mike@projection-booth.com mike@projection-booth.com

May 27, 2014

Episode 168: The Devils (1971)

Special Guest: Richard Crouse

It's fun for the whole family as we talk about Ken Russell's controversial 1971 film “The Devils”. Censored for over 40 years because of content, The Devils tells the tale of Urbain Grandier – the priest of Loudun, France who in 1634 was persecuted through an unholy mix of Church, State and Sex.

Joining us is special guest co-host filmmaker Vincenzo Natali.

Our special guest this week is film critic/author Richard Crouse discussing his book “Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of the Devils.”

Listen/Download Now:

Visit the official Richard Crouse website
Buy Raising Hell by Richard Crouse
Listen to the director's commentary
Buy on DVD (UK version)
Buy "The Devils" on DVD (unofficial release)
Buy "The Devils" official (cut) U.S. VHS Release
Buy "The Devils of Loudun" by Aldous Huxley
An original writing on "The Devils of Loudun" by Edmund Goldsmid (1887)
Buy "Mother Joan of the Angels" on DVD
Buy "The Devils of Loudun" – the opera by Krzysztof Penderecki
"The Devils" UNCUT discussion
Mark Kermode's BBC Blog about "The Devils"
Mark Kermode's podcast "Kermode and Mayo's Film Review"
Check out Vincenzo Natali's work on "Darknet"
Vincenzo Natali's pilot for "Darknet"
Listen to our previous episodes with Vincenzo Natali "Cube" and "Blue Velvet"
Listen to our previous episode about another controversial religious film "The Last Temptation of Christ"

"Sin" by Nine Inch Nails
"Heretic" by Soundgarden



  1. Hey Fellas,

    Another fine episode and it's especially great that you are putting The Devils in the spotlight. I do have a couple of issues though...I'm curious why it sounds like Rob is referring to Mark Kermode as Mark Kirkmode. Am I missing some kind of in-joke? Also, Mike at one point early on says that Tommy was the film that came after The Devils, or at least that's how I heard it, but amazingly enough his next film was the G rated, Busby Berkeley influenced The Boy Friend, followed by the amazing Savage Messiah and then Mahler, which more kind of paves the way for Tommy, in the sense that it's a much more youth friendly synthesis of music and religion, and it probably introduced Mr. Russell to an audience that if they were really paying attention would be curious enough to seek out his earlier, more 'sophisticated' films almost in the same way perhaps Hairspray caused unassuming audiences to discover the early John Waters!

    Also, there are serious differences between the 'bootleg' The Devils and the BFI version. The BFI does not contain any trace of the Rape Of Christ sequence nor the end masturbation interlude in the film or in the version of the documentary that comes with it. The bootleg, however does have an untampered version of Hell On Earth that does include the excised scenes that end up being kind of pasted into the bootleg version of the film...the documentary was the source for the reinstated scenes, but only in the bootleg version. Apparently WB wanted no trace of the 'offending' scenes, so they made Kermode or whoever reedit the documentary so they couldn't be used by anyone. That's why I kept my bootleg copy. Also, The Devils was released on laserdisc at least in Japan as I have one sitting right behind me as I type this. It is the old truncated version, and pan and scan to boot, but it has a great cover so I keep it around. I think it may have also had a laserdisc release in the US, but I can't say for sure...if so, probably would have been the same version sans Japanese subs.

    Thanks again for an outstanding episode, and someday I hope you guys continue on with more KenRussell themed shows that spotlight the films between The Devils and Tommy. They are terrific and worthy of shows themselves! Russell was one great director, and a man with a unique vision that made cinema exciting, especially in the 70's!

    Best regards,
    Jeff Goodman
    SF, CA

    1. Jeff,

      Glad to hear that you are a fan of the film. Always great when people can add more. Thanks for your kind words on the show. We are always reaching to do great stuff. Otherwise, why bother? I'm too busy.

      Yeah, that was a pronouncer thing... Kermode/Kirkmode. No problem in the future.

      As for the film, I've been told... as you heard in the interview with Richard Crouse, that there is a complete version of the film that Warner Brothers has under lock and key for "educational" screenings only. That's ridiculous. It just shows how they don't trust the public to "be adults" about art - horrible!


      Rob St. Mary
      co-host of "The Projection Booth"

    2. Hi Rob,

      Thanks for replying to my input/comment!

      Re: WB supposedly having a 'complete' version...I say 'poppycock'! If you pay close attention to the give and take that Russell worked out with the BBFC back in the day, I'd be surprised if he ever submitted a complete version to the powers that be at WB. If you watch Hell On Earth, the version with the ROC sequence, he seems genuinely surprised that Kermode found the shorn bits, especially during the sequence when he gets some of the old group together and they watch it at his home.

