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Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World (1966)

The outrageous life of the American dancer of the 1920s, Isadora Duncan, whom Ken Russell described as "part genius and part charlatan".

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The outrageous life of the American dancer of the 1920s, Isadora Duncan, whom Ken Russell described as "part genius and part charlatan".

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28 July 2014 (Poland)  »

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According to Eric Idle, he and two other future members of Monty Python (Terry Jones and Michael Palin) are among the band members on top of a hearse in an early scene. This occurs approximately a minute and thirty seconds into the film and only lasts for a moment. See more »

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Edited from Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938) See more »

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ISADORA (Ken Russell, 1966; TV) **1/2
2 December 2011 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

Despite careful work all round (the black-and-white cinematography is exquisite and Russell's choice of musical accompaniment – comprising various instantly-recognizable classical pieces – faultless), this is not as absorbing as the other vintage TV work by Russell that I have watched. Maybe the subject itself – incidentally, this episode of the "Omnibus" series is better-known by its full title i.e. ISADORA DUNCAN, THE BIGGEST DANCER IN THE WORLD (though, on screen, we only get her first name shown one letter at a time and shouted cheerleader-style!) – was not very appetizing to begin with. This rather makes me dread having to go through Karel Reisz' feature-length big-screen biopic of the same lady starring an Oscar-nominated Vanessa Redgrave, also called ISADORA but released 2 years later, since that one runs 134 minutes (albeit trimmed-down from the original 168!) against the 63-minute length of Russell's film! For the record, I should also be checking out 2 versions (one of each being helmed by Russell) of the life of composer Franz Liszt and Silent-movie star Rudolph Valentino as part of my tribute to the late controversial British auteur.

Another element which puts this at a disadvantage in comparison with some of his contemporary efforts is the fact that it features little of his typical self-indulgence (being co-written and narrated by Sewell Stokes who knew Duncan towards the end of her life): even so, Russell had the gall to borrow the news bulletin montage of highlights from the dancer's life for the opening sequence just as Orson Welles had done at the start of CITIZEN KANE (1941)! For what it is worth, Vivian Pickles' central performance is remarkable…yet, here lies another major problem, as the protagonist comes across as pathetic (she is constantly seen being 'taken for a ride' by various suitors, as well as governments she had approached in order to finance her dancing schools, not to mention losing her two kids simultaneously in an unfortunate drowning accident) without eliciting our sympathy! Like I said, the copious dancing sequences (adamantly performed barefoot!) provide tedium as opposed to showcasing the talent for which Duncan in her prime was held in awe or, for that matter, the sense of freedom she harps so much about during the course of the program! By the way, the supporting cast here includes a handful of faces which had previously cropped-up in films I watched very recently – from Peter Bowles and Murray Melvin (both from A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG {1971}) to Sandor Eles and Alita Naughton (both from Russell's own cinematic debut FRENCH DRESSING {1964}).


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