The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume One and Volume Two
1947–2002 — 158 minutes (total), black & white / color, various film stocks Super 8 to 35mm, aspect ratio 1.33:1 — Experimental
IN BRIEF, outrageous and mesmerizing short avant-garde films by the wildly experimental, and influential, artist , Kenneth Anger.
*PLEASE NOTE* I am in the process of revising this page, and all of my websites, to be completed by 2021. Thank you for understanding.
- Review — The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One
- Review — The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two
- Jim’s Film Website / LGBTQ+ Cinema
Review – The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One
The five audacious early shorts in The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One define experimental filmmaking at its best, and most seductive. Anger is a revolutionary auteur – writing, producing, directing, editing, and usually shooting his pictures himself – who combines myth, eroticism and outrageous beauty. All of those qualities are on full display in this first collection, which covers his earliest works from 1947, when he made Fireworks while still in high school, through 1954. (Anger has said that his half-dozen still-earlier films are either lost or destroyed.) Despite having created only about a dozen pictures in 60 years, Anger has been acclaimed internationally, by critics, audiences and filmmakers, for his uncompromisingly original vision. Eaux d’Artifice, one of the most mesmerizing and perfect films I have seen, is on the very short list of works preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
Anger’s influence can be seen in filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese (who calls him “without a doubt, one of our greatest artists”), Roger Corman in his Poe films, George Lucas, Stan Brakhage, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Derek Jarman, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin, and David Lynch, not to mention Jean Genet in his only film: Un Chant d’Amour, the pop art of Andy Warhol, and almost every music video. Culturally, the Swingin’ Psychedelic ’60s could be said to begin in 1954 with Anger’s eye-poppingly trippy – not to mention mystical, orgiastic, and tellingly ironic – Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Once you’ve seen an Anger film, you’re not likely to forget it; and if you re-see it, there are layers within layers of wonders to discover.
Volume One includes:
- Fireworks (1947 – 15 minutes)
- Puce Moment (1949 – 6 minutes)
- Rabbit’s Moon (1950 – the rare, original 16-minute version)
- Eaux d’Artifice (1953 – 13 minutes)
- Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954 – 38 minutes)
The films have been meticulously – and miraculously – restored, under Anger’s supervision, and mastered in high definition (playable on all DVD systems). The release also includes Anger’s insightful audio commentary on the films, a substantive 48-page book on his life and works (including a reminiscence from legendary author Anaïs Nin about the making of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome – she’s the goddess Astarte wearing a birdcage on her head), and a wealth of supplemental materials: photos, full-color storyboards for an unproduced project, and more, described in the video section below. (Volume Two contains such later classics as 1963’s Scorpio Rising and 1965’s Kustom Kar Kommandos.) Experiencing Anger on DVD presents opportunities both for immediate cinematic gratification and, if one is so inclined, shot-by-shot scrutiny. His work is remarkably effective as both pure sensory experience and stunningly crafted art. These films have continued to enthrall, and in some instances scandalize, viewers for over a half-century, even as they expanded the limits of cinematic language.
Experimental film, even more than conventional narrative pictures, can mean whatever the individual viewer wants it to mean… to a point. Having said that, lurking within each of these dream-like films, with all of their voluptuous visual abstraction, are storylines. Anger provides brief but telling summaries of each film, in the accompanying book; on the DVD, he provides an indispensable audio commentary on each work (he is surprisingly discreet about personal details, considering the in-your-face nature of films like Fireworks, starring himself and a bevy of sailor boys). These films are not just living art galleries; they are stories too (most clearly in Rabbit’s Moon, with its classic, but miniaturized, three-act structure: Pierrot, then the conflict between Pierrot and Harlequin, finally the resolution of the ‘triangle’ including them and Columbine, and Pierrot’s fate).
There is also a rich network of intentional correspondences, which Anger built into his body of work right from the beginning. Not only did Anger invent a new name for himself (he was born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, although there is at least as much joy as ‘anger’ in his work), for one film he went so far as to invent a new French term. Eaux d’artifice (literally ‘water of artifice’) highlights that profoundly mysterious film’s thematic connections to his homoerotic Fireworks (in French, feu d’artifice), despite the extreme disparity of their surface content. Silent era star Louise Brooks (Pandora’s Box) was not fooled, and she told Anger that “it was my sexiest film, everything flowing and sensuous.” All of his films’ elements – narrative, visual, mythic, and the subconscious-made-flesh – combine into a transformative experience, deepened by the connections between his evolving body of work, that is both intensely personal for Anger yet collective, embracing all of us.
Rewatching this DVD several times, I noticed several aspects of Anger that I had missed, during my (happily) stunned first exposure to his films at New York’s Whitney Museum. Unlike those worn 16mm prints, here the colors, or tinting, are so vibrant you can practically taste them. Take Eaux d’Artifice, which Anger meticulously shot in black and white on special Ferrania Infra-red stock, then printed it on Ektachrome using a cyan filter. For the first time, in this restored print, I could see the mysterious lushness of the unearthly blue, which gives the film its unique look, both dreamlike and hyperreal, as if we’ve stepped into a parallel world. When the ornately-dressed woman spreads her fan, and we see the electrifying results of Anger’s hand-coloring with emerald dye, I gasped. Besides the ‘visual feast’ dimension, Anger has many other strategies for drawing us into his intensely personal, yet strangely universal, dream worlds, including recurring motifs and themes that everyone can relate to.
All of his films revolve around tantalizing but usually out-of-reach objects of desire. In Fireworks, The Dreamer yearns for the brawny delights of sailors… and gets more than he bargains for. (Anger gives capitalized allegorical names to all of his characters; he played the Dreamer, at the age of 17.) In Puce Moment, the Star yearns for the long-past glamour of ’20s Hollywood (with her eerily floating chaise longue, this almost feels like a ghost movie). In Rabbit’s Moon Pierrot longs to join with the moon, before he finds a magic lantern projector and conjures up Columbine – but there is also a suggestion that Pierrot is the object of the trickster Harlequin’s desire, even though he’s the one who waltzes off with Columbine. The longing in Eaux d’Artifice is mythical – and wittily Freudian – as the woman (whom Anger ambiguously dubs The Water Witch, but whom he dresses like Marie Antoinette) pursues union with a gushing ornate fountain; but the price for obtaining desire is disappearance. (I was entranced to learn, from Anger’s commentary, that the woman was actually played by a “midget” [an un-PC term that he uses unselfconsciously], recommended to him by Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita), so that the location – the Garden of the Villa d’Este, Tivoli – would look much larger.)
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome is about desire at its most hedonistic: Are these orgiasts supposed to be a syncretistic gathering of deities from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and the Judeo-Christian world? – or merely the costumed revelers, and intimate friends of Anger’s, we know them to be?
