If one year could be pegged down as one filled with controversy, it would easily be 1971. All in the Family
hit the airwaves, the Vietnam War was on its last legs, and the world of film was pushing the limits of what could be shown. With the likes of A Clockwork Orange
and Straw Dogs
being released that year, moral guardians were up in arms from their graphic content.
But those two pale in comparison to what Ken Russell had to offer with The Devils
. All these years later, the controversy surrounding it hasn't faded. Beneath all of it, however, Russell provides a thoroughly captivating story.
In a way, The Devils
is a more graphic take on The Crucible
. (The Devils
, by the way, is based on works by Aldous Huxley and John Whiting.) After all, it involves a supposedly upstanding citizen being accused of witchcraft. (Though Arthur Miller probably wouldn't have such details in as lurid a perspective as Russell displayed.)
Speaking of details, the production design of The Devils
is a dazzling one. (Being designed by Derek Jarman certainly helps.) With this being a film as bleak as it is, what Jarman puts in adds something of a breather.
Despite the controversy that overshadows it, The Devils
is a complex work to say the least. Had Russell made this film in a more flattering light, it probably would've escaped controversy. But had he cleaned up its content, it more than likely would've been tossed aside as another religious picture. (Apparently controversy's a good thing if you're Ken Russell.)