Ken Russell never really understood why he agreed to make 'Valentino' and, years later, he apparently watched it and asked 'what idiot made this?'. It's flat and dull and full of crap, and it totally lacks that chaotic sense of Russell's egomaniacal excess, which is probably when Ken disliked it so much. If, however, you've ever wanted to see Peter Vaughan beat up Rudolf Nuryev, then this is the film for you.
|Smugly at rest.|
|One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, apparently.|
|Rudi at work.|
|Rudi at play.|
Starting with Valentino's death at the age of 31, the narrative borrows liberally from 'Citizen Kane' and is told in flashbacks by the strong and often overbearing women that guided his life and career (except when it isn't and we have no idea who is telling the tale). The story is disjointed and fragmented, doesn't really explain who Valentino was and what he did to deserve a film biography and is shot through with the most fundamental inaccuracies.
|Peter Vaughan being a bastard.|
Biopics tend to have the rough edges smoothed off for simplicity, or are shaped to tell a more coherent story, but this one basically makes shit up - and the made up bits are the sequences that Russell seems most interested in: a wildly overblown scene in a public jail where Valentino is assaulted and molested and masturbated at by grotesques, including a toothless Dudley Sutton, then hit in the gut until he pisses himself -or the aforementioned boxing match with Peter Vaughan (playing a journalist who accused Rudy of being a homosexual) which never happened and so, therefore, could not have contributed to the peritonitis that killed Valentino. But why let the truth stand in the way of a good story? No reason at all, except that it's not a good story, it's just a load of rubbish - and Ken knows it.
|King of the Powder Puffs.|
|'I predict a Box Office Smash!'|
The casting too is a disaster: Rudolf Nuryev can't act (although he dances quite a lot), and he's paired opposite ex-Mamas & Papas star Michelle Phillips who, no, can't act at all (happily, she doesn't sing because, frankly, she couldn't do that either). The resulting dramatic void is fatal, meaning that most of the films two hour running time feels like a particularly poor amateur dramatics production, perhaps in a prison or mental hospital. There's a decent role for Felicity Kendall, which is nice, but the rest of the cast all do their best 'Noo Yawk' accents and vainly hope for the best, but the best never comes.
Russell's most expensive film to date (fuck knows how, it has the production values of a Cillit Bang advert), it was a huge flop and almost fatally derailed his career. Perhaps most ignobly for Ken, it wasn't a big, bold blow out production that he could be proud of despite its failure - it was limp and unimaginative and boring - most un-Russell-like. Ken slunk back to television and would not make another film in Hollywood for three years, and then only as a last minute replacement for another director on a film he didn't choose ( Arthur Penn and 'Altered States' respectively), but we'll come back to that at a later date.
So - 'what idiot made this?' Sorry, Ken, love, but you did.