In any event, the film coyly avoids, for its first half, any homoerotic shots of the god Pan, played by the strikingly handsome Paul Mathison (he also sometimes used the name Paul Andre; more than eye candy, he was also an accomplished artist, and the designer of the distinctive art nouveau title cards). But at the mid-point, he’s slipped a mystical Mickey Finn and the goddesses – and the gods too, if you look closely at the rapid-fire shots – literally can’t keep from ripping his tunic off, and passing him around in some sort of precursor to moshing (among other things). But even with all of this riotous abandon, as much in the volcanic color scheme and densely overlapping shots as in the action, there’s no sense of satisfaction for any of the deities (least of all Pan); if anything, the mood is more despairing after this desperate stab at “fun.” My feelings about the ending were confirmed (having watched the film several times before listening to the commentary) when Anger said that “the Pleasure Dome being inaugurated is actually a prison” – which explains much more than Astarte’s (Anaïs Nin) cagey headgear.
Anger’s films are filled with brilliantly original humor – often where you might least expect it – that offers a lot more, upon reflection, than a quick guffaw. Although these are all silent films, some of the humor is verbal (not to mention bilingual), as noted above in Anger’s pun on feau d’artifice and eaux d’artifice. These pictures are silent, but also musical: Anger has painstakingly selected the at times wildly eclectic soundtracks; in certain instances he’s even changed the scores several times over the decades. In Eaux d’Artifice, Anger perfectly meshes the “Winter” movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which he had in mind even as he began conceptualizing the project; but in Rabbit’s Moon he creates a sublimely weird counterpoint between these images of commedia dell’arte characters, Japanese myth (the side of the moon facing Japan resembles a rabbit, not the ‘man in the moon’ that Westerners imagine), and an eclectic, yet unified, collection of toe-tapping Doo Wop standards by the The Flamingos, The Capris, Mary Wells and others. At first, the juxtaposition is so bizarre that it’s funny, but soon we find ourselves – like Pierrot – strangely drawn even deeper into this hauntingly beautiful, yet perilous world. The dynamism of the songs echoes Pierrot’s emotions, even as the lyrics create an ironic counterpoint to the action, as ’50s pop meets The Children of Paradise, and something utterly unique – and distinctively the work of Anger – is born of the union. (This technique of juxtaposing seemingly divergent, yet thematically spot on, songs with action – perhaps most famously seen in Scorpio Rising – became a hallmark of countless later films, including such ’70’s landmarks as Lucas’s American Graffiti, Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.)
Some of them are a tad blasphemous, as in the opening pietà-inspired shot of a burly sailor cradling the half-naked, bloody body of The Dreamer (significantly, at the end of the film, this is the image printed on many separate photographs, that the liberated Dreamer burns); the irreligious strain is also present in the howlingly grotesque figurine that, unless you listen to Anger’s commentary, you won’t know is his own sculpture of the “Enraged Christ.”
But many of Anger’s gags are in your face. Some are bawdy, as in the prodigious ‘tenting’ effect over The Dreamer’s groin in Fireworks; the sheet is magically hoisted and we see that an African statuette is the source (an object which suggests much, from the connections between ‘primitivism,’ art, and sensual liberation to a sly wink at the audience). At the end of the film, there is one of the most remarkable, and just plain twisted, images, in all of Anger’s films: The Dreamer appears back in his living room, but his head has become a massive Christmas tree, complete with bulbs and tinsel. If you’ve ever wanted to see the offspring of a match between Hieronymus Bosch and a Hallmark card, as embodied by a Calvin Klein model, this is it: creepy, funny, imaginative, yet utterly at home in Anger’s universe. As Anger once wrote about Fireworks, “This flick is all I have to say about being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas and the Fourth of July” – the latter comment refers to the most famous image in the film, involving a sailor and a Roman candle: trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. Anger’s commentary adds yet another level to this film, as we learn that he made the memorable ‘broken-fingers’ sculpture in his Beverly Hills High School art class; that despite the plot device of The Dreamer looking for a light for his cigarette – which Anger notes was then a common way for gay men to pick each other up – he himself has never smoked; and that the brutish sailors were “actually the sweetest, gentlest guys”: Navy students enrolled in the filmmaking program at the University of Southern California (trivia fans may want to know that it was also Navy USC film students who worked on George Lucas’s breakthrough 1967 student film, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, which was expanded in scope, but reduced in title size, for his 1971 debut feature.)
On another level, Anger’s use of humor throughout his films – seen in both his dreamlike imagery and outrageous costumes (from the endless cascade of Technicolor ’20s dresses in Puce Moment, to the antique garb in his next three films, and arguably even the ‘non-costume’ of what Anger refers to as the “remarkable physique” of the 16-year-old bodybuilder in Fireworks) – seems a rich blending of two movements, surrealism and camp, that offer an intriguing key to Anger. In a way, surrealism and camp both, in their respective ways, strive for personal liberation, a theme that echoes throughout all of Anger’s films, albeit with plenty of ambiguity and irony. Theoreticians like André Breton believed that surrealist art, founded on the intrinsic honesty of the unconscious, could inspire a personal, sexual, and cultural revolution, yielding a life of freedom.
Fireworks not only echoes but contributes to that tradition when it quotes Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s 1929 surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien Andalou (inside The Dreamer’s torn-open chest there’s no heart, but a mechanical gauge – Anger saves his optimism for the film’s final moments), and Cocteau’s mystical and homoerotic The Blood of a Poet (1930); as a budding gay filmmaking, Anger may also have responded to Dalí’s bisexuality (recently reseeing Un Chien Andalou I was struck by its pronounced same-sex imagery) and Cocteau’s homosexuality. (In fact, Cocteau was so impressed with Anger’s work that he brought him to France, where he spent much of the ’50s.) Fireworks also echoes the first important American avant-garde film, Maya Deren’s 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon (like Anger, she was fascinated by mysticism: she not only filmed voodoo rites in Haiti but adopted the religion).
Not unlike surrealism, camp – which brandishes outrageousness as a critique of social conformity (including rigid gender roles) – also has personal, and social, liberation as its goal. It was a crucial aspect of pre-Stonewall gay male enclaves, when camp was the primary way that they could cut the homophobic mainstream down to size, while simultaneously acting fab-u-lous! Susan Sontag, in her landmark 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’,” reveals some deeper implications of the phenomenon: “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman.’ To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater…. The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious….” Anger has embodied Breton and Sontag’s insights, and more – since he is an artist, and only implicitly a social critic – in his films.
