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Ken Russell's
Delius: Song of Summer

UK | 1968 | black and white | 72 minutes
format DVD | British Film Institute

DVD includes a director's commentary and on-screen biography
Region Free
(also available in video format)
Produced and directed by Ken Russell
Written by Ken Russell and Eric Fenby
Based on the book
Delius as I knew him by Eric Fenby
Ken Russell's films for the BBC Monitor series during the 1960's are regarded by many as some of his finest and most inspired creations. Whatever your feelings are regarding Russell's later work for cinema it would be hard to deny the extraordinary vision and passion that he brought to his groundbreaking work during this period. Working with incredulously small budgets and severe production limitations Russell produced a remarkable series of films that confirmed Russell as one the most visonary and exciting young directors of his generation.
Russell, as we learn from the highly informative engaging director's commentary, had been toying with idea of a film about Delius for several years but was unsure how to proceed. However, on discovering Eric Fenby's book Delius as I knew him Russell knew he had found his film - the result is an extraordinarily faithful account in film of an extraordinarily moving memoir, and certainly one of the most remarkable books about a composer ever written.
Based on Eric Fenby's 1936 memoir Delius as I knew him, and co-scripted by Russell with Fenby himself, it recounts the last six years of the composer Frederick Delius, who by 1928 was blind and paralysed from tertiary syphilis and unable to compose. It is also the moving account of the young composer Eric Fenby and how he volunteered to help the ailing composer set down the unfinished scores he could hear in his head - ultimately sacrificing himself, his life and his future for an ideal and a talent he thought greater than his own.'
Russell's choice of actors could not have been bettered. Max Adrian's portrayal of the tyrannical, tormented Delius is a true tour-de-force, and Christopher Gable (in his first acting role) brilliantly conveys the emotional tumoil of the young Eric Fenby as he faces the reality of his task. The film is beautifully shot in black and white by Dick Bush and the print is as crisp and sharp as the day it was first screened. A film of rare perfection and a must for music lovers and admirers of Ken Russell's work.

Rating 10/10

Fenby on Russell and the Song of Summer

"I little thought, when struggling to take down Delius's music, that one day I should see those scenes enacted on film. Ken Russell's film was disturbingly life-like. I saw it first at its public showing, being myself out of action when it was made. Even so, Christopher Gable, as me, had begged me to spare his feelings and keep away from the set. I was finally called to the studios, however, to record the music in the scene where Delius, propped up in bed, listens to Percy Grainger and myself playing Percy's two-piano arrangement of The Song of the High Hills in the music room. On my arrival I found Russell immersed in directing a 'retake' of my first meeting with Delius with which Max Adrian was still not satisfied. I was ushered into the studio to wait, and was just in time to hear that deliberate and unforgettable greeting, 'Come in, Fenby !'. I had mimicked Delius weeks before at Russell's suggestion as a guide to Adrian learning his lines and behaving exactly like Delius. But this was too much for me - the voice, the inflection, the image of Delius sitting there, a rug over his knees with a great screen about him, slowly extending his hand in welcome. I lived that momentous moment again, I am unashamed to say, and not without tears. Max Adrian told me later that of all the roles he had ever played he had never before had such difficulty in ridding himself of involvement".

Eric Fenby - from Author's Afterword to 1981 edition of 'Delius as I knew him'.

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