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25 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Best biopic ever . . . .

Author: PBear_SF from San Francisco Bay Area
17 February 2001

This is my pick for the greatest biographical film of all time. Shot in grainy black and white, on an undoubtedly shoestring budget, for the BBC back in 1966, it still has the technical advantage of being on film rather than videotape (as was the habit of British television at the time).

ISADORA (as it was known, simply, in its American TV showings -- and on its title card) has got everything that led to Ken Russell's reputation as the most innovative and outrageous filmmaker of the late 1960's: mad pacing, undisguised slow cranking, scattershot out-of-sequence editing, an anachronous 1960's pop approach to an early 20th century subject, over-the-top performances, etc, etc, and the refusal to represent Isadora Duncan as any sort of divinely-inspired artiste.

Rather, Russell's Isadora is a mad force of nature on a rampage, cutting a swath through America, Europe, Russia and back through America to Europe again -- browbeating everyone in her path to accept her form of expression as the only valid choice in the world of dance. She devours men like a praying mantis and leaves no one unscathed in her path, all the while consuming herself from the inside out. Though not pretty, she is irresistable; not graceful, her dancing is mesmerizing; not at all nice, she is vulnerable and even lovable. By sheer force of will, she imposed a new esthetic on modern dance and made the world take it seriously -- to become one of the most famous figures in the history of the arts.

Coming from the same home town area (San Francisco), I formed an early interest in Isadora Duncan, having first heard of her in my late teens, just prior to the time this TV film and Karel Reisz' big-budget biopic emerged. This one aired first and left me spoiled to appreciate the sanguine pinings and hand-wringing that vitiated Reisz' bigger effort with Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave didn't have much of a chance of living up to my expectations, anyway, in conveying Isadora's power and importance, let alone her emotional makeup, since I had already seen it done in what I still consider to be the single best screen performance by an actress -- EVER! -- in Vivian Pickles' interpretation of her. Most people likely only remember Pickles as Bud Cort's hillariously horrifying mother in HAROLD AND MAUDE, but anyone lucky enough to have seen her here knows what a tragedy it is that the movies never found a far greater place for her as a leading actress.

When Pickles shouts the immortal words, "Au revoir mes amis, je vais a la gloire!," her gusto truly adds to the delight of hearing one of the most famous exit lines of all time (apocryphal or not).

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

All of life's experiences, triumphs and tragedies, expressed in dance.

Author: ags123 from Atlanta, Georgia
19 October 2008

Not even dance per se, just movement. Great interpretation by Vivian Pickles, who captures both the physical grace and tumultuous personality we associate with the legend of Isadora Duncan. Ken Russell's expressionistic style of film-making, here in stark black and white, is so well suited to the ups and downs of such a highly dramatic biography. As usual, even with a limited budget, Russell offers a visual feast – filling the screen with lavish interiors and frenzied close-ups, juxtaposing unrelated scenes simultaneously - quite a different approach than Karel Reisz's more literal-minded "Isadora" with Vanessa Redgrave. This is art for art's sake, a perfect meeting of minds.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

ISADORA (Ken Russell, 1966; TV) **1/2

Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
2 December 2011

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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