Anger combines surrealism and camp into a kind of weird optimism, often with a distinctively gay sensibility, while always accenting the artificiality of his world. (It’s no coincidence that two of his first five films contain the word ‘artifice’ in their titles, ‘fireworks’ as feux d’artifice and Eaux d’Artifice). At the end of Fireworks, the sight of The Dreamer’s battered and bloody is genuinely shocking, even on repeated viewings. But then Anger modulates from blood pouring over his torso to… milk. Clearly this is a case of one white liquid standing in for another. But is this tortured fulfillment – of what has increasingly seemed merely a sado-masochistic fantasy (and one of which a homophobic society would approve: the punk went cruising, and got what he deserved) – the end of the film? Happily, no. The Dreamer now finds himself back in his home… but the broken fingers on the hand sculpture (emasculation imagery, anyone?) have now been restored to their full, upright length. And much to The Dreamer’s delight, he’s now sharing his bed with the body builder – whose face Anger, by drawing directly onto the film, has encircled with a corona, turning it into a sort of happily radiating sun – yet another type of fireworks. (We can see that the description of the real-life Bill Seltzer, as the “Body Builder Show-Off,” is playfully affectionate.) The violence no longer seems real – as, of course, it never was – and we fade out on an unexpected note of fulfillment. In this film’s counterpart, Eaux d’Artifice, The Water Witch at last achieves union with the fountain, although the price she pays may be – or in this fantastical realm may not be (myth is filled with grotesque but sometimes happy metamorphoses) – steep, namely, dissolving into water and light and completely merging with the spray. It can be argued that even Anger’s most (literally) apocalyptic film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, ends, well, much less unhappily than it might, considering the massed, and mashed up, forces of Egyptian, Classical, Hindu, and Christian deities.
A subtle way that Anger lets three of these films breathe – Fireworks, Puce Moment, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome – is by showing, or at least not cutting out, tiny moments when the characters reveal themselves not only as actors, but as real people. Flubs can be endearing, especially when they’re so subtle and fleeting. Anger’s other two early films are flawless, a tribute both to their professional casts (the actors in Rabbit’s Moon were students of the even-then legendary mime Marcel Marceau) and to Anger’s painstaking care – which also makes you wonder if he intentionally left in the micro-bloopers in these three pictures. But in Fireworks, it’s sweet that Anger as The Dreamer, every once in a while, comes across as just a precocious gay kid making the ultimate home art-movie (just imagine if there’d been a YouTube in 1947). Yvonne Marquis is ingratiating as the Star – as Anger notes, she has “the look” of a ’20s silent icon – but every once in a there are brief flashes of a real-world woman that pop up: not some sort of Brechtian (or proto-Godardian) “alienation effect,” just her humanity peeping out, say in the way she every so slightly awkwardly handles the dresses. (Anger knew a lot about humanity, including the seamy kind, as seen in his engrossing – accent on ‘gross’ – tell-all book about early Tinseltown: Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood’s Darkest and Best Kept Secrets, originally published in Paris in 1959, then toned down for its long-delayed U.S. publication in 1975.)
The most extreme, and complex, example of temporary performer/role disconnect comes in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. The cast is comprised of Anger’s personal friends – none a professional actor, despite their self-theatricalizing bent (as Nin reveals in her diary); several of them were also followers of the mystic Aleister Crowley. In fact, the idea for the film originated in a “come as your madness” costume party that Anger and the others had recently attended. There are many small moments of real people popping out of their roles, during brief slips of costumes – or impossibly poofy wigs, or when Curtis Harrington as Cesar the Somnambulist (of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame) bumps up against (accidentally?) hunky Pan. (Harrington – who died on May 6, 2007 – is an interesting filmmaker, from early avant-garde works to the eerie romance Night Tide (designed by Paul “Pan” Mathison) to the camp thriller Who Slew Auntie Roo?, and one of my top guilty pleasures, Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell – with the cutest demonic puppies you’ll ever see – not to mention one of the few great serial killer films, that is screaming for rediscovery, The Killing Kind.) These moments are more than rare and quick goofs; they enrich the texture of the film, both in the relatively innocent fun of adults playacting at debauchery (what happened after the camera stopped, Anger isn’t telling), and as an embodiment of Sontag’s more trenchant concept of “Being-as-Playing-a-Role,” of acknowledging their uneasy fit with the persona (how would you feel, being a passé deity?). These moments also help provide a layer of living, breathing immediacy, pointing to the human world beyond the theatre’s exit… even with the film’s densely mythic, and evocative, imagery.
Mysticism has been a foundational aspect of all of Anger’s pictures, with the clearest turning point coming in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, which heralds his later phase. He discovered Aleister Crowley’s writings in high school, and the influence shows even in his first distributed work: Fireworks is, on a key level, a ritual symbolically portraying an initiate’s death and joyous rebirth. Although Crowley (1875–1947) has been caricatured as an oversexed ‘devil worshipper,’ his writings are more complex, or at least convoluted, than that (I discuss Crowley at greater length in the review of Volume Two below). He even advocated taking a critical – experimental and scientific – approach to understanding the neurological basis of mystical experience, in his essay “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion.” If you look past the occult trappings (that were very popular in the early twentieth century: just channel William Butler Yeats), it can be said that Crowley – like surrealism and camp – is essentially about personal and societal liberation. Yes, this is a highly reductive reading of Crowley, but it connects with Anger’s essential theme of transformation.
You could say that transformation gave Anger his big break in the movies, when he played – as a young boy – the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle’s opulent film of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). The design of that film especially informs Rabbit’s Moon (Anger even dressed the two young children to resemble his Shakespearean role), but the enchanted mood is captured in Eaux d’Artifice. Transformation in Anger, as in ancient sacred traditions, is both unsettling and liberating. In Fireworks, The Dreamer’s visceral death and randy resurrection brings to mind such myths (that young Anger already knew) as those of the Egyptian god Osiris (who was killed, dismembered, rejoined, then reborn) and Greek Dionysos (murdered, chopped up into a stew, resurrected by Zeus – while the ashes of his killers, the Titans, were transformed into the first humans). In fact, The Dreamer is a remarkably complex creation, whether intellectually formulated or intuited, who brings together dream, surrealism, camp, myth, mysticism, a credible portrait of a cocky kid, homoerotic yearning, unabashed beefcake (or rather “seabiscuit,” to use ’40s gay slang for sailors), at least two national holidays, and a vision that extends from exploration (the kid is looking for “a Light,” as much for his mind, body and spirit as his prop cigarette) to violence to transfiguration.
All of those elements come together with unprecedented wit and passion, turning this 15-minute homemade movie into the beginning of out, loud and proud GLBT Cinema, already inspiring generations of filmmakers: Genet (Anger provides the commentary for the Region 1 DVD of Un Chant d’Amour), Fassbinder (Querelle), Jarman (The Last of England), and many others – not to mention countless non-GLBT filmmakers. Even here, at the beginning, Anger revealed himself a visionary in the fullest sense: personal yet connecting with the universal; creating works – and an alternate universe – bursting with life and juicy with meaning… that allows each of us to interpret, and connect with, in our own personal way.
