Friday, 13 April 2012

A House In Bayswater

'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.

'And KICK!'

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. 
The final sequence goes all poetic realist on us - an overlaid, soft focus dreamlike montage that reminds me of Jean Cocteau's work, all classical imagery, slow motion and dark corners. It's rather beautiful, but it signals the end - the front door is knocked down and the house is demolished. It doesn't tell us where all the people who lived there went to - but then life is like that, isn't it? You quite often spend a lot of time with people who you'll never see or hear of again.

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. 

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, the house featured in the film was not demolished and is still standing, it is 30 Linden Gardens, London.