Ken Russell: Dedicated to Dionysus
Film director Ken Russell made big, messy pictures with a lot of sex and music in them. His fluid, emotional, freewheeling camerawork is still like no one else’s.
Yesterday at the age of 84, the old maverick was taken by his maker (Uranus Returns, Jupiter conj Chiron).
His chart is fascinating – very pure. I’ve seen a few other artists charts like this. It’s almost as if they really have got just the one task to do for the gods while they’re here; all the energy needs to go into that.
All the outer planets are intimately linked to Russell’s personal planets: Pluto with the Sun, Neptune with the Moon, Jupiter, Uranus and Saturn with Mercury. There in a nutshell we have him. He needed to communicate (Mercury) himself (Sun) emotionally (Moon) and the heavy planets mean he needed to do that to and for the collective.
Russell’s task was to create movies which at their best have the overwhelming emotional and physical power of a great symphony. He managed to make a few of those, and quite a lot of dreck. Sometimes his work is plain ludicrous, but when he hits the notes right, it’s fantastic.
So look at this beautiful chart. It absolutely sings.
Moon (emotions) Neptune (cinema) Venus (art) tightly conjunct in the film-director’s sign, Leo. How perfect for such a heartfelt director.
Sun in sensitive, artistic Cancer, applying to powerhouse Pluto gives him incredible personal energy and drive. No wonder he lived to such a ripe old age despite the legendary drinking.
This chart has Pisces Rising, so it is ruled by Neptune (imagination) and Jupiter (expansion). The first house Jupiter shows Russell’s big personality and, conjunct Uranus, his maverick status. He wanted to shock; he needed to shock. This conjunction is locked into the tremendous, tight Fire Grand Trine that dominates the chart.
The trine links practical, productive Saturn in Sagittarius, the sign of thinking big. It shows an ability to make vast ideas actually become real. It’s linked tightly to little Mercury in Leo. He could communicate like a leader; well you need that to make movies. This also indicates a certain amount of commercial savvy. Russell actually made a lot of money at certain points in his life, and part of him must have liked the idea of selling his product. But the super-useful trine between Mercury and Saturn in inspirational fire locks in tightly with Uranus-Jupiter, which changes the nature of the contact.
Russell was an innovator, an experimenter – this is Uranus. He liked to break rules, push boundaries; sometimes his taste was just bad, and sometimes it was thrilling. But you never know sometimes if you don’t try – and that must have been how he felt.
Unfortunately, there is something compulsive sometimes about a Grand Trine, especially one as instinctive as this one. He could not stop himself pissing people off – and eventually he annoyed everyone so much that they refused to fund him any more.
Neptune is the other chart ruler. As we know, Neptune is our collective dreaming, it is the cinema and it is music. Russell more than almost any other director instinctively understood how music works with the moving image. There are parts of his films which are “music videos” before such things existed.
Neptune is so strong in this chart, sitting there next to the Moon and Venus. There are many, many dream sequences and fantasy sequences in his films which reflect this perfectly. Mars is applying to this group, so in the progressed chart it would have hit when Russell was around eight and carried on igniting the natal planets for the next three years. This is when he got his first film camera – and I wonder when he discovered alcohol.
Also Mars plus Neptune is often a dancer, and there are some memorable dance scenes in his movies, I’m thinking of Glenda Jackson prancing in front of a herd of bulls in Women in Love (great) and Salome’s Dance (tacky but compelling).
The Sun in watery Cancer applies to Pluto, god of sex and death. Russell loved eroticism. His movies are full of flesh. Sometimes his treatment of sex and desire is truly powerful and sometimes it’s embarrassing – always it is Dionysian, consuming, compulsive.
He also felt the link between sex and religious ecstasy. In The Devils, Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed eroticise the crucifixion. As all astrologers know, there is a connection between sex and death and it is symbolised by Pluto (next to the Sun here), and by Scorpio, where Russell has his legacy-building Saturn, and by the 8th house, where that Saturn resides. His fascination with the erotic may have been grounded in his own hang-ups and inhibitions. He was the opposite of most people, in that it was boundaries that scared him, not freedom.
Pluto is also where we are compulsive. You can see that Russell was driven to create: Pluto is in the 5th house of creativity with the applying Sun. Mercury (communications) is also in that house and in the sign of self-expression, Leo. Ultimately, Russell’s movies were about himself. He was exploring his own personal dreams, but because he was so connected to the collective by those powerful outer planets: his dreams were also our dream too.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, he lost touch with the music and dedicated himself to the bottle. I am afraid that is often the fate of a follower of Dionysus.