British director Ken Russell started out training for a naval career, but after wartime RAF and merchant navy service he switched goals and went into ballet. Supplementing his dancing income as an actor and still photographer, Russell put together a handful of amateur films in the 50s before being hired as a staff director by the BBC. Russell made a name for himself (albeit a name not always spoken in reverence) during the first half of the '60s by directing a series of iconoclastic TV dramatizations of the lives of famous composers and dancers. And if he felt that the facts were getting in the way of his story, he'd make up his own -- frequently bordering on the libelous. If he had any respect for the famous persons whose lives he probed, it was secondary to his fascination with revealing all warts and open wounds.
A film director since 1963, Russell burst into the international consciousness with 1969's Women in Love, a hothouse version of the D.H. Lawrence novel. No director who staged a scene in a mainstream movie in which two men wrestled in the nude could escape notice, and thus Russell became more of a "star" than his actors. While some viewers had their sensibilities shaken by Women in Love, others had their sensibilities run through the blender with Russell's next film, The Music Lovers. Predicated on the notion that Peter Tchaikovsky and his wife were, respectively, a homosexual and nymphomaniac, the film's much discussed "highlight" is a scene in which Nina Tchaikovsky (Glenda Jackson) allows the inmates in the cellar of an insane asylum to reach up and play with her privates. But this was kid's stuff compared to Russell's The Devils (1971), an ultraviolent and perversely anachronistic adaptation of Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudun. Russell returned to his musical theater roots with The Boy Friend (1971), a bloated version of Sandy Wilson's intimate 1920s pastiche, brought The Who's rock opera Tommy to the screen in a visually flamboyant cinematization that starred Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret,