Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger at the Cinematheque,Paris, 1950
Marianne Faithful as Lilith in Lucifer Rising, 1980
Donald Cammell as Osiris, Lucifer Rising, 1980
Seal of Crowley's Magick Order of Argenteum, good for 10% discount.
Kenneth Anger, child of Hollywood.
Autograph..... Invocation Of My Demon Brother, Mick Jagger at the moog on the soundtrack. Anger on Crowley, April 2009 Scorpio Rising part one.... Anger documentary.... Mouse Heaven, Anger's homage to Ubl Werks original Mickey...
Kenneth Anger will be 83 on February 3rd, he remains America's premier underground film maker, a position he has held since 1947 when he shocked the world with Fireworks, his seventh film but the first to be seen by anyone outside a small circle of friends. He was twenty when Fireworks was released although he'd started work on it at age seventeen. He has now made twenty two films, mostly shorts, and lives on money provided by his current benefactor
French clothing designer Agnes B. (who also supports Harmony Korine amongst other artists and film makers). It's safe to say he's America's greatest non-commercial film maker, perhaps of all time.
The bulk of Anger's reputation rest on the films he calls the Magick Lantern Cycle which is all his work from Fireworks (1947) through Lucifer Rising (1980), these are collected in two beautifully packaged DVD's-- The Films Of Kenneth Anger Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 which are easy enough to find and a must have for any film buff. Film critic I'm not, but these films, all shorts, have a dreamlike (often nightmare like) quality that burn their intense imagery into your back brain. As a chronic insomniac I like to put them on in the wee hours when I can't sleep but am too tired to concentrate on a narrative flick. I just sit there and stare at the screen and soon find myself in a half dream like state while the images fold into each other. In fact, my dreams have always looked a lot like certain Anger films --especially Rabbit Moon (1950) and Lucifer Rising.
Anger is often sited as the guy known for introducing the use of cutting images to a pop music soundtrack that was so successfully adopted by Martin Scorsese in Mean Streets (1973) and other films, it's now a tired Hollywood cliche, but this technique is still powerful when seen in Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964) which is probably his most popular film. It follows a bunch of rather nellie looking bikers (who bear no small resemblence to the guys on the covers of the old Jubilee doo-wop LP covers-- Rumble, Boppers, Whoppers and The Paragons versus the Jesters) around Brooklyn, inter cutting them with pop culture icons, comics strips, swastikas, some footage of Jesus from an old, silent, Biblical epic, and the like, it's an acknowledged underground classic.
There are two excellent books on the subject of Kenneth Anger-- Anger- The Unauthorized Biography by Bill Landis (Harper Collins, 1995) and Kenneth Anger by Alice L. Hutchison (Black Dog, 2003). Landis' book, incredibly well researched, is really a hoot. In turns worshipful and hissy-fit bitchy, he tells the story from young Kenneth Angelymeyer, a precious Southern California child, spoiled by his star struck Grandmother (who paid for his early films), following him from the set of Max Reinhardt's Midsummer's Nightdream (he played a boy prince in the film, the set burst into flames at one point), highschool film maker (with pal Curtis Harrington, a school mate) to Paris where he was a protege of Jean Cocteau, through Europe in the fifties and back to the States in the early sixties where he settled first in New York to make Scorpio Rising then in San Francisco in time for the summer of love, playing the magus host to all sorts of hippie flotsam including Bobby Beausoleil (Anger's original choice for Lucifer in Lucifer Rising, he would be the first of the Manson murderers to be convicted, later he would do the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising from his prison cell when original composer Jimmy Page could only come up with 22 minutes worth of music, find it here). One of the funniest part of the book concern an idiot named Bruce Byron who was one of the bikers in Scorpio Rising and would go on to harass Anger and anyone who got within one hundred feet of him, claiming he had written and directed Scorpio (I once had the misfortune of riding in Byron's cab, covered in Scorpio Rising memorabilia and had to suffer through his rant). From there, Landis follows Anger to London where he fell in with the Rolling Stones and a crowd of rich, decedant, luminaries as J. Paul Getty Jr., gallery owner Robert Fraser, Donald Camel (the director of Performance who had a role in Lucifer Rising). Anger's influence on the Stones was great, culminating of course in Sympathy For The Devil. In fact, the Stones promo film for 2000 Light Years From Home (directed by Michael Cooper) looks so much like an Anger film even Andrew Loog Oldham assumed it was directed by Anger until recently. Anger became very close to Anita Pallenberg and later Jagger's girlfriend of that time, Marianne Faithful, would play the lead in Lucifer Rising (her gold make-up was partially made up of heroin when she got her stashes mixed up en route to Egypt where they shot at the Pyramids). Landis writes well about Anger's films, and hatefully about Anger's personal life. Landis, who was responsible for the amazing Sleazoid Express 'zine (and later co-wrote the book of the same name with Michelle Cliffotd) died earlier this year at age 50. Still, just a glance at the index of Anger: The Unauthorized Biography will tell you this is a book you want to read: Forrest Ackerman, Bobby Beausoleil, Stan Brackage, Jean Cocteau, Aleister Crowley, Curtis Harrington, Mick Jagger, Anias Nin, Alfred Kinsey, Jimmy Page, Anita Pallenberg, Jack Parsons, Mickey Rooney, Andy Warhol, etc., the names alone conjure up a world of glamour, decedance, drugs, and the occult. Some of the most interesting people from the music, art and film worlds all found common ground in Anger's world of film and fantasy. Perhaps as the author of two classic volumes of Hollywood dish and dirt, the legendary Hollywood Babylon (Straight Arrow, 1972) and Hollywood Babylon II (Straight Arrow, 1983) it is only fitting that Anger himself become the subject what is often a mean spirited tome, but Anger is still a must read.
Hutchison's book concerns itself only with Anger's work, giving only the basic biographical details. She covers all of Anger's films with detailed analysis, but it's the collection of stills, memorabilia, photos, graphics, posters, etc. that make this coffee table style paperback a must own for the Anger fan. It's a work of art in itself, with many quotes from Anger and much of his occult inspired graphic work through out. It also includes commentary (in English and French) from contemporaries like Stan Brackage, Anais Nin (who had role in Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, 1954), Jonas Mekas and others.
I don't know anything about Aliester Crowley, other than that he's fun to read about ("the wickedest man in the world"--pshaw...compared to Dick Cheney he was Mother Theresa), and even less about the occult, but I don't think you need a background in such things to enjoy the films of Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle. Since Lucifer Rising, he seems to have entered a new phase as a film maker with short works about Hitler Youth (Ich Will!, 2000), an homage to the original Mickey Mouse as drawn by Ubl Werks, (he had fangs)-- Mouse Heaven (2004), Crowley's art work-- The Man We Want To Hang (2002), bascially a montage of Crowley's drawings and paintings, some of it from Jimmy Page's collection, Elliot's Suicide, about friend and neighbor, the musician Elliot Smith who stabbed himself to death (2004), even an anti- smoking film-- Don't Smoke That Cigarette (2000, mostly montage of vintage cigarette ads). He even started work on a film about cricket, a passion of Paul Getty Jr's which was never completed because Getty died and the funding disappeared. A complete Anger filmography can be found here.
About a year and half ago I had dinner with Kenneth Anger. Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain were filming an interview with him for a cable TV show about the occult and rock music, later we all went out to eat. The restaurant was very loud and since I was seated next to Anger we could only talk to each other, and then only by talking directly into each other's ear (I hate going to restaurants in New York these days for that reason, they're all so fucking loud you can't hear the person across the table from you). We talked about Todd Browning whose West Of Zanzibar was on TV the night before (he admires his work), and about Phil Spector, then on trial, he told me Spector had been "a bastard" to deal with when he had to secure the rights to He's A Rebel to use in the DVD version of Scorpio Rising. Anger was nothing like his reputation, he was charming, polite, witty, rather soft spoken, and at age 81, he looked twenty years younger, in fact he looked like Lou Reed circa Sally Can't Dance, except he looks a lot better than Reed does these days. He sure didn't seem like the type to have the word LUCIFER tattooed across his chest.
America no longer produces unique characters like Kenneth Anger , the corporate takeover of pop culture and blanding out of things in general has filled our lives with boring celebutards and pretentious dorks. Underground film these days in not very interesting, in fact, regular TV is better. Which only means we should appreciate Anger while he's still here, because he and the world he came from will soon be gone, and there's nothing to replace them.