      I have a hard time believing that WB has a totally unexpurgated copy, and believe that what they have is the version released by BFI and are comparing that, which is a bit longer, to the version they released early on on VHS and LD. I suspect that since many regimes have come and go in the last 40+ years, and that they really don't have an appreciation for their own history, they mistakenly believe they have a 'complete' version. Russell apparently didn't even have one, so I'm thinking WB only thinks they do.

      Of course I have nothing to base any of my speculation on other than having seen the film multiple times since the mid-70's, in many different forms (not this fanedit your partner speaks of, though...which sounds very much like a tweaked version of the Angel Digital version). WB doesn't really care enough about The Devils to even check on what's in their vaults. That's my belief anyways....These days us Russell fanatics are few and far between and sadly, dying off....I hope I'm wrong, though, as I'd love to see a clean and totally restored version of it...but who really knows what that is anymore?

    3. According to the interview with Crouse and Kermode's documentary, there is a complete print... but it's only loaned out for "educational screenings". That's what they said... and both have said they have seen it.

      If that's true, it's just odd.

    4. Actually I forget how long the Hell On Earth doc has been around. I still think of it's contents as new revelations. I suppose what WB has is indeed a reconstituted full length version using the elements Kermode discovered, but before then they probably had the truncated version Russell worked out with the BBFC and then cut it further when they released it in the US back in the day. I agree and take back what I wrote above and wonder like yourself what could possibly be the reason WB wants to keep that version under wraps. I'm thinking in 2021 we're in for a deluxe Devils box set with all the trimmings for it's 50th? Yeah....right.......

    5. No need to "take back" anything. This conversation is great! Thanks for listening and caring enough to comment.

      Hope you stick around for the shows we have coming up... and you check out some of the things we've done before. Always try to have a thoughtful and fun time!



  2. Yupper! After we were done recording I double checked to make sure what version we had and it was a fan edit. Here's the notes from that:

    This fan-edit returns the Rape of Christ sequence and the bone scene to this great film. The bone scene had Vanessa Redgrave commenting over it so the original audio for that was unavailable. Rather than leave it silent I used a bit of music there. I think it works well. I removed the banner which told the viewer of the new sequence on the rape of Christ bit so mine has two shots more than the angel dvd cut.

    Apologies about screwing up the order of Mr. Russell's filmography. I think I was thinking that he was going to do a follow-up for The Devils called The Angels and a lot of that went into Tommy.

    Thanks for listening! Glad that you were paying attention!

  3. The Foreign ViewerJun 20, 2014, 5:50:00 AM

    This film is one of the key proofs that Russell is a genius (or an idiot, depending on your point of view, I guess).

    As far as I'm concerned, what 1984 is for political tyranny, this is for theocracy. A perfect companion piece. Yeah, there's a historical and cultural context that makes this story specifically tied to the time and place where it's set, but there are quite enough universal themes here to make it comparable to any scenario of total religious oppression.

    Now, I say the above because I have no issues with controversial in film, if it has a reason to be there, but others might say that in this case, Russell's insistence on the perverse in the movie and his dark humor on the count of religion mean that most people would never want to watch this (especially the uncut version) and therefore, unlike the movie and the book 1984, this will reach much much less people and will piss off much more people, since the villain is a real organization. Therefore, the impact of this movie is limited to film and theology nerds at best. And perhaps fans of Oliver Reed and/or Russell. I bet this is the only reason why Reed never got an Oscar nod for this, despite this being one of his truly haunting and best performances by far.

    I mention theology fans, because in a very appropriately ironic way for Russell, this is a movie about true faith and the true meaning of theological Christ, politically. Reed plays a man who would be judged by the laws of the Bible as a debaucherer anyway and who doesn't take his religious obligations all that seriously to begin with, yet he dies in the most painful manner defending the truth and turning the other cheek. How interesting.

    One more interesting thing for me here is another example of Russell's mastery - the perfect blend of genres. The sexual psychology in this movie is borderline exploitation, but the reasoning for it does make sense technically, so Russell manages to make a true to life biopic that's an exploitation and a horror movie at the same time. Again, interesting. Maybe there's a higher metaphor about life in general there, but it'd be far too depressing to get into that now.

    Speaking of metaphors, I loved the comparison between his demise and the demise of the city. He is the one man who is not blind to the truth, who sees the emissaries for what they really are - not a force of protection and moral salvation for the city, but an occupational force that wants to crush the towns liberty and make an example of Reed's character for all other true believers who may want to rebel against the corrupt ways of the church to see. The blinded townsfolk see and understand nothing and take everything for granted, so once the only man who was not blind in the land of the blind dies, and his few supporters give in to fear, the town's defensive walls fall. The folk celebrate the death of the one man who would die for them and their city's independence and witless as they are, they fully allow the tyranny of the church-state. And the worst thing is that they probably won't care either way in the end. Their faith in anything meaningful was never there to begin with and, again ironically, Reed's character is partially to be blamed for this, since all he did in his little town was screw around instead of enlighten people.

    continued below...

