dream sequence, dance, dark fantasy, eroticism
Filmmaker, actor, author, occultist
“Films are close to being dreams – and in dreams, you don’t have to analyse what everything means.” ΚΑ
Article by Tania Santou
Kenneth Anger, Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, born on February 3, 1927, in Santa Monica, California, is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author who works exclusively in short films characterised by surrealism, psychodrama, eroticism and, above all, the occult. Anger has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”(Svede, Mark Allen, 2002). Several recurring themes can be seen within Anger’s cinematic work, besides homoeroticism, expressed with images of naked men. One of the central recurring images is the concept of flames and light; further to this heavy use is made of music, both classical and pop, to accompany the visual imagery. Auguste and Louis Lumière, Georges Méliès, and Maya Deren have been his major influences, concerning cinematography.
Kenneth was very interested in the works of the French ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi, as well as Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. His interest in the occult started when he read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as a child. Anger has always been fascinated by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded.
“If you are a member of the media, you belong to the public. You’ve made that Faustian bargain with your public. Take me – all of me – I’m yours.” KA
His father was of German ancestry, while his disabled mother of English ancestry. Anger was raised in a typical middle-class family. He had two siblings. Anger’s relationship with his parents and siblings was horrible. Who influenced his versatile personality? It was his grandmother, Bertha, who first took Kenneth to the cinema, to see a double bill of The Singing Fool and Thunder Over Mexico and also encouraged his artistic interests.
His youth was quite controversial; a child actor, making short films at the age of ten, being put on trials on obscenity charges, and later acquitted, was also a friend of pioneering sexologist Alfred Kinsey, a “father figure”for him, Tennessee Williams, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull and Anton LaVey.
In his first film in 1937, Ferdinand the Bull, Kenneth dressed as a matador, while two of his friends from played the bull. His second, Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat, was made up of footage of children playing during the summer, accompanied by popular songs by bands like the Ink Spots. Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat followed in 1941. In 1942 his next short film, Prisoner of Mars, was heavily influenced by Flash Gordon and elements taken from the Greek mythological myth of the Minotaur. He had also constructed a small volcano in his back yard. It is believed that Anger destroyed much of his previous work in 1967.
In 1944, the Anglemyers moved to Hollywood to live with their grandmother. There, Kenneth met a fellow filmmaker, Curtis Harrington, and formed with him Creative Film Associates (CFA). Harrington is said to have introduced Anger to the work of Aleister Crowley. CFA also distributed experimental films or “underground films” such as those of Maya Deren, John and James Whitney.
The first film to gain recognition was Fireworks (1947), before moving to Europe, where he produced Rabbit’s Moon (released 1970) and Eaux d’Artifice (1953), immensely inspired by the avant-garde scene.
At some point in the mid-1940s, Kenneth moved out of his parents’ home, changed his name and openly declared his homosexuality, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in the United States. He started studying cinematography at the University of Southern California and was keen in consuming cannabis and peyote. The result of this experience was the short film Fireworks, released in 1948. About this short film, which caused him an arrest on obscenity charges, he said: “This flick is all I have to say about being 17, the United States Navy, American Christmas and the fourth of July.” The Supreme Court of California, in the end, reached the verdict that the short film was art rather than pornography. Fireworks is about a young man, Anger himself, who is attacked by sailors who beat him to death and open his chest to find a compass inside.
In 1950, Anger moved to Paris, France, after receiving a letter from the French director Jean Cocteau. Cocteau expressed his admiration for Fireworks, shown in 1949 at Festival du Film Maudit in Biarritz, France, and asked Anger to make a movie of his ballet The Young Man and Death.
His practice of Thelemic religion gave birth to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, created in 1954; a 38-minute surrealist work featuring many Crowleyan and Thelemite themes, with many of the various characters personifying various pagan gods such as Isis, Osiris and Pan. In 1955, Anger and Alfred Kinsey travelled to the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily in order to film a short documentary titled Thelema Abbey, restoring many of the erotic wall paintings that were found there as well as performing certain Crowleyan rituals at the site. Kinsey died in 1956; Anger returned to Paris, feeling extremely lonely.
In desperate need of money, Anger wrote a book titled Hollywood Babylon in which he collected together gossip regarding celebrities, some of which he claims he had been told. This included that Walt Disney was a drug user, addicted to opiates, reflected in the character of Goofy, who’s perpetually stoned on cannabis.
In 1961, Anger returned to America and began work on Scorpio Rising, incorporating more controversial visuals into the piece, including Nazi iconography, nudity, and clips of the life of Jesus Christ taken from Family Films’ The Living Bible. The film soon became popular but was banned after he was brought to court again due to claims that the film was obscene.
His next plan was a grant of $10,000 he received from Ford Foundation, which had just started a program of giving out grants to filmmakers in order to create a relevant film. Anger spent much of the money on living expenses and making alterations to some of his earlier films, meaning that by the time he actually created Kustom Kar Kommandos, it was only one scene long.
The mid-1960s saw the emergence of the hippie scene, making the mind-altering drugs that Anger himself had been using for many years very popular, particularly LSD, which at the time was still legal in the United States. By this time, Anger had become well known throughout the underground scene in the United States, and several cinemas across the country screened his better-known films all in one event.
Anger enjoyed his fame and began to react to publicity in much the same way as his idol Aleister Crowley had done, for instance describing himself as “the most monstrous moviemaker in the underground”, a pun on the fact that Crowley had been labelled “the wickedest man in the world” by the British tabloids in 1920.
In 1980 Anger threw paint over the front door of a house that Warhol had recently moved out of, showing his resentment for Andy Warhol, and became good friends with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. Anger describes himself as a “pagan” and refuses to consider himself to be a Satanist.
In 1967, in Village Voice, Anger publicly reinvented himself by placing a full-page advert declaring “In Memoriam. Kenneth Anger. Filmmaker 1947–1967”. He soon publicly reappeared, this time to claim that he had burned all of his early work.
The following year he travelled to London where he created a new film full of Thelemic themes, Invocation of My Demon Brother, which starred Beausoleil, LaVey, Jagger and Richards, as well as Anger himself, and the music for which had been composed by Jagger.
In 1986, he sold the video rights to his films, which finally appeared on VHS, allowing them to have greater publicity.
He retired from filmmaking in the early 1980s, publishing the book Hollywood Babylon II (1982), only to return at the dawn of the 21st century, producing shorts for various film festivals and events.
Until today, Kenneth Anger is very energetic, enjoying life and devoted to art in all its forms. Anger has always been an extremely private individual, although he has given various interviews over the years. David Wingrove, describing him in 2008 as “A joy. Gentle, soft-spoken, immaculately tanned”.
1937 Ferdinand the Bull Lost film
1941 man on man 3 7 mins. A silent black-and-white film in which homosexual activity goes on in Santa Monica, California, interspersed with images of nude male and homosexual imagery, which ends when cum fills their anuses, and they fall apparently dead.
1941–1942 Tinsel Tree 3 mins. A silent black-and-white film that Anger personally hand tinted with gold-scarlet over the flames. It featured a Christmas tree being dressed in decorations, before being shown stripped and bare and set on fire.
1942 Prisoner of Mars 11 mins. A silent black-and-white film that mixes futuristic science fiction with the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur. The plot revolves around a character, The Boy Elect from Earth, played by Anger himself, who is sent in a rocket to Mars where he finds himself in a labyrinth filled with the bones of other adolescents sent there in the past.
1943 The Nest 20 mins. A silent black-and-white film in which a brother (played by Bob Jones) and sister (Jo Whittaker) are examining mirrors when a third figure (Dare Harris), causes them to act violently against one another, before a magical rite takes place in which the sister’s binding spell is destroyed by the brother.
1944 Demigods (Escape Episode) 35 mins. A silent black-and-white film based upon the ancient Greek myth of Andromeda, in which a girl (Marilyn Granas) is imprisoned within a seaside crumbling Neo-Gothic church guarded by a religious fanatic (Nora Watson), till she is saved by a boy representing Perseus (Bob Jones).
1945 Drastic Demise 5 mins. A silent black-and-white work filmed by Anger in Hollywood on V-J Day. Consisting of footage of a celebratory crowd, it ends with an image of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
1946 Escape Episode 27 mins. A shortened version of Demigods (Escape Episode), it features Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy alongside the sounds of birds, wind and surf.
1947 Fireworks 15 mins. Filmed in black and white, it is a homoerotic work seen through the eyes of the protagonist, played by Anger himself.
1949 Puce Moment 6 mins. Filmed in color, starring Yvonne Marquis as a celebrity in her home, and featuring music by Jonathan Halper, Puce Moment lasted only one scene and portrays her examining her dresses and perfume.
1949 The Love That Whirls unknown Influenced by James Frazer’s anthropological text The Golden Bough, it was set in the Aztec civilisation and featured a youth who was chosen to be king for a year before being ritually sacrificed. The film was subsequently destroyed at the Eastman-Kodac developing plant, who objected to its theme and nudity.
1950 Rabbit’s Moon 16 mins (1972)
7 mins (1979) Filmed in 35mm, it is set in a small wooded glade where a clown stares up at the moon, in which a rabbit lives.
1951–1952 Les Chants de Maldoror unknown Based upon the 1868 novel by Isidore Ducasse, Les Chants de Maldoror, only test shots were produced, in which he employed members of the Marquis de Cuevas ballet.
