ALTERED STATES

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF KEN RUSSELL

The former enfant terrible of British cinema, now in his 60s, bares all, pretty much. Russell takes his life episodically, hopping about with flashbacks and flashforwards in no particular chronology. In print, he is a charming, sometimes waspish storyteller with axes to grind only against his American distributors who have taken his pictures and lopped off whole reels (e.g., The Boy Friend). Raised in the working-class, he introduces us to his mother and father as dad prepares senile mom for her last days in a nursing home. He pieces together his days in the RAF and the Merchant Marine and five years as a ballet student and dancer. Russell early fell in love with photography, and his amateur films earned him entrance into TV, where he made exciting shows about composers. That these shows were often viewed as pictorially cuckoo travesties in no way damped his spirits: he didn't see them that way. And he had access to bottled spirits anyway, ever breakfasting on a half-bottle of champagne to get the morning charged up, with an iced bucket of bubbly at his side throughout the day's shooting. Through Russell's eyes, his work seems a lot less appalling than it is famed to be—a fame reinforced by the posing Nazis in Mahler, the TV set that erupts with chocolate sauce and buries Ann-Margaret in Tommy, the shrinkage of Liszt to rock-'n'-roll pop-star satyr in Lisztomania (a degradation Russell feels was forced upon him when he was unbankable). Highlights include duels with Paddy Chayevsky during the making of Altered States and with Bob Guccione for an aborted Moll Flanders, his first wife Shirley's tit-for-tat adultery with their chauffeur, and Oliver Reed's way of puffing himself up behind a screen for the nude wrestling scene in Women in Love. A modest demythologizing from the horse's mouth. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 1991

ISBN: 0-553-07831-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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