My only exposure to Kenneth Anger prior to this viewing has been through his Q & A/Lecture at the Disinformation convention, which can be seen on the Disinformation program DVD. I was initially drawn to him probably for the same reason many others are; he was a friend of the self proclaimed “Most Evil Man in the World”, Aleister Crowley. Anger had many interesting observations about magick and the state of the world during his interview for Disinfo, most of which I found to be clever, or at least though provoking. While I was not very intrigued by his claim to fame, Hollywood Babylon, the book in which he catalogs the dirty deeds of Hollywood’s elite during his early years; I was drawn to his short films, both for their esoteric and for-mature-audiences draw. It took a little digging around and a little waiting to get my hands on The Short Films of Kenneth Anger, but this effort paid off. I have enjoyed Anger’s work ever since, most dominantly in terms of it’s visual appeal.
This particular collection, The Short Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One, featured five of his earlier short films, one of which was from 1947, which gave me some interesting insight about the age of Anger. In particular, the short piece titled Rabbit’s Moon got my attention. This short was a strange narrative about a man (?) who is obsessed with these images of the moon, and later the sun; and the battle between the celestial bodies and his adoration. It was very pretty, relying heavily on cool blue and white tones, and employed an odd choice of soundtrack; 50’s diner-esque do-wop. Something about the aesthetic of the film was very appealing to me, as was the case with a number of scenes from the other shorts featured on this collection. Puce Moment was absolutely beautiful, with its feminine textures, sparkling fabrics and backdrops, and the focal point of the beautiful and forgotten Hollywood starlet Yvonne Marquis. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome is a piece that serves as a better example of Anger’s style, mainly because of its proliferation of bright colors and strange costuming. This particular short is the theologian’s dream, featuring figureheads of a number of religions all together in the pleasure dome. I could go on about what makes Anger’s short films interesting, but suffice it to say that films like Lucifer Rising have cult status for a reason. The films do not have to make sense. They do not have to have linear structure. What Anger is best at is creating a sense of wonder through his films. Even though there are points whenever viewers will feel like they are being brainwashed, like the entirety of the wah-wah repetitive Rolling Stones scored Invocation of my Demon Brother, that discomfort and inability to turn away are indeed part of the draw. All of this is of course achieved well before the benefits of digital recording and fancy editing technology. 35mm splendor.
To be honest, I’m not sure I understand the respect and adoration that Anger generally receives. I suspect that his fandom stems in part from the overtly homosexual images in some of his films, especially given the time in which he made them. He is “risque”, certainly. Perhaps it is the temptation of implied evils that creates hoopla around Anger; heck, he even casted Anton LaVey as the devil (a.k.a. himself, amirite?). Personally, what I adore about Anger’s work is the emphasis on the visual, the lack of scripting, and the freedom given to the viewer to interpret and puzzle out what exactly it is they’re watching. I would not recommend Anger’s work for anyone that doesn’t like films that force them to be a little confused, nor would I recommend them to anyone who’s squeamish about thelemic imagery and ephemera. Cinephiles only.
If you’re interested, here’s one of the shorter of Anger’s works. This short film just makes me want to surround myself in beautiful colored glass: