Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cinema: Kenneth Anger

Date Of Birth: 3 February 1927, Santa Monica, California, USA

One of the key figures of the postwar American avant-garde, Kenneth Anger represents a fiercely original talent, relatively free of the independent circles and movements which his own work managed to anticipate in almost every case.
Creator of an oeuvre and a persona defined by their dialectical relationship to dominant representational, ideological, industrial, sexual, and aesthetic practices, Anger embodies the ‘‘radical otherness’’ of the avant-garde filmmaker, casting himself not only outside the mainstream, but as its negative image. While other experimentalists were exploring ‘‘ways of seeing’’ through cinematic abstraction, Anger remained committed to a search for meanings, even as his films pursued a variety of aesthetic paths.

Anger’s meanings emerge from his subversive reworkings of sources already charged with significance: the iconography of American popular culture (movie stars, comic strips, car clubs); the conventional rhetoric of narrative forms (from the commedia dell’arte to the lyrics of rock songs); the imagery of classic cinema (Cocteau, Eisenstein, DeMille); and the symbolism of various mythologies (Egyptian, Greek, astrological, alchemical), centered by the cosmology of master ‘‘magickian’’ Aleister Crowley. Anger gained international prominence and notoriety at the age of seventeen with his film Fireworks, in which he appeared as the protagonist of a homoerotic fantasy in the oneiric tradition of Cocteau and Maya Deren, shot through with the romantic sadism of the American film noir.

Three years later, he made Rabbit’s Moon, a delicately humorous, Méliès-like fantasy involving a Pierrot character and a magic lantern, shot in Cocteau’s own studio in Paris. Another three years found Anger in Italy, where he choreographed an elaborately baroque game of hide-and-seek through Tivoli’s water gardens in Eaux d’artifice. Focusing at intervals on the visual patterns of water flowing from the fountains, this film experiments with the textures of an abstract filmic image a full two years before Brakhage’s Wonder Ring.
Yet, characteristically, the multiple superimpositions of Anger’s colorful mass/masquerade Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome have less to do with abstraction than with an effort to achieve a magical condensation of mythological imagery. Scorpio Rising, however, remains Anger’s most influential and original work. A tour-de-force collage of pop imagery, it is a paean to the American motorcyclist, a revelation of the violent, homoerotic undercurrent of American culture, and a celebration of the forces of chaos in the universe. Anger spent most of the mid- to late-1960s on two abortive projects.

His Kustom Kar Kommandos was cut short by the death of the young man playing its protagonist, although one sensual sequence, involving the dusting of a custom hot rod with a powder puff, has survived. Far more ambitious, however, was a master opus titled Lucifer Rising, a project cut tragically short when, at a 1967 San Francisco screening of the work-in-progress, the single print of the film was stolen by one of the film’s actors, Manson cultist Bobby Beausoleil, and was supposedly buried somewhere in Death Valley, never to be recovered.

This event was followed by Anger’s selfimposed retirement, interrupted in 1969 by the appearance of an eleven-minute structural black mass constructed largely of Lucifer’s outtakes, backed by a maddeningly monotonous soundtrack by Mick Jagger, and titled Invocation of My Demon Brother. By 1974, however, Anger had completed another version of Lucifer Rising, a dense meditative work shot mostly in Egypt, imbued with Crowleian mysticism and most memorable for the thoroughly uncanny image of a pinkish flying saucer hovering above the pyramids.

The far more complete version finally released by Anger in 1980 marks a quantum leap in terms of Lucifer Rising’s complexity, and remains the chef d’oeuvre of Anger’s career.
(Ed Lowry, International Dictionary Of Film And Filmakers)

  • Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat (1941)
  • Tinsel Tree (1941-1942)
  • Prisoner Of Mars (1942)
  • The Nest (1943)
  • Escape Episode (1944)
  • Drastic Demise (1945)
  • Escape Episode (Sound Version) (1946)
  • Fireworks (1947)
  • Puce Women (Unfinished) (1948)
  • Puce Moment (1949)
  • The Love That Whirls (Unfinished) (1949)
  • La Lune Des Lapins (Rabbit’s Moon) (Conception, D, And Ed Only, + Prod. Design) (1950)
  • Maldoror (Unfinished) (1951-1952)
  • Eaux D'artifice (1953)
  • Le Jeune Homme Et La Mort (1953)
  • Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome (1954)
  • Thelema Abbey (1955)
  • Historie D'o (1959-1961)
  • Scorpio Rising (1962-1963)
  • Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965)
  • Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969)
  • Lucifer Rising (1970)
  • Rabbit's Moon (1971)
  • Lucifer Rising (Second Version) (1980)
  • Mouse Heaven (1989)
  • Don't Smoke That Cigarette (2000)
  • The Man We Want To Hang (2002)
  • Anger Sees Red (2004)
  • Elliott's Suicide (2004)
  • He Stands In A Desert Counting The Seconds Of His Life (Role As Himself) (1985)
  • Hollywood Babylon (For TV) (Advisor) (1992)
  • Jonas In The Desert (Role As Himself) (1993)
  • Busby Berkeley: Going Through The Roof (For TV) (Role As Himself) (1998)
  • Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance (Role As Himself) (1998)
  • Hollywood Babylon (Phoenix, Arizona, 1965)
  • Magick Lantern Cycle: A Special Presentation In Celebration Of The Equinox Spring 1966 (New York, 1966)
  • Hollywood Babylon II (New York, 1984)
Kenneth Anger By Maximilian Le Cain (Senses Of Cinema)
The Magick Lantern Cycle

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