Elgar: Portrait of a Composer (1962)


My first encounter with BBC-era Ken Russell. Elgar might not seem like much today but if you do a bit of background reading you’ll realise just how innovative and bold this docudrama was for its time. Russell had to fight the BBC tooth and nail in order to do something that wasn’t just an archive footage documentary. The result is a musical biopic that combines fictional and non-fictional techniques with true invention.

I always respond to Russell’s penchant for bold brush strokes and his experimental approach to cinematic form is present here. My favourite moments are when Russell seems to take over; full-screen close-ups of insects through a microscope, musical interludes and sheer imagery punctuate the biopic elements with true vigour. This isn’t quite Ken Russell unchained, but he is well on his way.

Elgar is a lovely little example of pushing boundaries in the tightest of envelopes. I mean, who would have thought BBC educational documentaries needed a stylistic kick up the arse? Plus, as a complete Elgar novice I also found the subject matter pretty enlightening.

This entry was posted in Movies Watched In 2016, Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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