In 1971, no one expected Ken Russell to follow his X-rated The Devils (released earlier that year) with a G-rated musical starring Twiggy, but that was exactly what happened. At the same time, the film he came up with could hardly be called conventional, but then it wasn’t the film Russell started out to make. Rather, it was the film that evolved the further he got into the material. His original plan was to make a fairly straightforward film version of Sandy Wilson’s 1954 stage show, but as he delved into it, it seemed too slight to survive the transition. The answer of how to approach it came to him when he attended an amateur production of the The Boy Friend where word got out that he was in the audience and the hopeful cast played directly to him. The result was that he reworked the material so that it becomes the story of a tatty theatrical troupe putting Wilson’s show on in a rundown theater that happens to be visited by Hollywood film director De Thrill (Vladek Sheybal). It’s partly the show (as performed by an energetic cast hoping to impress De Thrill), partly a backstage drama (derived from 42nd Street), and partly De Thrill’s (or Russell’s) vision of how the songs might be done on the big screen. Russell’s simple little film became a glorious extravaganza—and a salute to the early Hollywood musical.
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