THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER: A Review in Four Parts
American underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger has been noted as an influence by two of my favourite directors, John Waters and David Lynch; for that and a million other reasons I will be dedicating four days to Kenneth Anger. I recently watched Fantoma’s The Films of Kenneth Anger Volumes one and two. The two volumes showcase ten (officially nine as there are two versions of his film Rabbit’s Moon in the set) of Anger’s films from his Magick Lantern Cycle. This surreal, violent, homoerotic, melodramatic, esoteric, gorgeous spectacle of a collection is nothing short of a masterpiece!
Kenneth Anger’s films are clearly personal, wildly creative and completely unique. Anger’s use of light and color is exceptional. The costumes are incredible and the use of music is always interesting. Kenneth Anger’s 1947 film Fireworks was the first of his titles to gain recognition. The film’s material got Anger slapped with obscenity charges that he was later acquitted of. It was bold to be an openly gay filmmaker in 1947. Anger is also a follower of Aleister Crowley’s religion/philosophy Thelema, These themes among others are included in his hypnotic and beautiful films. It is no surprise that this avant-garde pioneer has influenced so many filmmakers.
The Films of Kenneth Anger VOLUME ONE
PUCE MOMENT (1949)
RABBIT’S MOON (1950) – 16 minute version
EAUX D’ARTIFICE (1953)
INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME (1954)
The Films of Kenneth Anger VOLUME TWO
SCORPIO RISING (1964)
INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969)
KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (1070)
LUCIFER RISING (1972)
RABBIT’S MOON (1950/1979)
Not that I needed another reason to re-watch the films in this collection but they include commentary from Kenneth Anger so I gave each one a second viewing. Anger’s commentary is full of fascinating and fun facts about the creation of each film. I will be citing Anger’s commentary often over the next few days. I am kicking things off with reviews for three of Anger’s earliest films; Fireworks, Puce Moment and Eaux d’Artifice.
Information about Fireworks from The Films of Kenneth Anger Volume One…
“Fireworks was first publicly screened in a version with no opening titles. A title sequence and narrated prologue were later added. In 1988 Anger exhibited a version with hand painting. The only copy of which was subsequently lost in a fire. A later version featured a new title sequence and was printed with a blue color cast. UCLA has preserved the first two release versions in 35mm from surviving early 16mm prints and is preserving the final version in 16mm from the reconstructed 16mm color and black and white A/B rolls. This print is the version containing Anger’s prologue.”
Kenneth Anger filmed Fireworks at the age of 17 over one weekend while his parents were away at a funeral. Kenneth Anger plays the central character; a dreamer with well-built sailors on his mind. He meets a handsome fellow in a bar whom he asks for a light. The sailor takes an exception to the request and roughs the dreamer up. Later the sailor returns with several of his friends to teach the dreamer a lesson.
Fireworks is Anger’s earliest surviving film; it is a daring homoerotic dream sequence partially inspired by the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 in Los Angeles. Anger recollects images of rampaging sailors on the commentary. The film’s sailors are friends of Anger who were in fact actually sailors. Anger’s dream while homoerotic is also quite terrifying.
A painting done by Anger entitled The Furious Jesus and a dried up pine tree from the previous Christmas. The Christmas tree fully decorated moves toward the furious Jesus like a tinsel-covered erection. .
Fireworks was a fascinating and visually impressive first entry in the collection.
PUCE MOMENT (1949)
Puce Moment was an idea born from a larger project called Puce Women. Sadly Anger never received the financing he needed to complete the project. The film features Yvonne Marquis who Anger thought had an interesting silent film actress quality about her. I agree.
The rack of dresses shown in the film’s opening were given to Anger by his grandmother who was a Costume Mistress during the silent film era of the 1920s. Puce was a popular color of the time and inspired the film’s theme. Puce Moment is short and sweet; visually enthralling and complimented perfectly by Jonathan Halper’s Leaving My Old Life Behind/I Am A Hermit. Watch it now!
PUCE MOMENT a film by ANGER
EAUX D’ARTIFICE (1953)
Anger showed the film to actress Louise Brooks who commented she thought it was his sexiest.There is something rather sexy about the presentation. Anger comments that he used natural sunlight with heavy red filters on black and white film. The bluish tinge really is stunning and enhances the water theme. Eaux d’Artifice mesmerizes.