Trevor Johnston on Kenneth Anger (below), new Canadian work,
INDEX: 17 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 22 WEEK TWO 24
and Claude Chabrol (overleaf).
Look back with Anger
Trevor Johnston catches up with Kenneth Anger, notorious underground film-maker and the man who digs deepest in Hollywood’s mire, as a touring retrospective of his movies comes to town.
‘Well you know I‘ve heard all the stories they tell about me. and the funny thing is that most of them are true. I‘ve come through hell and high water.‘ Sure enough, Kenneth Anger has gone through experience enough to fully merit being tagged a living legend. A key figure in the American Underground cinema. he‘s probably known to more people as the author of tinseltown‘s scandal portmanteau Hollywood Babylon. Yet through his association with figures from the rock world and the even wilder fringes of bohemia. and his continuing torch-bearing for the much misunderstood work of English diabolist Aleister Crowley. he has undoubtedly been involved in all manner of third degree weird shit.
You could put this down to his featuring in a major Hollywood movie at the age of four, when he toddled across the screen as the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt's lavish Thirties Hollywood version of/I Midsummer Night's Dream. Taking time out with Mickey Rooney to borrow a Busby Berkeley neon violin from the props dept. it was then that Anger ‘wanted a studio of my very own to play with‘. What he got, in fact. was his parents‘ 16mm home movie camera. and after growing up on garage~bound re-creations of Flash Gordon. he created his first artistic milestone Fireworks one weekend in 1947 while his parents were at a family funeral. A dreamy explosion of homo-erotic sailor imagery. the result won plaudits from none other than Jean Cocteau. who invited the recent high school graduate to Paris where he was to live from 1950—62.
Encouraged by Henri Langlois. who installed him in a job at the Cinematheque Francais. the young man's association with the likes of Cocteau and Jean Genet was to prove highly liberating and instil in him the self-belief needed to pursue a career as a film artist. Shooting the gentle cine-nocture Eaux D'A rtifice in the Tivoli Gardens in 1953. he was to return home (courtesy ofanother family funeral) the next year to film
Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome. Based around Crowley‘s idea of ‘a dramatic ritual where people in the cult assume the identity ofa god or goddess’, the film was a precursor to the increasing use of Crowleian paraphernalia that was to mark his two major works. 1963‘s influential biker/leather exploration Scorpio Rising, and the current version of the more overtly ritualistic Lucifer Rising (1970—80). Anger is at pains to point out. ‘you don‘t need to be an aficionado of Aleister Crowley to understand these works.‘ But he does admit that the aesthetic theories developed by the English poet, mystic and venturer in the use of narcotics (dubbed by the British press the wickedest man in the world). where colour contrasts give off energy. offer much to the film-maker in particular. Outside ofdodgy rock personang (Jagger, Marianne Faithful. Jimmy Page) where the Crowleian sway continued to exert a hold. Anger’s prime inﬂuence on other film-makers is in his ironic juxtaposition of popular music to comment on the image. ‘Martin Scorcese told me that Scorpio Rising greatly affected him and that he was looking for the same effect in Mean Streets‘. Anger reﬂects. And although he denied the rumours that he was a presence on the set of
‘ David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet. it‘s hardly
coincidence that both directors have found much richness in Bobby Vinton‘s title hit.
Spread over three programmes the current BFl Anger retrospective gathers together all his most significant short films in recently struck prints. programming them alongside work from the American avant garde (Stan Brakhage. Bruce Baillie) to put the Anger oeuvre in context.
There‘s also a lengthy sequence from Eisenstein’s [van The Terrible indicating where Anger‘s greatest cinematic debt lies, and a chunk from Derek Jarman‘s Last ofEngland which demonstrates how a contemporary British film-artist has hijacked Anger‘s densely layered style ofcreative superimposition.
Nevertheless more people will read the Hollywood Babylon books than will ever see Anger‘s own film output. Far from carrying on a vendetta against the star system. he affirms that he has ‘a great deal ofsympathy‘ for the celebrities whose sleazy peccadilloes are exposed on the books picture-crammed pages. and says that he‘s ‘merely recognising the fact that these huge figures in our cultural life are still plagued by the same needs and desires as the rest of us‘. Perhaps this is justification for printing a close-up ofJayne Mansfield‘s car crash. Then again perhaps it isn‘t. . I
Ironically there are probably just as many juicy stories around, about Anger himself. including the tale of how his close Sixties‘ associate Bobby Beausoleil became involved with drug-related murder on the fringes of the Manson family. But Kenneth. who's a well-preserved and rather wry old gentleman these days. prefers only to bemoan the fact that he‘s ‘waiting for a lot ofpeople to die' before unleashing the third instalment in a more legally friendly environment.
Programme One of the Films of Kenneth A nger is at Edinburgh Film/louse on Mon 5 & Tueé Feb. See Listin gs for full details.
‘Into The Pleasure Dome' a special BF] dossier on Anger is available from the Film/rouse box office at [3 . 95 and is recommended.
The List 26 January — 8 February l99tl15