After rediscovering Anger’s astonishing early films, I can’t wait for the DVD release of his later works — which occurred in October 2007 with the release of his six most recent major films.
Review – The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two
Frame for frame, the nine-film Magick Lantern Cycle is as influential, visceral and unforgettable as any 158 minutes in cinema.
The second volume of this revelatory release brings together the films that Kenneth Anger made between 1964 and 2002, including the remaining four films in his cycle, plus the 1979 re-edit of “Rabbit’s Moon” (1950) and a 2002 documentary on paintings by his mystical mentor, Aleister Crowley (who distinguished between powerful occult Magick, that he spelled with a terminal “k,” and theatrical or parlor-trick magic). As with Volume One, the films have been superbly restored, and each one features eloquent commentaries by Mr. Anger; there is also a 48-page book of production details, photos, and essays by Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin, and more. Fantoma offers a preview of The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two.
Volume Two includes:
- Scorpio Rising (1964 – 28 minutes – filmed in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Walden’s Pond, New York — a surreal documentary about a motorcycle club, that Anger has described as “A death mirror held up to American culture. Brando, bikes, black leather.”)
- Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965 – 3 minutes – filmed in San Bernardino, California — this dream-like ode to a young man and his car, “The All-Chrome Ruby Plush Dream Buggy,” is the only filmed segment of a larger work that Anger abandoned because the main actor died in a drag race and funding dried up. The accompanying book includes Anger’s detailed synopsis of Kustom; this fragment would have formed the nucleus of the sixth of its eight parts.)
- Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969 – 11 minutes – filmed in San Franciscso at the Straight Theater and the “Russian Embassy,” and in London — a phantasmagorical encapsulation of both Anger’s use of cinema as ritual Magick and the zeitgeist of the psychedelic 60s; partly made from surviving footage of the legendary original version of Lucifer Rising, that was stolen and never recovered.)
- Rabbit’s Moon (1979 re-edit of the original 1950 version included in Volume One – 7 minutes — recreated from the unedited 1950 negative, with the unique moon images taken from a 16mm archive negative of the 1979 cut. The original left/right orientation of the camera negative has been restored. Anger writes that this version was “made as a present for Roark Brakhage [the son of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage], on the occasion of his seventh birthday.”)
- Lucifer Rising (1981 – 28 minutes – filmed in Iceland (Mount Hekla volcano), Egypt (Luxor, Karnak,and Gizeh), England (London and Avebury), and Germany (Externsteine) — all of which locations have mystical significance; Anger spent a decade editing together scenes of both nature and ancient sacred sites, along with elaborately-costumed dramatizations of Egyptian gods, Magick rituals, and even some interstellar visitors, to conclude his cycle.)
- The Man We Want to Hang (2002 – 14 minutes — the title of this documentary (Anger’s most recent film, but not part of the Magick Lantern Cycle) about Aleister Crowley puns on both the subject’s inflammatory reputation and what one should do with his art; as the credits state, this is a film of “Pictures at a Crowley exhibition… A showing of paintings, drawings and objects by and about the late occult master Aleister Crowley (1875–1947)… Exhibit titled “An Old Master” held at the October Gallery, London, England at the close of the twentieth century… Filmed by Kenneth Anger with permission granted by the Ordo Templi Orientis International.”)
Kenneth Anger combines two seemingly contradictory qualities: he is both a mystical visionary and a brilliantly accomplished filmmaker, who has been called the greatest editor since Eisenstein. But then, as Anger has remarked, quoting Aleister Crowley, “The true Magick of Horus [whom Anger takes as his “personal deity”] requires the passionate union of opposites.”
Although 34 years separate the first and last films in the Magick Lantern Cycle, they are connected, like all of Anger’s works, and perhaps his life too, as quests for light — from the young Dreamer’s search in Fireworks for a cigarette light, and the sexual awakening in promises to, in Lucifer Rising, the invocation not of the chief demon of Judeo-Christian tradition, but of the Lord of Light, of psychological and spiritual illumination. After all, what makes a magic lantern function, if not light — and what gives it meaning, if not each viewer?
Anger is unique in the extraordinary way in which he combines the mythic and universal with his personal obsessions, all held together — and expanded — by his ritualistic use of cinema. His sometimes documentary-like explorations, of such phenomena as the motorcycle subculture, merge with delirious studies of color and form that are at once abstract and homoerotic, but always with an underlying mystical bent. As Anger has famously remarked, “Making a movie is casting a spell.”
What makes his films frustrating, and even more fascinating, is that we know there’s more between the frames, but how to get at it? To take just the first example in Volume Two, a few seconds into Scorpio Rising we see a close shot of a motorcycle’s reflector with 13 eye-like red discs: shades of a multi-eyed creatures from the Book of Revelation — the mystical number 13 also seems not accidental — but what to make of all this? Anger has never been coy about admitting to a deeper occult agenda in his films, although you sense that no matter how articulate he is either in the DVD commentaries or published interviews — he seems never to have commented on this particular motorcycle part’s meaning — he’s leaving much unsaid. Even a cursory investigation into the beliefs of his eccentric inspiration, Aleister Crowley — who was certainly not some “Satanist” — reveals much about Anger’s aims, as a knowledge of, say, Greek mythology enriches our appreciation of Homer, or of Christian beliefs our understanding of Dante (of course, a background in those systems also helps illuminate Anger).
Paradoxically, Crowley’s mystical system is both experiential and rational, not “faith-based;” its primary tag line is cringe-inducing: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” (Perhaps the impish Crowley, despite the fact that the line is lifted from François Rabelais’s 1532 satire Gargantua and Pantagruel, used the term “wilt” for both its King James Bible flavor and, on the sly, its knowing commentary on the unsustainable, and hence “wilt”-inducing, hedonistic/anarchic lifestyle.) But it’s immediately followed, and moderated, by a second tenet: “Love is the law, love under will.” (Two introductions to Crowley are at Wikipedia and About.com; his key writings are freely available at hermetic.com; for an unsympathetic take, the UK’s Channel 4 opined: “The British press described him as ‘the wickedest man in the world’, he drove many of his lovers to madness and inspired the free-love generation of the 1960s. But Aleister Crowley, dark magician, poet and author, died a penniless drug addict who questioned his own philosophies. He spent his life proclaiming himself to be ‘the beast 666’, but was he just a spoilt rich boy rebelling against a repressive [fundamentalist Christian] mother?”) Even without dipping into Crowley, Anger places much thematic, and emotional, complexity right before our eyes. Anger’s vision is so powerful because, as with all genuine artists, he makes new, and sometimes terribly ancient, connections between the natural and the occult, a term that literally means “hidden.” The world according to Anger is familiar — with its motorcycles, cars, leather apparel, and gorgeous landscapes — yet he’s revealed underlying strangeness, and queer beauty.
Although there are five principal films included in Volume Two, they seem to expand to fifteen, or even twenty, distinct works, thanks to Kenneth Anger’s commentaries and the unique perspective that each of us viewers brings to bear. First, there is each film on its own; then there is the film inflected with Anger’s eloquent but sometimes surprising commentary: for instance, Scorpio Rising seems one of the most boldly homoerotic films of its time, but as Anger discusses the bikers’ never — well, except for a split-second — seen off-screen girlfriends (present even at what appears to be an all-male party-cum-orgy, replete with devilish costumes and presumably simulated anal and oral intercourse), he notes that it “looks queerer than it actually was”; third is our reevaluation of the films after being jolted by Anger’s remarks; and finally there is what you might call the ‘after-image’ of the films, weeks or months after you’ve seen them, digested Anger’s comments, and find that you can’t get the intertwined images and sounds, ideas and conjured emotions, out of your head: spell-casting indeed.
The disconnection between what we are seeing, and what Anger reveals — or seems to reveal, with that combination of friendly voice and piercing intellect — adds to our fascination with these pictures, as do the different forms of gaps that they contain. So much is conspicuously left unsaid, whether it’s the many striking images that Anger chooses to say nothing about (such as the nude young men making out in Invocation of My Demon Brother) or the many defining gaps in the films themselves. These moments include some that would bridge the phantasmagoria of the most extreme imagery with the day-to-day lives of the men, not to mention the gods and goddesses, we see. (As we’ll explore below, part of Scorpio Rising’s unique power, making it perhaps Anger’s greatest film since Eaux d’Artifice, comes from how he uses context to suggest what fills those gaps.)
With a feeling of ritualistic inevitability, and organic unity (with color and editorial momentum key components), perhaps the most shocking revelations in Anger’s commentaries concern the role that chance, and “found art” objects, plays in his films. Anger talks about the “magical coincidences,” that include many of the defining elements in Scorpio Rising, such as The Wild One on television, the silly low-budget Jesus movie, the ‘Nazi rant in the church’ and a real-life fatal bike crash at the end. Anger tells us that the main person in the film, the late Bruce Byron — by day an ex-Marine turned messenger, by night a Coney Island (Brooklyn, New York) motorcycle club member who calls himself Scorpio — just happened to be watching television during filming, when that iconic Marlon Brando/black leather biker jacket movie, The Wild One, came on. After Anger was back in his home in Los Angeles, editing the film, “a mysterious package appeared on my doorstep” that, as if “a gift from the gods,” contained a laughably amateurish and naïve “Lutheran Sunday School movie, called The Last Journey to Jerusalem,” whose main image is of Jesus riding a donkey on Palm Sunday. Anger cuts the biblical movie into his biker footage, matching screen movement, to create some unforgettable effects (that we’ll look at more closely below — the Lutherans later sued Anger over the footage, but he prevailed in court on free speech grounds).
Scorpio Rising’s dramatic climax comes during Scorpio’s rant in an abandoned church, as he shockingly waves around Nazi paraphernalia. But it turns out that Bruce Byron is no Nazi; he was basically putting on a show for Anger, likely “under the influence of methamphetamine.” And that the dilapidated church just happened to be next door to the facility where the “orgy” took place, although in fact it was a hazing initiation for a new member of the club. In a picture filled with, and defined by, its death imagery — the death’s head motif recurs through dozens of incarnations, but Anger assures us that these objects actually belonged to the bikers and were not his additions — the most tragic found object is the real accidental death (from a “neck injury, although he was wearing a helmet”) of a participant in the concluding race in upstate New York. As Anger relates, it happened to occur directly “in front of my camera.” Poignantly, and even more symbolically in this film about youth and mortality, the dead racer had tattooed on his arm, as Anger shows, “blessed blessed oblivion.”
One of the fleeting “found” moments, that further encourages a gay reading of the film, is that Scorpio happens to be reading one of the queerest Li’l Abner strips, in which two boys, one dark- and one light-haired, wind up overcoming their families’ feuding to put arms around each other and go off together as what seems to be a romantic couple (although one wonders what cartoonist Al Capp would have said in 1964, and then again today in 2007). As we’ll explore below, Anger’s demythologizing the background of his own film — though even without the benefit of his commentary it can be seen as simultaneously mythic and mythoclastic — only adds to its thematic and emotional richness.
Chance occurrences aside, these films reveal Anger’s artistry through the sheer kinetic pull of his visionary works. He is one of the greatest editors, as well as a master of color, composition, filmic movement (within and between shots), and, not least, the juxtaposition of sound and image. He is a master of incisively counterpointing what we see with what we hear, from Scorpio Rising’s deconstructively eclectic bubblegum pop played against the sado-masochistic imagery, or the otherworldly musical pulse of Mick Jagger’s Moog-synthesizer score for Invocation of My Demon Brother. Although Anger’s radical innovations have been borrowed countless times, from such extraordinary, and different, films as Lucas’s American Graffiti and Scorsese’s Mean Streets (both 1973, and each showing the influence of Scorpio Rising) to virtually every music video, he was there first. Die-hard Anger fans might even say that his use of sound was the most innovative since Eisenstein and Pudovkin’s epochal 1928 manifesto “Sound and Image,” that introduced the then-radical concept of asynchronous sound effects, that counterpoint the aural and visual instead of employing a literal correspondence.
Visually, Anger’s films, from Fireworks to parts of Lucifer Rising, are breathtaking in their audacity, showing a mastery of formal composition and color (that is both aesthetic and symbolic, embodying Crowley’s arcane symbolism — at least for those who choose to look for it). The unique quality is a result of Anger’s being at once playful and sublime. To take just a couple of examples, notice how Anger has visually structured Lucifer Rising with a host of triangular and circular shapes, the latter seen in everything from the disc of the sun (how serendipitous — and ironic — that the composer/felon Bobby Beausoleil’s name also means ‘beautiful sun’ in French) to the Magus’s conjuration ring to the climactic flying saucers; and when those ships fly over Luxor, on a compositional level Anger unites the two motifs of triangles (achieved through camera angles, since he was not filming at the Gizeh pyramids) and circles, thus providing both a mystical and visual closure. Anger’s use of color is no less astonishing, and Invocation of My Demon Brother might have been titled “A Study in Red, Green, and Blue,” since the interplay of those colors, as much as the surreally presented ritual, structure the film. On a mystical level, the uniting of those three primary colors produces pure white light, Anger’s signal that the invocation was successful, since Lucifer, his “demon brother,” is the Lord of Light (not the ultimate boogeyman of Abrahamic religions). Almost every frame of each Anger film is gorgeous — not to mention provocatively unsettling — in its own right, yet we never lose sight of the fact that there are 24 of these voluptuous frames each second, and they pulse with a uniquely cinematic energy.
