I’ve already professed my love for the work of Ken Russell in these pages, and still have more of my interview with “Unkle Ken” to come in this format and on the Funhouse TV show. In the meantime however, it has been brought to my attention that his masterpiece The Devils has finally been made available in this country in a sorta, kinda, near-to-complete version.
The film is owned by Warner Brothers, which is still, to this very day, scared of putting it out in its complete form, for fear that it will outrage Catholics and other dogma-loving Xtians. The truth is that the film is one of the finest explorations of religious hypocrisy ever, in any art form, and if someone is bothered by it, then they need to double-check their own religious beliefs. The documentary made for British television about the controversy surrounding the film constituted the first time that the censored “Rape of the Christ” sequence had been shown publicly (the same night the docu was shown the film was aired in its entirety). In that documentary a Jesuit notes that that scene is about blasphemy taken to the very limit, but the sequence that Russell intercut it with — in which Oliver Reed performs the ceremony of the mass with his lover and offers her the sacrament of communion — redeems the “Rape” sequence, showing what constitutes real faith as opposed to hypocrisy.
So the good news in this instance for U.S. viewers is that The Devils is finally available to be seen in its restored version. The bad news is that it is missing part of the “Rape of the Christ” sequence (which is what I assume takes it down three minutes from 111 to 108 minutes), and is only being made available by the oh-so-skittish Warner folks as a digital download on iTunes. No DVD, no Blu-Ray, none expected.
It’s very interesting to consider that of all the films that caused moral outrage at the turn of the Seventies, the rest of the pack — A Clockwork Orange, The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Deep Throat — have all been perennially available on American home media on VHS and then DVD. The Devils thus validates itself by being so hard to locate (the best complete copy that has thus been circulated is of that single airing on British cable TV). It obviously has as much to say to our own era as it did back in 1971. Religious hypocrites will never go away, and they hate to be called out on their utterly ridiculous, offensive, and dangerous behavior (some might hit the nail through the palm with “un-Christ-like”). So check out the Russell film through the download, or through the bootlegs (I’m sure it’s circulating on Bit Torrent and Rapidshare, as the British cable TV version was up on YouTube in its entirety for a few months at one point), or when it appears at a local repertory theater. It’s a dynamic work that continues to say a lot about the publicly pious.
Here is where I found out about the iTunes download. Thanks to the great “Movie Irv” for passing this on. UPDATE: As of today, 7/8/10, the film has been pulled, and according to online sources, was up for less than a week. It was indeed missing the entire "Rape of the Christ" sequence, but supposedly was a crystal-clear restoration of the film. C'mon, Warner Brothers, what are you so scared of?