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Ken Russell (1927-2011)

Ken Russell (1927-2011) (photo)

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The Associated Press reports that Ken Russell, the controversial British director of such cult films as “The Devils,” “Tommy,” and “Altered States,” died on Sunday after a series of strokes. He was 84. The AP sums it up well:

“Ken Russell got Oliver Reed and Alan Bates to wrestle naked, turned Vanessa Redgrave into a demonic nun and cast Ringo Starr as the pope. Critics and mainstream audiences often hated his films. Actors and admirers loved him. The iconoclastic British director, whose death aged 84 was announced Monday, made films that blended music, sex and violence in a potent brew seemingly drawn straight from his subconscious.”

Russell isn’t a household name, but amongst cinephiles, his appearance in a film’s credits signalled reason for excitement. Russell’s movies might not always have been perfect, but during his heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, they were always interesting. Scrolling through his IMDb page you see the work of a director willing to experiment and push cinematic boundaries. In 1969, he made “Women in Love,” famous for its frank approach to sexuality and the aforementioned nude wrestling scene between Reed and Bates. In 1971, he directed “The Devils” about demonic possession in 17th century France, and drew the ire of the Catholic Church, which condemned the movie and its depiction of the religion. In 1980’s “Altered States,” Russell used a sensory deprivation chamber and some hallucinogenic drugs to, in all seriousness, turn William Hurt into a monkey man. His version of the film drew the ire of its revered screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky, but “Altered States” eventually became Russell’s best-known and most-watched film in America.

If you’re a curious film lover unfamiliar with Russell, I’d start there, and then move on to “The Devils.” His bombastic version of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” is a lot of fun too — the version of “Pinball Wizard” featuring Elton John remains one of most memorably weird musical sequences of the 1970s. Not quite as kooky as those films, but still fun (and available on Netflix Watch Instantly) is “Billion Dollar Brain,” the final installment in the original series of Harry Palmer spy films starring Michael Caine. As the AP notes, Russell was a divisive button-pusher of a director. It’s quite possible you might not like all those movies I’ve recommended. But I can pretty much guarantee you won’t be bored by any of them.

What’s your favorite Ken Russell film? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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