Anger is a consummate editor, but — as with his use of sound, composition, and color — beyond his technical brilliance there is more. Crowley in Magick in Theory and Practice (1929) wrote that “Magicians have not confined themselves to the human voice…. the tom-tom will be found the most generally useful.” Compare drum beats to the rhythmic thrust of film editing, and you will see yet another way in which Anger embodies Crowley’s beliefs through his “magical weapon” of filmmaking. The nervous yet inexorable flow of all of Anger’s films is a key unifying aspect of his work. Through editing, Anger reveals the elemental pull between what Nietzsche called the Apollonian (ordered) and Dionysian (volatile) — form and fury, structure and destruction — in all of his films. It is through his precise editing (he spent ten years cutting his most recent major film, Lucifer Rising) that Anger allows us to reach a point where we can hold both aspects in balance inside ourselves, allowing us to create our own synthesis.
However, there is always a greater metaphysical symbolism at work, but Mr. Anger’s lips remain sealed in the commentary tracks; and my dipping into Crowley, in preparation for this review, through articles and two of his pivotal works (The Book of the Law and Magick in Theory and Practice), only shows the tip of the occult iceberg — the future will undoubtedly yield book-length studies relating the British occultist and the great American filmmaker. For me, Anger’s films are riotously eloquent as works of cinema, although my wading into Crowley has helped reveal more of the richness of Anger’s imagination, in (alchemically) transforming mystical precepts into art. Yet there are still more layers, and labyrinths, to explore. That brings us to another seminal aspect of Anger’s work: the synthesizing of (seeming) opposites.
One of the most flagrant motifs in his later films is Nazism — or is it? Scorpio Rising is as filled with Nazi paraphernalia as rock-hard male bodies and death’s heads; in acronymic form the title of Kustom Kar Kommandos is KKK, and the young man is a visual embodiment of the blond-haired Aryan ideal (not to mention surfer culture); more covertly, in Lucifer Rising one of the most striking locations is Externsteine in northwestern Germany, with its tall phallic-shaped but natural stone pillars — sacred to pre-Christian Teutonic peoples, and later a place of ritual initiation for the Hitler Youth. Anger reveals in his commentary that the bikers of Scorpio Rising were not neo-Nazis in any ideological or hateful sense, but rather enjoyed playing with these forbidden symbols of power (and, one can’t help but speculate, ultimate defeat) like boys with toy guns (in fact, there are several whimsical toy motorcycles in the film); there’s nothing explicitly ‘master race’ about the youths in Kustom Kar Kommandos; and Externsteine’s mystical significance predates the Third Reich by millennia. Further, the most heinous of Nazi totems, the swastika, first appeared in the Neolithic period, and it occurs among indigenous European, African, Asian, and Native American cultures; in Hinduism and Buddhism it is a symbol for well-being. It seems that Anger wants our first reaction to be one of shock, but as we begin digging beneath his surfaces we find layers of increasing complexity.
Some pious viewers may be kept away from these films because of such devilish titles as Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising, but as Anger — like Crowley — points out, this Lucifer is the Roman god who brings light, not the abomination of Christian scripture. In fact, Crowley praised Jesus highly, even as he denounces what he sees as the hypocrisy and repression of organized Christian religion. This idea can be glimpsed in how Anger, in Scorpio Rising, ironically crosscuts between the intoxicated bikers pouring into their ‘party room’ with the tacky Sunday School movie footage of Jesus’s followers following their master in herd-like fashion. Later, Anger crosscuts between Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem with the fateful race at Walden’s Pond — as well as that endearing male couple from Li’l Abner, Scorpio ranting and kicking bibles in the abandoned church, Nazi footage, and more — to a pop song that proclaims, with words equally prophetic for Jesus and the anonymous biker, that this is “the point of no return.” In his commentary, Anger notes Christianity’s “simplification of good and evil” — and that concept, that things are not necessarily what we’re trained to believe, is at the core of his films. It’s coupled with a sense of transformation, and for Anger that means liberation.
Anger began his Magick Lantern Cycle with the exuberance of Fireworks (as, in good mythic fashion, the central character — played by teenaged Anger himself — goes on a quest for “a Light,” is murdered, but then resurrected into playfully romantic bliss); in Puce Moment, externals (glamorous costumes) are first celebrated then shed; despite its pathos-laden ending, Rabbit’s Moon sees the turning on of the cycle’s titular magic lantern; Eaux d’Artifice climaxes in a sublime metamorphosis (that would have had Ovid cheering); and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome sets the stage for the later films we’re looking at here (it’s the ‘twin’ of Lucifer Rising), that each contain a fraught mix of transformation and ambivalence.
Sexuality, both in its presentation and absence, is a key aspect of Anger’s work, not least in the way it fleshes out his sense of liberation. But its depiction is anything but linear, as we move from the energetically naughty optimism of Fireworks (that began no-holds-barred gay cinema), to the many ‘look but don’t touch’ beefcake shots in Scorpio Rising (paradoxically, the L’il Abner strip is the most affirmative instance of coupling), to the fleeting scenes in Invocation of My Demon Brother of nude young men making out in a dark room (further obscured by superimposition; Anger’s commentary stops during these scenes), to the curiously chaste Lucifer Rising (although one might have expected more eroticism, considering the prominent early shots of the breasts of the goddess Isis (Marianne Faithfull), and the life-giving renewal implied by the title).
Kustom Kar Kommandos provides a classic gender-bending image, as a muscular young man sensuously rubs down his customized “All-Chrome Ruby Plush Dream Buggy” (40 years before Pimp My Ride) with a huge frilly pink puff; the various reflections of this pose, in the car’s mirror-like shine, slyly hint at narcissism or (gasp) auto eroticism. The sexual implications are highlighted, in playful fashion, by the car’s male-genitalia shape, and its female-genitalia-like seats. Several shots compare the young man’s body with auto parts: in one, two chrome-plated engine cylinders literally reflect his groin (the waggishly-inclined may be thinking, ‘balls of steel’). The pink backdrop completes the sexual imagery by enveloping everything, boy and car, in a womb-like shell (Anger simply draped cloth over the walls of a working garage). To extend the birthing metaphor, the film ends with revved car and “the Maker” (Anger’s name in the credits for the real-life Sandy Trent) about to emerge.
There’s also a dark side to Anger’s depiction of sexuality, heralded in Fireworks, where the young man in search of erotic fulfillment finds violence first, and only later joy; and in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, the hunky blond-god Pan winds up ravished by pretty much the enire pantheon of syncretistic goddesses and gods. Anger’s later films, beginning with Scorpio Rising, suggest a more voyeuristic perspective: while the camera only sneaked a few peeks at bare-chested Pan, in the 1964 picture it seems to caress the rock-hard bodies of the bikers (who may, or may not, have been as straight as they claimed, since historically it was these post-World War II motorcycle clubs that gave rise to the gay leather subculture), sometimes to the haunting strains of “Blue Velvet” (not even David Lynch’s use of the song can top Anger’s for pitch-perfect subversiveness: note how Anger begins the song with a bare-chested young man toying with the fly zipper on his un-velvety denim jeans).