  4. The Foreign ViewerJun 20, 2014, 5:51:00 AM

    Sorry for the long comments.

    Finally, I have to wonder two things. First off, this is a British film and since Brits are not catholics, they were much more concerned about the psycho-sexual stuff in it than the religious aspect. If this had been made by an American at the time, what would the reaction have been? Public burnings of the film? Physical attacks on the man? Banning? Sure, the Brits weren't very kind to this film either, but they simply didn't see it and forgot all about it soon. Somehow, I can't help but feel that the reaction within the US would've been much more flammable. Scorsese made a mainstream version of this film and he got so much crap for it, as if he also had put the cross dildo scene in his movie. And this was in the 80s!

    The other thing I have to wonder is this - if you truly wish for a movie (or a book, or whatever the controversial thing at question is) not to be seen, do you do what the Catholic church did in the case of Scorsese and wax on about it for ages and pretty much guarantee viewership by doing so, or do you simply ignore a movie and let it never enter to begin with or simply slowly leave the collective memory on its own as the time passes by. The irony is that while much much more people saw The Last Temptation, no one really cares about that movie anymore either. The controversial reactions to its release is what's still remembered about it today. The Devils, on the other hand, may not have been seen by that many people to begin with, but the film itself and not just the reactions to the film, is still remembered as one of the most controversial, unapologetic, political, heretical (or theological, depending on your viewpoint) movies ever made. So in the long run, The Devils may in fact leave more impact.

    Well, I don't know. Maybe I'm just being an r'n'r (Reed'n'Russell) fanboy.

    Oh and, isn't it funny how psycho-sexual content is disturbing, yet Gibson's (decent) torture porn is celebrated as high art, especially among the religious circles.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. You are the first person that has ever commented on the fact that Gibson seems to be a masochist or sadist. His interest in torture and pain disguised as art has fooled many fools.

  5. The Foreign ViewerJun 20, 2014, 5:54:00 AM

    Oops...! Forgot to say the most important thing - thanks for another great show Mike and Rob (or is it Rob and Mike?). Your choice of movies for your show is spectacular, more often than not.

  6. The Foreign ViewerJun 20, 2014, 5:59:00 AM

    Oops...! The webpage screwd something up.

    Forgot to add the most important part - Thanks for another great show Mike & Rob (or is it Rob and Mike by now?). Your choice of movies for this show is inspired more often than not.

    Any chance you'd cover Jaffe's The Mission? No, wait, you know what? Just cover The Killing Fields or 1984 and we're cool. :)

    1. Foreign Viewer,

      Thanks for checking in again. It's always great to hear from you and your thoughts on the shows.

      I agree with you about THE DEVILS, Reed and Russell. It's funny what you say about the psychosexual stuff. To be honest, if you read the Huxley book there are even worse things in there and what they could put in the film. They allude to it, and I talked about it a bit, but the investigators had a huge thing for enemas. The nuns were basically abused by the powers - they were victims as well.

      As for LAST TEMPTATION, in America - at least, it was the Protestant Fundamentalists whom had the real problem with the film and have been the biggest push for censoring art and culture. A lot of that has to do with the rise of "The Moral Majority" in the late 70s whom helped to get Ronald Reagan elected and became a force in right wing (Republican) politics over the past 35 years or so.

      Always great to hear from you. Glad you dig the shows. Please let folks know.



  7. Congrats to you for a very thorough episode on The Devils, Ken Russell's fiery masterpiece. From what I can gather the most recent screening of the Mark Kermode-Mike Bradsell-Ken Russell-approved cut was in Nov 2012, though Ben Wheatley has hosted a screening of the BFI dvd print a year later. Let's the hope the current #FreeTheDevils online campaign winds up having some heft and blitzes WB into at last releasing it in its pristine form.

    When you mentioned at one point wanting a Video Watchdog issue detailing all the different versions of the film, there was such an issue in 1996, which featured numerous set photographs, an interview with Ken by Kermode (in which he made the Italian premiere of the film sound riotous!) but I'd recommend tracking down a copy of that on ebay if you can locate one. That issue has one still that implies Sister Jeanne's 'getting freaky with the femur' scene went on longer than the recovered materials suggest as we see her place the object between her (clothed) legs. It's a continual frustration to me that this work which stands as a high-point in the early careers of Russell, Reed, Redgrave, Maxwell Davis, Jarman, Gothard et al, on top of being the best Aldous Huxley adaptation standing, keeps being possessively hoarded by an arbitrary edict from a former head of Warner Bros.