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Buyer Beware: Ken Russell's "The Devils" R1 DVD

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Buyer Beware: Ken Russell's "The Devils" R1 DVD

Old 11-19-05, 03:49 PM
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Buyer Beware: Ken Russell's "The Devils" R1 DVD


This DVD came out recently on the Angel Digital label. It is a bootleg. It presumes to restitute the cuts that the film "The Devils" (1971) has endured in the UK and in the US. In fact 109 of its 111 original minutes are present, which means lots of extra nun titties and orgy scenes, including the famous "rape of Christ" scene. The excised torture footage cut by Russell himself has not been reinstated. One restituted scene shows a certain Duke (possibly the King in a mask) visiting the exorcism site to play a joke on the exorcists. The actor playing the Duke is not identified anywhere.

I quote from a review on http://www.dvdmaniacs.net/Reviews/A-D/devils.html. What this review won't tell you is that this DVD's picture is so bad ("worse than broadcast", but marginally better than VHS, with lots and lots of aliasing), it is probably lifted directly from the on-air BBC broadcast of the "restored" film, along with most of its extras.


Video 2/5

Angel Digital's release of The Devils is a mixed blessing. There's no question that this isn't a legal release, but even so it is a dramatic improvement over the previous "official" release from Warner Bros. in the US. Taken from a newly restored and uncut print broadcast in the UK by the BBC, it restores almost five minutes of footage previously censored from release prints. Alas, while it's wonderful to have this material reinstated, the print quality and mastering of this release leaves a bit to be desired. Photographed originally in 2.35:1 Panavision, this semi-widescreen release is in 1.85:1, thus compromising the integrity of Russell's compositions. The opening and end titles - as well as the newly restored "Rape of Christ" sequence - are in 2.35:1, however. The image is an improvement on WB's R1 video release, being less ragged and obviously benefiting tremendously from the reinstated footage, but it still looks a little pale and soft. The image is, however, enhanced for widescreen TVs.

Audio 1.5/5

The mono audio track is acceptable, but suffers from digital feedback during the louder moments of music and/or sound effects. Dialogue comes through clear, but there is some minor popping and hissing apparent in different sections.

Extras 5/5

Extras include Mark Kermode's excellent documentary Hell on Earth, which was broadcast along with the restored version of the film, on the BBC network several years ago. The documentary covers a lot of ground and includes comments from Russell, the surviving cast members, and various other contributors, defenders and detractors. Speaking of detractors, the short "Year of Censorship" featurette includes comments from Alexander Walker, whom Russell infamously whacked over the head with a rolled up magazine on a night time British TV program for insisting that the film contained scenes he had never shot. Another segment, UK Censors, details UK mainstay Mary Whitehouse's campaign against the film, while an interview with current head of the BBFC, James Ferman, reveals his love for the film and his wish to have it passed uncut. A US theatrical trailer rounds out the package.

Overall 3/5

It's to be regretted that Warner Brothers has shown so little [interest] in releasing an official SE of The Devils, uncut and in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Until they can be bothered to do so, this edition will have to do - warts and all, it's vastly superior to the other releases out there.
Sample restituted image in 2.35:1 ratio (the rest of the film is in 1.78:1 ratio):

Last edited by baracine; 11-19-05 at 03:57 PM.
Old 11-19-05, 04:02 PM
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I've had this DVD for some time. It's a beautiful film and there's no telling when a proper R1 edition will ever come out. As mentioned in the last paragraph:

Overall 3/5

It's to be regretted that Warner Brothers has shown so little in releasing an official SE of The Devils, uncut and in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Until they can be bothered to do so, this edition will have to do - warts and all, it's vastly superior to the other releases out there.
Old 11-19-05, 04:45 PM
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Shouldn't this be in the DVD forum and not Movie?
Old 11-19-05, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by TomOpus
I've had this DVD for some time. It's a beautiful film and there's no telling when a proper R1 edition will ever come out.
I don't know if the term "beautiful" applies here. With or without the cuts, it remains a monument to low camp, vintage 70's bad taste and indulgence and over-the-top expressionism. Actually, the uncut version makes this point even better than the censored one and the "rape of Christ" scene is more of an embarrassment to Russell than to the Catholic church. It is very easy to understand the Catholic advocates who wanted the film banned. As one of the ladies says in the extras: "Just because the film is artistic doesn't make it any less prurient or pornographic."

Granted that Russell's approach, even though based on real facts, is not documentary but "expressive", it is still hard to stomach or understand, coming from a supposedly gay-positive director, the equation, every chance he gets, of homosexuality with effeminacy and of effeminacy with decadence, perfidy and hypocrisy (in the characters of the King, his court of transvestites and Father Mignon), especially since this has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand (the perversion of religion for political purposes).

Russell likes to tackle difficult subjects, attack taboos (at the risk of breaking down open doors, as we say in French) but, through it all, he still behaves like a prankish schoolboy with sex on his mind and likes, above all, to give a good, low-down campy show that even a lumberjack can get his jollies at, a show, in spots, that doesn't stray far from the most simplistic old-time melodrama or Grand Guignol.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

But I could have lived without the sight of Vanessa Redgrave masturbating with the calcinated hipbone of her imaginary lover and then discussing this scene unrepentantly 30 years later as "an important moment of cinema".

Last edited by baracine; 11-20-05 at 10:33 AM.
Old 11-20-05, 10:24 AM
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It just dawned on me that if the DVD presentation is formatted in 16x9, it may have been a convenient way to eliminate the BBC logo from a corner of the screen during the on-air TV broadcast.

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