This outsider perspective is, in a way, even more pronounced in Kustom Kar Kommandos and Invocation of My Demon Lovers. The young blond man in the former reads (despite both my fanciful interpretation above, and the devoted way Anger films him) as a nice kid who’s really proud of the gorgeous car he’s put together, not some closeted teen with A Sexual Secret To Hide; and in the latter, the young men making out are visually obscured, and the most prominent shirtless male icon, Bobby Beausoleil (playing Lucifer no less) — Anger’s benighted collaborator on Lucifer Rising, who would soon commit a murder for Charles Manson and end up in prison where he composed and recorded the film’s powerful score — is shown only in a distorted kaleidoscopic view, literally and figuratively doubled over on himself.
Yet Anger never seems guilty of crass objectification, even with all of the physique shots in Scorpio Rising; rather, the way he photographs iconic men is a combination of wistful and revealing. It’s also worth recalling that ‘fetish’ has two meanings, one as an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical power, the other as a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to a particular item of clothing or part of the body — the black leather jackets, and the boys who wear them on their revved-up motorcycles. Both meanings are embodied, in the same images, for the mystical and sensual Anger.
In Scorpio Rising, Anger shows the alluring surfaces of these super-cool muscle men, as well as the unglamorous, even disturbing, reality of their everyday lives. Although any muscle magazine would have been happy to display their chiseled bodies, we see that they are not kin to the Greek (or Roman or Hindu or Judeo-Christian) gods that Anger depicts in other films; they are regular guys, as Anger notes in his commentary, most of whom worked days in Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market. Anger focuses most of the film — that he remarks is the closest he ever came to making a (ahem) “straight documentary” — on Bruce (Scorpio) Byron, who somehow managed to wrangle an honorable discharge from the Marines despite spending two months in the brig.
For all of the film’s avant-garde brilliance, and several iconic shots of Byron as Scorpio (a persona that Anger assures us was Byron’s own, not his), we see much of the guy’s real life in a tiny, dirty, cat-filled apartment, its walls covered with magazine cut-outs of his idols Marlon Brando and James Dean. When Byron in the penultimate scene spontaneously, according to Anger, launches into his rant — there is no dialogue — it brings together the many disparate elements of the man, from an exemplary ‘physical specimen’ to motorcycle ace to drunken (or high) lout at this moment to a man who, on some level, has intuited that for all of his conspicuous charm, he’s still a messenger boy in Manhattan aping some old movie stars; and Anger has created a film resonantly filled with memento mori — from endless skulls to a smoking cigarette imprinted with the word “youth” — that ends with a real death.
That stripping away of the facade, even while celebrating it, is part of genuine liberation — and a major reason why Anger is such an extraordinary artist. Despite my admiration for Anger, and exhilaration at most of his films, I need to point out why I have not (at least yet) been able to connect with Lucifer Rising, the final picture in his cycle, and certainly — with its globe-spanning locations and the decade it took to edit — his most ambitious project to date. As he has noted, on his commentary on this DVD and in other interviews, the original version of Lucifer Rising was stolen — he accuses Bobby Beausoleil, who adamantly denies the charge — and so the film had to be re-funded and re-shot. The final version — with a superb score by Beausoleil — was not released until 1981. (Invocation of My Demon Brother, one of Anger’s — or any filmmaker’s — most astonishing achievements, was largely cobbled together from the remaining fragments of the original Lucifer Rising, that certainly takes its place among such other legendary lost films as the ten-hour von Stroheim Greed (1924) and the Welles cut of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).)
Lucifer Rising opens with a roiling volcano (Mount Hekla, off the coast of Iceland — Anger finessed his way onto a BBC production to get the footage) that’s destructive yet natural and beautiful — textbook ‘union of opposites’ — like the Egyptian crocodiles we see a few minutes later, and so many other images in this film that he says is about moving “through nature, and the people are elements of nature.” But the picture lacks the drive, both sexual and cinematic, of the earlier films; it feels too narrative-based, yet a “story” never materialzies despite all of the gods, goddesses and breathtaking landscapes. The picture seems too dependent on a particular line of interpretation: that’s Isis who represents Life, that’s Osiris who represents Death, and so on. Anger’s comments do little to disabuse the film of such a ‘this means that’ correspondence between image and idea. Yes, there are recurring motifs aplenty, all brilliantly composed, including the triangles and circles mentioned earlier; and there are undoubtedly layers within Crowleyan layers and attendant cryptic meanings. But the magic of, say, Invocation of My Demon Brother, Scorpio Rising, or to a lesser degree Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, is missing — at least I haven’t felt it after multiple viewings. Despite their intrinsic beauty, the images in this film seem relegated to fleshing out some hidden program. There’s a mystifying extreme long shot, about two minutes from the end, in which nothing seems to be happening: however, Anger reveals in his commentary that if you look closely, you can see that it’s the filmmaker himself, far off in the distance, burning his personally annotated script. Since it contained presumably the ultimate key to the film, one hopes that there’s another copy somewhere.
The problem with paraphrase-oriented works, where you have to ferret out the meaning of the always implicit question What does it mean?, is that they are, by their nature, so limiting. By fabulous contrast, Anger at his best — throughout the first eight of the nine Magick Lantern Cycle pictures — is about the opposite: mystery (of the cosmic sort), expansion of meaning, brilliant and sometimes stunning connections that span millennia, and ultimately point a way towards our personal, and collective, liberation… after we first see, connect, and then — most importantly — transcend the dots he’s laid out.
There is yet another layer to Anger’s work, and it’s perhaps the most unexpected and provocative: when he seems to undercut himself and his film. Recall that Crowley, late in his life, came to question, perhaps even reject, his own belief system. I’ve mentioned above, in the review of Volume One, about those rare but endearing slips that humanize Anger’s films, as when, say, a god or goddess in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome lets her hair (or in the case of Anaïs Nin, birdcage) down, and we glimpse a real flesh and blood person.
In the later films, the clearest example comes when Anger himself plays the Magus, in both Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising. This is a highly serious ‘priestly’ character in Crowley’s beliefs, yet Anger dons the most outlandish, and tacky, costumes, and then, as if to further undercut this sacred figure, uses a wacky speeded-up effect. Even if this were an in-joke of some sort in the earlier film, in the later one, the ambitious climax to his 35-year cycle of films, it’s at the very least too undercutting. If there’s a deeper mystical significance to that effect — should we maybe be counting frames, using some occult calculus, to divine the hidden meaning? — certainly Anger knows that it would be lost on a lay audience, who would see only the ridiculous sight of a man (himself) in an off-the-shelf wizard costume waving a wand up and down really fast. By way of comparison, it can be argued that the only flaw in Murnau’s first masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922), comes when he uses undercranking to show the ‘supernatural speed’ with which the vampire loads his coffins into a wagon. This scene invariably inspires guffaws, not awe, in audiences; but for 1922 it was a respectable special effect (as were the flying saucers at the end of Lucifer Rising); for Anger, well, his use of speeded-up footage, of himself in Magus drag, is a puzzling aspect of what his intentions are towards both his film and the occult system is embodies.
