Seven Veils, in Tommy, in Gothic, and most particularly we are reminded of his tinsel and junk television film Ken Russell's Treasure Island with its lazy props and wardrobe. The outrageousness is present throughout his curriculum vitae though he is capable of order and calm, and a true appreciation of situation and history comes out as recently as 1991 in Prisoner Of Honour, though naturally he was unhappy with that. The deterioration has been rapid and recent and it has less to do with any dilapidation in the director and more to do with his shrinking circle of talent, the people who propped him up over many of those years. Look at his best films and it is the work of others that make them, and those others are gone. Derek Jarman should be a peripheral figure, he worked only on The Devils and Savage Messiah, but the production design was important and significant. The big three were Shirley Russell, Dick Bush and Christopher Gable, all of them passing away in the last ten years. Shirley Russell was responsible for the colourful wardrobe through the glory years. Christopher Gable was the choreographer and star of The Boyfriend and a mainstay of the director's work. Dick Bush, BSC, was the underrated cinematographer who admitted to me in correspondence that he did not regret his work with Russell but following The Lair Of The White Worm had decided that he had done his bit and that ten films for Russell in 20 years was quite enough. The signature skills that these personalities brought to the work of this director are too horribly missed in The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher. The production design is kindergarten level, the costumes an equally moronic fancy dress and the camerawork is shit, in fact there is no billed cinematography. Oh, yes, Russell does admit to having designed, edited, produced, directed and photographed it but not cinematographed it. There are no other camera credits and yet Russell is there in front of the camera for half of the screen time (though we do understand it to have been shared duties with whomsoever was near and had hands).
   Russell was destructive and now he is self-destructive. Where have his new stars come from? Like Salvation they are fans that are desperate for association no matter how stink-fist the project. This is a musical, with some of the numbers set to Poe poetry. The Medieval Babes account for the classical side of Russell's interests and Gallon Drunk account for the swamp rock end of things, the lead singer of the band, James Johnston, taking the Roderick Usher role, while the band perform and compose a number of the tracks in this musical. Oh, yes, did I forget to tell you, this is a musical. Gallon Drunk was one of the indie hopefuls of the early 90s, and their slow crawl version of Mesalou was a Peel Show favourite, it is nice of them to remind us they are still out there, but perhaps they would have been better off waiting for that unannounced sequel to The Monster Club instead.
   The Salvation sleeve and the film credits are equally screwed. The sleeve claims that the film is 95 minutes long when it is not. The actually running time is 82 minutes and 38 seconds. The sleeve and film credits disagree on cast names, Tulip Junkie and Lisi Tribble on the sleeve, while in multiple roles in the film they are Marie Findley and Elize Russell. Marie Findley is the film's only genuine presence and a sexually charged whoopee one at that. Please turn up in the work of another director next time, lass. Russell's performance is gruesome. Disc extras anyone? The Ken Russell CV is detailed, the biography cribbed, the only other extras a few shots and then the trailers for this film, Sacred Flesh and Penetration Angst. The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher trailer's inclusion may be bad for the label, as it manages to make the film look watchable and the hard done by viewer may thereupon presume that the other films are more well-disguised rubbish (in fact the Penetration Angst trailer makes it look like the least interesting of the three yet I keep hearing that it is a bit good).
   Reducing the House of Usher to an elaborate bouncy castle and its deflation as the fall is a rare amusement in this film and the colorization of Vince Narduzzo could have helped if used throughout, but the whole shebang is too interminable and there is nothing that can begin to improve it. This is like an extended sketch from Crackerjack only with sex dolls and knives. No, no, I've changed my mind... Don McLean and Peter Glaze are preferable to this. And I think I have come up with the word that Russell does not expect and that might annoy him for a minute. (I must use it wisely, because he will incorporate it into his shield before his next film's release.) The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher is naff.
Fall of the Louse of Usher

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Ken Russell as Dr Calahari

Ken Russell as Dr Calahari
with Marie Findley (alias:
Tulip Junkie), as Nurse ABC



Medieval Babe

An unidentifiable member
of the Medieval Babes

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