Anonymous said...

The "Magick symbol designed by Anger, date unknown" is in fact the seal of Aleister Crowley's magick order Argenteum Astrum, founded 1907:

The Hound said...

"The "Magick symbol designed by Anger, date unknown" is in fact the seal of Aleister Crowley's magick order Argenteum Astrum, founded 1907:"

Thanks, correction made....

Ed Mann said...

Thanks for the great post! And, not to be too nit-picky, but I believe the Mickey Mouse animator you're referring to is Ub Iwerks (instead of Ubu Werks).

The Hound said...

"Thanks for the great post! And, not to be too nit-picky, but I believe the Mickey Mouse animator you're referring to is Ub Iwerks (instead of Ubu Werks).

Thanks, it was my mistake, I;vw gone back and changed it, it's actually spelled Ubl Werks.

Anonymous said...

Bill Landis dead ? Don't underestimate Kenneth Anger's curses.

Mike Everleth said...

Nice overview of one of the greats. I've seen several interviews with Anger lately and he always appears very soft-spoken. Glad that there's such a renewed interest in his work.

There's also seems to be a new resurgence of interest in Aleister Crowley, including popping up in Craig Baldwin's "Mock Up on Mu" and lots of short films floating around the net these days.

J.D. King said...

Great post re a great filmmaker!

Paul said...

Fantastic stuff. I made the decision to upgrade to blu-ray largely because Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle was coming out in that form. Anger appeared at London's NFT recently and spoke for an hour, then snuck out a side door. Imagine my surprise when I walked through that same door five minutes later to find him graciously signing autographs for a long, long line of fans. He had no minder or entourage, he was just a friendly, gracious artist happy to talk to his admirers (some of whom came armed with numerous items ready for signing - what a Londoner would call 'taking the piss'). When I got to him with my copy of Hollywood Babylon, I told him that I'm working on a Crowley film, and he told me that Crowley once wrote a film script - a Mack Sennett-style piece of slapstick, titled Spaghetti, about people eating spaghetti. That is not something I could ever have guessed at in a million years. Mr Anger, you're a true original.

Benjamin said...

Check out thus thread at the CHFB about Anger and some hustler trying to behead Anger with a sword(!):


Oh, and Hound, Miriam and a couple of us in Chicago tried to nab an ultra cool Mr. Rhythm custom poster for ya, but we were thwarted by the bar owner, Clem.

The Hound said...

"Check out thus thread at the CHFB about Anger and some hustler trying to behead Anger with a sword(!):
that story is pretty nuts, as is the account of Curtis Harrington's funeral......

Brendan said...

Following on from this post I re-watched films of KA dvd 1 on the weekend.The film named Eaux d'Artifice (1953) is mesmerisingly beautiful. I thought I'd order Hollywood Babylon 1 and 2 from Amazon (my copies are somewhere in my folk's attic in Ireland) and was shocked to see these are out of print currently (?). Ciao.

missV said...


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