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The U.S. might not be familiar with him, but Richard Crouse
has very much been the face of popular film criticism in Canada for at least
the past decade. He’s been featured on radio, television and in newspapers
across the country, and has written several books; his latest, RAISING HELL:
KEN RUSSELL AND THE UNMAKING OF “THE DEVILS,” charts the history of the
still-controversial 1971 film.
For the uninitiated, the late director Russell’s THE DEVILS
is a stylized, dramatic account of the rise and fall of Urbain Grandier (Oliver
Reed), a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest executed for witchcraft. The film,
then and now, has faced harsh reactions from more conservative pockets for its
violent, sexual and religious content, especially the infamous “Rape of Christ”
sequence. Originally, the film received an X rating in both Britain and in
North America; banned in several countries and eventually heavily edited for
release in others, it is to this day largely unavailable in the home-video
market. So bravo to the publisher ECW Press for putting out a companion book to
a film that remains so elusive.
RAISING HELL is very much a personal journey for Crouse. Its
opening chapter chronicles what is likely the last time Russell saw THE DEVILS
on the big screen (at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto), an event Crouse hosted.
(While there was no question that Russell’s spirit and wit were still present,
they came in waves, and Crouse seriously questioned how he would make it
through the screening in his frail condition.) In a way, RAISING HELL is also
the story of two of the wild men of 20th century cinema, Russell and Reed. They
were two of cinema’s great eccentrics, and there is no shortage of great
stories about them in these pages.
The book is additionally packed with interview with
directors influenced by THE DEVILS, like Alex Cox, Guillermo del Toro and even
Fango editor-in-chief Chris Alexander. Crouse probably didn’t need to include
so many quotes from other critics/filmmakers singing THE DEVILS’ praises, but
this is a minor quibble. The author does an excellent job conveying his
well-researched but concise information on the historical context of the film’s
production, and why it was such a hot-button movie for its time.
In the end, Crouse has perhaps created the definitive
chronicle of Russell’s masterwork. RAISING HELL works both as a guide to THE
DEVILS and as a call to action to have this important work of cinema finally
released on international home video the way it was intended. For fans of
Russell and THE DEVILS, and for those just starting their journey into that
world, RAISING HELL is essential reading on an essential film.
See Fango #317 for an interview with Crouse about RAISING
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