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"Omnibus" Dante's Inferno (1967)

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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Compelling and, typical of Russell, ahead of its time

Author: adam smith ( from London, England
5 August 2005

Oliver Reed works hard as the lead in this factually accurate if necessarily abridged account of the 'Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood'. It opens with a frightening disinterment (which we discover later is that of his muse/sitter and later wife Lizzie Siddal, to retrieve the notebook of love poems Rossetti (Reed) had buried with her seven years earlier). The main narrative starts in 1848 and introduces the Rossetti circle of somewhat dissolute men and the women they shared. Siddall, a cockney shop girl, is however virtuous, wronged, and disapproved-of by Rossetti's snobbish sister, but admired by Rossetti's romantic followers.

Most of the narrative is about Rossetti's obsession with Siddal and his weakness in temptation. His possessiveness regains strength when rivals vie for Siddal's hand (for instance, art patron John Ruskin, played here by Clive Goodwin) but he is careless about Siddal herself in life and ultimately death, his betrayals haunting him almost to the point of imitating her suicide-by-laudanum himself.

There are flashes of Russell originality. The ones I remember most are the brief slow-mo sections to accompany Rossetti's contemplative romantic poetry in voice-over, and a shot of a woman standing in a boat on a lake (note the Arthurian symbolism) which cuts to the reflected image in the rippled surface of the lake, the reflection turned upside-down in the edit to appear the same way up. There is perhaps too much brash and anachronistic incidental music,(e.g. There's No Business Like Showbusiness played on what sounds like a harmonium, on top of Rossetti and co horsing around in a field). There are also moments of surreal and dreamlike chaos similar to other Russell work and here partly brought on by the presence of laudanum (compare to Julien Temple's Pandaemonium). And there is a moment of typically Russell daring: a nipple, which I suspect was pretty rare on TV in 1967.

The main interest for me is however the cast. Many are from the late 50s/early 60s London art-college/drama-school scene which Ken and Shirley Russell were part of. Derek Boshier, pop painter; Clive Goodwin, widower of Pauline Boty, pop painter; Christopher Logue, friend of Goodwin and Boty; Tony and Dougie Grey, eccentric musicians The Alberts who along with the (related) Temperance Seven were central to the early London social realist/pop-art vibe; Gala Mitchell, Boshier's glamorous girlfriend of the time; and Caroline Coon, a younger face on the London scene. There are doubtless more connections if one looks harder.

Shirley Russell's costume design is unmistakable. The full-fig Victorian look dates right back to one of Ken's first amateur films, Amelia And The Angel, similarly cast with friends from the same scene, and was inspired by London's Portobello Road street market, source of the nostalgic craze for empire and Victoriana which started in the 1950s as Britain sought a position in the postwar world, and culminated in Peter Blake's sleeve for The Beatles' Sgt Pepper.

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10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Eerily beautiful

Author: rdonicht from Minnesota, USA
24 January 2000

I saw this film once, at least 30 years ago, at a small University art house, but it has haunted me ever since. So strange and otherworldly, I have sometimes wondered if I may have only dreamed it, and that no such film ever existed. It is a pleasure (AND a relief!) to know it in fact exists, and was not an hallucinatory result of mid-60s/early 70s mind-expansion experimentations. (at least not my own...)

It certainly may have been the filmmakers' result of such experimentation, if my memory serves. I recall an exquisite vision of eerie beauty, a languid unfolding of a most unusual story, verging on the surreal.

The titular "Dante" is Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the story takes us into the realm of the "Pre-Raphaelite" art movement of the late 1800's. We meet the extraordinary painters and poets who made up this community, all actual historical persons. One of the most astonishing things about this film is the absolutely UNCANNY resemblance of some of the actresses to the actual art models they portray. If you are familiar with some of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, you will instantly recognize those faces.

This is a rare and beautiful jewel of a movie, and I fervently hope it will be released on video someday. I would snap it up in an instant. If you ever come across it at some little art house someday, go see it without hesitation. You will be haunted ever after, as well.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

OMNIBUS: DANTE'S INFERNO (Ken Russell, 1967; TV) ***

Author: MARIO GAUCI ( from Naxxar, Malta
2 December 2011

To begin with, this is not an adaptation of the First Book of "The Divine Comedy" by Italy's foremost poet (though the subject would no doubt have fired the director's imagination) but the life of obscure poet/painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti – played by Oliver Reed (whose abrasive personality was perfectly suited to Russell's over-the-top approach to cinema, which makes him very much an acquired taste but undeniably reveals a fiercely original talent at work). Even so, the style here is not yet the all-stops-out excess the film-maker is known for; incidentally, his celebrated programs for the BBC on the lives of various figures from the art and music world seemed to range in length from mini-features (running anywhere in the vicinity of an hour) to 90 minutes and, since this one falls in the latter category, does feel somewhat overlong for its purpose. The overall tone of the program is also rather highbrow (maybe I was just watching it at too late an hour!) due to the constant reciting of the undeniably sensitive poetry.

The end result is nevertheless impressive – being especially beautifully-shot (in monochrome) – yet, while Reed is characteristically imposing (attesting also to the depth he was capable of), the film's most haunting contributions are those of two (out of the three) females Rossetti is involved with throughout. These are Judith Paris (as the pretty muse/wife he saved from prostitution and who herself later dabbles in the arts) and Gala Mitchell (a striking-looking model who later married one of his associates, dubbed collectively as the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood"). Oddly enough, I had just seen both in Russell's controversial Richard Strauss 'biopic' DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS (1970) but neither had caught my eye to this extent, with the two films comprising Mitchell's entire body of work whereas Paris did other stuff (including more work for Russell, such as his notorious THE DEVILS {1971})! With this in mind, Mitchell's on-screen husband (Andrew Faulds) – who also left a good impression – seemed like a very familiar face but could not give it a name until I saw him listed in the end credits!

To get back to the film, apart from Paris' own stalling, her relationship with Reed is jeopardized by the influence his snobbish sister exerts over the protagonist. Later on, there is also the fact that Paris' own paintings (taught by Rossetti) are preferred by a potential promoter! Other setbacks to their happiness include Paris' tubercular condition and, as mentioned, Reed's dallying with other women (his spouse even accuses him of having fathered a child with Mitchell). When Paris dies, Reed buried his published poems with her but, told by the promoter they would fetch a good price, he unearths her casket after 7 years to retrieve them (Russell's hand is most evident during this scene, a teaser for which actually opens the film, but also a fantasy jousting sequence representing the bohemian camaraderie – set to a 'modern' score that includes Irving Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business"! – and Rossetti's derangement, brought on by a guilty conscience, following the exhumation). In fact, he even attempts suicide by laudanum – a substance Paris had abused of herself in an effort to cure her ailment – but is restored to health by yet another earthier model (looking a bit like "Carry On" stalwart Barbara Windsor!) who had regularly sat for him…despite being, more often than not, mistreated at the volatile artist's hands.

P.S. I was surprised that an elderly acquaintance of mine – who owns a garage stacked with 16mm and 35mm editions of hundreds of titles – included a copy of this one in his collection during one of my visits to his quaint home theater 'arrangement'...although he was far from enthusiastic when I asked him about it!

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