See Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’ in NYC on Monday

By  · Published on January 20th, 2010

On Sunday’s Reject Radio and in yesterday’s Culture Warrior, I praised to the heavens Ken Russell’s notoriously controversial film The Devils (1971). I was fortunate enough to see it projected on 35mm for a class I took on censorship in cinema five years ago, and it was an experience that has resonated with me ever since. It’s simply one of the most horrifying and challenging movies you’ll ever see, but also one of the most profound and eye-opening experiences you’ll ever have watching a movie. The Devils is an unparalleled cinematic experience. At least, that’s how I remember it…

And now it just so happens that you too have the opportunity to see this movie in its full, uncensored glory with an audience. If you live in the NYC area, do yourself a favor and go see The Devils at the IFC Center on Monday night, January 25th, at 8pm (part of their weekly Queer/Art/Film series). This movie isn’t commercially available in the US except for a heavily censored, pan-and-scan R-rated VHS, so it’s all the more reason to take this rare opportunity to see The Devils how it was meant to be seen.

Based on a novel by Aldous Huxley and a play by John Whiting, The Devils chronicles the rise and fall of respected priest Urbain Grandier (played by Oliver Reed at his very best) in 17th Century France as he is methodically demolished physically, politically, and in the eyes of the public by the hunchbacked, sexually repressed Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). What ensues is a Crucible-esque display of nuns feigning demonic possession by Grandier in order to ensure his demise, which gives these nuns free reign to do anything…and I mean anything. Masturbating with candles. Raping a giant crucifix. Forced enemas. (Does this hint at the reasons why this film had one of the most dramatic censorship battles in the history of British cinema?) But don’t let these petty details deter you – The Devils is not a superficial piece of filmmaking meant only to shock, but a work of art that will rock you to your very core.

…Or, at least, it’ll give you something really interesting to talk about the next day.