Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

february 2008

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by Salem Kapsaski

Looking back at the disappointing year of 2007, the only true contribution to Art we received where re-issues from the past, finally on DVD, such as the box sets of Fassbinder’s "Berlin Alexanderplatz” and the long overdue "Films of Kenneth Anger."

Ten small films by Anger—the godfather of rock&roll underground cinema, the man who brought colour to the surrealistic film movement, a leader of the American avant-garde—are available for the first time to a broader audience in two boxed-sets.

But was Anger really that great and does he deserve the reputation he has gained over the years? And how did time treat his life’s work?

Kenneth Anger’s influence in modern cinema cannot be denied. The list of people he inspired includes: Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Richard Kern, Andy Warhol and David Lynch, who all owe much to his poetic and often bizarre sense of cinema.

Anger himself described his life’s work as "magick" and cinema as his magical weapon. kennethangercrMost of his films deal with the occult and the presence of the supernatural.

Anger was fascinated with the occult since his mid-teens, and became a follower of Aleister Crowley's religion, Thelema.  He was also a close friend of Anton LaVey the founder of the Church of Satan and author of the Satanic Bible. 

A former child actor, he says that he has directed films from the early age of nine, but all of his early films were lost or destroyed. 

His first film to see distribution was the 1947 Fireworks which was made when he was 17. The film is now well known for its groundbreaking homoerotic imagery and dreamlike visions of violence, and stirred the attention of Jean Cocteau who invited him to Paris. But Anger only gained fame in 1958 with the publication of Hollywood Babylon, a book about the scandals of Hollywood’s rich and famous—the reliability of his claims and content are often in question. 

Anger returned to the United States in 1962 and directed the highly successful and controversial Scorpio Rising which featured themes of homosexual erotica and flashes of male genitalia (think Querelle with leather covered bikers and an Elvis Presley and other pop favourites’ soundtrack).

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The film was considered to have been a major influence for Easy Rider, but was itself was based on Anger’s earlier movie, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.  His next film, Kustom Kar Kommandos, was never finished due to a lacks of funding. 

During the 1960’s he associated with the Rolling Stones (who also appeared in Invocation of My Demon Brother) and with members of the Manson family, Bobby Beausoleil who was arrested for taking part in the Manson murders even composed the music for Anger’s film Lucifer Rising from prison. The film’s cast included Marianne Faithfull and Jimmy Page, who was originally slated to compose the music before a falling out with Anger. Due to legal issues, the film was not released until 1981.  

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Anger was often in the crossfire of religious groups because of his occult themes, satanic rituals and the portrayal of characters playing gods in his movies. The same is true for the sexual content in some of his films.

His film The Love That Whirls was confiscated and destroyed due to fake nudity. He then became a close friend of Dr. Alfred Kinsey at the Institute for Sex Research.  He took part in much of his research and even allowed Kinsey to film him masturbating.

Anger stopped making movies in 1976, spending his time in the maintaining and preserving of his films, often adding new soundtracks to some of them, and published a second volume of Hollywood Babylon in 1984. He has worked again as a director since 2000, directing an anti-smoking short called Don't Smoke That Cigarette and a film on Crowley’s paintings entitled The Man We Want to Hang (2002), however none of his new films have come close to the brilliance of his earlier work, and he is perhaps better known these days for spreading gossip about celebrities. Hollywood Babylon III  is already underway.

Anger’s early films, as featured in the two boxed sets, are often short, and might no longer be considered shocking by today’s standards, but their visionary beauty and elegance in his use of light, music and images have not faded one bit.

The only word I could find to truly describe them is: magick .

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©2008 Salem Kapsaski
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

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Salem Kapsaski is a writer, sound engineer,
an aspiring film director and a writer for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives

 

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