'A House in Bayswater' was a very personal project for Ken Russell: his first programme for the BBC outside of the 'Monitor' series, set in a house he used to live in and featuring people he used to live with. The film provides a snapshot of a large London house at the end of its era - literally, as it's about to be demolished and replaced by a bland, unlovable office block.
The building itself is fantastic, a hundred stairs and a myriad of rooms, all presided over by an outspoken house keeper / rent collector / mother hen.
Obviously somewhat Bohemian in nature, the house's tenants mostly bend towards the artistic - there's a titled painter, a young photographer and a dance teacher who had lessons from Pavlova, was a Broadway sensation in the thirties, and can still cut an impressive rug today. Ken gives each person a few minutes of screen time, a little sequence of their own and opportunity to simply talk to the viewer about their life. It's all rather sweet and poignant, although the painter is a bit of a tit and, for all his talk, not much cop with a brush.
|A 'key areas' bath|
|'Think artistic! Think artistic!'|
|Madame in the olden days.|
|Her latest protege.|
Ken is on his very best behaviour here: his shots are beautifully composed, and the film is gentle and subtle and self-contained. It isn't really a documentary because parts of it are obviously staged, but it reminds you of the power of film to freeze time - to capture a personality, a life, forever, long after that person has gone. I watch a lot of old films and a lot of old documentaries - it's half depressing because most of the people in them are now dead, but half invigorating because there they are - still alive - on the screen. Ken captures the essence of his characters quickly and brilliantly, and it's their energy and eccentricity that makes the film so charming and sad.
|I love Viewmasters. I'll bet she's looking at the Wookey Hole.|
|Pre-NHS teeth feature prominently.|
|And again. Still, they're enjoying themselves.|
Anyway, courtesy of an amazing new site I've discovered called 'UTube', here's the whole thing. Watch it all, I promise you a good return for your half hour investment.