A key image that embodies what’s so haunting about Anger — how he reveals a deeper reality that is at once disturbing, humane, and transcendent — comes in the final minutes of Scorpio Rising. We see a biker in a black leather mask (replete with tiny death’s head), in the midst of a chaotic joy ride, go from a demeanor of macho menace to one, briefly, that is revelatory of much more. Whether drug-induced or not, we see a look of unmistakable confusion and hurt in his face; it’s a fleeting but indelible moment that expresses our complicated, and common, mixed-up humanity, no matter how great our distance from the world of bikers. Don’t you feel his needs too — to be mysterious, powerful, ‘worthy of wearing the black leather and mask’ or whatever you’d substitute, and yet don’t you also slip up sometimes and reveal the scared kid that’s still inside? Playacting — however desperate, even dangerous — is a motif that appears throughout the Magick Lantern Cycle, beginning with Anger’s own character in Fireworks, climaxing with the tragic/pathetic fate of Pierrot in Rabbit’s Moon, and continuing through the grease-painted gods, goddesses, and prosaic celebrants in Lucifer Rising.
It’s in moments of artifice like these that Anger, paradoxically, lets us glimpse what’s real and universally human behind the facades we construct, or buy off the shelf. The mask, however briefly, becomes a most unlikely but suggestive mirror for us all.
- Dreamed, Written, Directed, Produced, Photographed, and Edited by Kenneth Anger
NOTE: The descriptive character names are by Kenneth Anger
Cast – The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One
- Fireworks — Kenneth Anger as “The Dreamer,” Bill Seltzer as “Body Builder Show-Off,” Gordon Grey as “Body-Baring Sailor,” “crowd of sailors”
- Puce Moment — Yvonne Marquis as “Star”
- Rabbit’s Moon (the original 1950 version) — André Soubeyran as “Pierrot,” Claude Revenant as “Harlequin,” Nadine Valence as “Columbine”
- Eaux d’Artifice — Carmillo Salvatorelli as “The Water Witch”
- Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome — Samson De Brier (name sometimes spelled Sampson De Brier) as “Lord Shiva, Osiris, Nero, [and] The Great Beast 666,” Cameron (Marjorie Cameron) as “The Scarlet Woman [and] Lady Kali,” Kathryn Kadell as “Isis,” Renata Loome (Renate Druks) as “Lilith,” Anaïs Nin as “Astarte,” Kenneth Anger as “Hecate,” Peter Loome as “Ganymede,” Paul Mathison (Paul Andre) as “Pan,” Curtis Harrington as “Cesare the Somnambulist,” Joan Whitney as “Aphrodite”
Cast – The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two
- Scorpio Rising — Bruce Byron as “Scorpio,” Johnny Sapienza as “Taurus,” Frank Carifi as “Leo,” John Palone as “Pinstripe,” Ernie Allo as “The Life Of The Party,” Barry Rubin as “Pledge,” Steve Crandell as “The Sissy Cyclist” — Music by Ricky Nelson, Little Peggy March, The Angels, Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, The Crystals, The Ran-Dells, Kris Jensen, Claudine Clark, Gene McDanniels, The Surfaris
- Kustom Kar Kommandos — “The All-Chrome Ruby Plush Dream Buggy” as itself, Sandy Trent as “the Maker” — Music by The Paris Sisters
- Invocation of My Demon Brother — Speed Hacker as “Wand Bearer,” Lenore Kandel and William as “Deaconess and Deacon,” Kenneth Anger as “The Magus,” Van Leuven as “Acolyte,” Harvey Bialy and Timotha as “Brother and Sister of the Rainbow,” Anton Szandor LaVey as “His Satanic Majesty,” Bobby Beausoleil as “Lucifer” — Music by Mick Jagger
- Rabbit’s Moon (1979 re-edited version) — André Soubeyran as “Pierrot,” Claude Revenant as “Harlequin,” Nadine Valence as “Columbine”
- Lucifer Rising — Miriam Gabril as “Isis,” Donald Cammell as “Osiris,” Haydn Couts as “Adept,” Kenneth Anger as “Magus,” Sir Francis Rose as “Chaos,” Marianne Faithfull as “Lilith,” Leslie Huggins as “Lucifer” — Music by Bobby Beausoleil and the Freedom Orchestra of Tracy Prison
- The Man We Want to Hang — From the credits: “Pictures at a Crowley exhibition… A showing of paintings, drawings and objects by and about the late occult master Aleister Crowley (1875–1947)… Exhibit titled ‘An Old Master’ held at the October Gallery, London, England at the close of the twentieth century… Flmed by Kenneth Anger with permission granted by the Ordo Templi Orientis International” — Music by Anatol Liadov — “Special Thanks to: Bill Breeze, Keith Richmond, Jimmy Page for the loan of their Crowley Collections.”
Fantoma presents the long-awaited DVD debuts of The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One and The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two in DVDs with miraculous image and sound; the high-definition transfers from fully-restored picture and sound elements — approved by Mr. Anger — are breathtaking.
DVD Details — The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One
- High definition transfers from newly-restored elements
- Original theatrical aspect ratios of 1.33:1
- Dolby Digital Mono
- Color and Black & White
- Screen specific audio commentary by Kenneth Anger
- Rare outtakes from Rabbit’s Moon
- 48-page book, featuring an introduction by Martin Scorsese, rare photos, never before seen sketches and plans for unproduced films — including Anger’s hand-drawn sketches for the unrealized Puce Woman project, excerpts from Anaïs Nin’s diaries about the making of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, and more
- $24.98 suggested retail
DVD Details — The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two
- High definition transfers from newly-restored elements
- Original theatrical aspect ratios of 1.33:1
- Dolby Digital Mono
- Color and Black & White
- Screen specific audio commentaries for all films by Kenneth Anger
- 48-page book, featuring essays by filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin, composer/convict Bobby BeauSoleil, more; extensive notes for each film; Anger’s detailed prospectus for the unrealized full-length project Kustom — of which only Kustom Kar Commandos was filmed; rare photos; more
- Restored stereo soundtrack for Lucifer Rising
- Alternate audio track for Invocation of My Demon Brother
- Restoration demonstrations, and more
- $29.98 suggested retail
Reviewed The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One — February 3, 2007 (Kenneth Anger’s 80th — or 77th — birthday); Reviewed The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume Two — November 12, 2007 / Revised October 20, 2020