Altered States

It’s difficult for me to reflect on filmmaker Ken Russell’s career without recounting my own personal relationship to his work. When I was a junior in college, an uncensored 35mm print of his mad and magnificent The Devils (1971) was screened on my university campus. The film is unavailable in the US in its original widescreen, X-rated form in any home video format, so that experience for me remains one of the singular theatrical viewings of my life. Since then, I’ve been hooked on his work. Perhaps more than any director, I’ve felt a habitual need to share Russell’s work with friends. Sometimes they reject his challenging and decidedly non-subtle, often hyperkinetic visions, but it’s always rewarding when I show one of his films to somebody who confirms that I’m not crazy – that there is a brilliant method underlying the batshit madness of the work helmed by this eccentric British director. I recently hosted a Halloween screening of his enduringly fascinating 1980 sci-fi film Altered States (1980) genuinely afraid that the audience would respond negatively to the film’s abject body transformation narrative and overall tonal strangeness, but the end credits were met with a warm round of applause. Russell was certainly one of the most bizarre directors that Britain has ever housed, but he was hardly only that.

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For those of you new to the column, I am revisiting formative events in my life that have made me what I am today: A Special Effects Make Up Artist searching for relevance in the 21st Century. I left my home in a suburb of Gretna, Louisiana, traveled to Valencia, California where I attended the California Institute of the Arts. I am nineteen… Being in college, in California, in 1981, was like being in the front seat of an incredible roller coaster. Unlike how it was in New Orleans, where I would be lucky if I was able to get a hold of a genre magazine like Cinefantastique because it was not consistently available in news stands, now I felt like I was closer to “the hub” than ever. Magazines, trade papers, Hollywood poster stores, all were up to date with what was happening in motion pictures. There was also the benefit of being in one of the two (or three) “preview” cities for new films. Altered States, for instance, had opened in late November rather than at Christmas time when it opened wide, nationally. This, for a fan and initiate to Make Up Effects, was like being at ground zero.

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. Today’s trailer is truly thrilling. It helps that it’s for an insanely brilliant movie, but since movie marketers today can’t seem to sell the hard stuff, maybe this spot can teach a few lessons in doing it right. William Hurt teams up with Ken Russell to do a few experiments on himself in a sensory deprivation tank that ends up unlocking the millions of years of mankind’s memories stored DNA. It causes his arm to do some pretty strange stuff at any rate. Such a great movie. Such a great trailer. Think you know what it is? Check the trailer out for yourself:

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This week’s Culture Warrior helps you fill out your Netflix queue.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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