1953 Eaux d’Artifice 12 mins. A short, monochromatic film appearing in dark blue, with only one moment of color – a woman opens a fan that glows in bright green. The woman appears in a gown stretching from neck to toe, wearing dark glasses and a feathered headdress. Water flows throughout, from fountains, and suggestively through the mouths and over the faces of statuary. Fluids sensually pulse and flow, reminiscent of sexual climax. In the end the woman steps from a door seemingly from the side of a fountain, and is herself transformed into water. The film is set to the music of Vivaldi’s Winter Movement from the Four Seasons.
1953 Le Jeune Homme et la Mort unknown Based upon the ballet by Jean Cocteau, this silent black-and-white film starred Jean Babilee as a young man and Nathalie Philipart as Death. It was a 16mm pilot designed to be used to raise funds to produce a 35mm Technicolor version, but the funding for this never materialized.
1954 Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome 38 mins.
1955 Thelema Abbey 10 mins. A short, black-and-white documentary on Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Sicily, which examined many of the exotic frescoes, a study in which Anger was assisted by sexologist Alfred Kinsey.
1961 L’Histoire d’O 20 mins. Based upon Pauline Réage’s 1954 novel, L’Histoire d’O, it revolved around the sadomasochistic sexual activities of a heterosexual couple. Anger would later relate that the money provided for the film had been a part of the ransom paid to the kidnappers of Eric Peugeot, heir to the Peugeot car company fortune.
1963 Scorpio Rising 29 mins.
1965 Kustom Kar Kommandos 3 mins. In color, set to the tones of “Dream Lover” by The Paris Sisters, several handsome young men stand admiringly over the chassis of a souped-up hot rod. A young man slowly works the chamois over the chrome and paint of the machine. The young man now smartly dressed in matching pastel blue gets behind the wheel and begins to work the controls. Finally, the engine revs and the car rolls away.
1969 Invocation of My Demon Brother 12 mins. In color, with an electronic score by Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger. The film features an array of occult symbols and activities, including a Satanic funeral for a cat. Demon Brother also includes Anton LaVey as a priest, newsreel footage of the Vietnam War, and clips of The Rolling Stones’ July 1969 free concert in London’s Hyde Park, their first public appearance after the death of Brian Jones and their first performance with Mick Taylor. Also shown in the concert footage are Jagger’s then-girlfriend and pop singer Marianne Faithfull and Keith Richards’ wife, actress Anita Pallenberg. Demon Brother is mostly assembled from footage for Anger’s original version of Lucifer Rising, including scenes of future Manson Family associate Bobby Beausoleil in the titular role.
1970–1980 Lucifer Rising 29 mins.
1976 Senators in Bondage Announced, but never produced
1977 Matelots en Menottes Announced, but never produced
1979 Denunciation of Stan Brakhage 7 mins. Announced, but never produced
2000 Don’t Smoke That Cigarette! 45 mins.
2000 Hollywood Babylon 4 mins. Co-directed with Nico B.
2002 The Man We Want to Hang 12 mins. Images of artworks by or related to Aleister Crowley with music by Anatol Liadov
2004 Anger Sees Red 4 mins. Comprises footage of a muscled man, who identifies himself only as “Red”, walking through a park and sunbathing, at which he is seen by Anger himself, who is also in the park, before subsequently returning home.
2004 Patriotic Penis
2005 Mouse Heaven 11 mins. A montage of Mickey Mouse memorabilia from the 1920s and 1930s, accompanied by contemporary jazz music.
2007 Elliott’s Suicide 15 mins.
2007 I’ll Be Watching You 5 mins.
2007 My Surfing Lucifer 4 mins. Color with no sound; “A Tribute to my Surfing Pal Adolph Bunker Spreckels III” “BUNKY”. A young man with a white Mercedes, the rolling waves breaking on the beach, the surfers riding them in. The film ends with a closeup of the skinned elbow of the surfer, presumably abraded during a wipeout.
2008 Foreplay 7 mins.
2008 Ich Will! 35 mins.
2008 Uniform Attraction 21 mins.
2010 Missoni 2 mins. 32 secs.
1959 Hollywood Babylon
1961 A History of Eroticism An introduction to Lo Duca’s book.
1970 Atlantis: The Lost Continent An introduction to Aleister Crowley’s book.
1986 Hollywood Babylon II
2001 Suicide in the Entertainment Industry With David K. Frasier.
Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists Award (1996)
Spirit of Silver Lake Award (2000)
Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award (2001)
Independent/Experimental Film and Video Award (2002)
Hutchinson, Alice L. (ed). 2004. Kenneth Anger. Black Dog Publishing Ltd.
Hunter, Jack (ed). 2002. Moonchild. The Films of Kenneth Anger: Persistence of Vision Volume 1. London: Creation Books.
Landis, Bill. 1995. Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger.
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