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Russellmania: The Missing Movie

No offense to Argentine screen vamp Coca Sarli, but Ken Russell is one hell of an act to follow.  

Starting today, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting Fuego: The Films of Isabel “Coca” Sarli, and while entries like Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's The Female: Seventy Times Seven look plenty enticing – Sarli plays a femme fatale who undid both her husband and her lover – it's doubtful the three-day series will spark epiphanies like the Film Society's Russellmania.

Last night the week-long retrospective culminated with a screening of Tommy. Russell's 1975 screen adaptation of The Who's 1969 rock opera packed the Walter Reade Theater with fans so ecstatic they nearly whirled. In fact, during the Q&A one comely audience member went so far as to serenade the 83-year-old with a song inspired by another of his phantasmagorical works. Another devotee inquired whether Pinball Wizard Elton John got to keep his Doc Martens (yes), and a happy obsessive in the back asked Russell to comment on the film's ubiquitous use of orbs (no).

(Keith Moon was somewhat more forthcoming about his own jones for "big, shiny silver balls" when he told VH1 it was "yeah, sexual. See

Crank though Russell is, he seemed genuinely charmed. But for someone who says three words where twenty suffice, the rogue auteur who suffers fools ungladly may have simply been relieved to have someone else take the mic.

One entry that was absent from the program was Russell's film version of the D.H. Lawrence novella, St Mawr. For good reason, though. He never made it. Locations were staked out in New Zealand and Australia; Russell regulars Ann-Margret and Glenda Jackson were signed on as female leads; and so were their male counterparts, Raul Julia and what must have been a seriously spectacular stallion. Too bad the October 1987 crash totaled this production about a woman so jaded by men she could only find passion with a horse.  

"Would you still want to make the film?" I asked Russell.

"Yes," he elaborated.

"I was supposed to join the shoot," I said.

He shot me an appraising look. 

I smiled and practiced shutting up.

"It's a good story," he nodded, meaning D.H. Lawrence's effort, not the production backstory.

And with that the man of infinite images and inspirations depleted his reserve of chitchat. So while we Russellmaniacs are waiting for his next creative bursts, anyone within shot of Lincoln Center this weekend can watch Coco Sarli in Fire. The 1969 film directed by her husband, Armando Bo, is about "a tragic nymphomaniac who cannot get sexual satisfaction from any single man or woman," per the playbill.

There's no mention of horses, but it may be as close as we come to St Mawr anytime soon. 

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