Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah

The film Savage Messiah (1972) by Ken Russell  was a flop  on release (quando fu lanciato), and the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the protagonist,  is neglected (dimenticato).  However it is one of the films which explains at best the cultural and ideological atmosphere of the period before and during the first world war. It is about the love between the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Sophie Brzeska. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was born just outside Orleans, France, in 1891. In 1910, when  he moved to London, he met the person who would totally influence his life and his work: Sophie Brzeska – he took her surname, even if they never married.  Sophie was a Polish woman almost twice the age (con il doppio dell’età) of Henri,  but their  age difference did prevent (non impedì) the two from falling in love. Their relationship appeared to be almost entirely platonic, sometimes cruel as  Henri mentally tortured Sophie playing on her insecurities. The film – based on the letters and events collected in Savage Messiah by  H.S. Ede –  shows the complexities of  their relationship. Russell, maybe, mirrored (si specchiò) in an artist who was not considered and is still quite ignored: Russell himself was seen as an enfant terrible among the cinema makers. However the director  was also a lover of all forms of art, and he clearly wanted to introduce the sculptor to a new audience, and to make public share (condividere)  his passion. In many ways, Savage Messiah can be thought of as one of the best sources (fonti) of information for the life of Gaudier-Brzeska. Russell communicates through Breska’s words his concept of art – Gaudier shouts in the Louvre: “Art is alive – enjoy it, laugh at it, love it or hate it, but don’t worship it!” –  art is there to be touched, to be  embraced, and to be used. His sculptures show the spirit of their creator,  his real sense of vitality, with their raw (rozza) frame (struttura). Behind these works lies the story of the artist :  a man very much in control of his own life and of his own death. In fact Henri Gaudier-Brzeska signed up (andò volontario) with the army to fight in the Great War and was killed in action at 1pm on June 5th 1915, at Neuville St. Vaast, France, as the final letter to his father explains. While in France fighting, the sculptor proposed (chiese di sposarlo) to Sophie and , after his death, she struggled (continuo a lottare) on for another decade before dying (di morire) in an asylum (manicomio) . It is this lack of fear that made Henri a truly great artist.

The main sources to know about the sculptur are  the books  H.S. Ede’s Savage Messiah and Ezra Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska. Surely Ken Russell’s film influenced Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat, about painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Although  separated by many decades, the stories of both Gaudier-Brzeska and Basquiat are quite similar:  the two artists were known only to a limited audience, both  disregarded their personal well being,  they were outsider in the world of commercial art and both died young.