Most artists, if they’re lucky, invent one thing. But Kenneth Anger, who was a filmmaker, author, lecherous scene aristocrat, and even to the day of his death at 96 (reportedly died May 11, though it wasn’t announced until May 24), is an enigmatic figure. , invented several things, each one epic.
In “Fireworks,” a 14-minute avant-garde 1947 film, Anger invented the consciousness and imagery of gay liberation—not the desire for liberation (which is buried in gay hearts everywhere), but a visual imagining of what that liberation might look like, how it would feel, And why it seems so forbidden, and why it should be. In Scorpio Rising, Anger Invents MTV From the Underground, Martin Scorsese in “Mean Streets” and David Lynch in Blue Velvet invented the way to express how music and reality talk to each other.
In “Hollywood Babylon,” his legendary 1959 book packed with sordid tales of the Tinseltown scandal from the 1920s to the 1950s, Unger invented how the dark side of celebrity, already blazing in the Hollywood tabloids, would become addictive and insatiable. culture Of gossip, one we see through with a shriek of derision even when we drank it all. In the book, anger stared into the eyes of a voyeur even as he laughed in front of a cemetery. Which is why it was almost insignificant that a number of the stories in the book were not true. (There were a number of them.) Fury was inventing fanciful legends to gossip, how the dirty bottom of the dream factory was part of the dream.
The DNA of Imaginative Obsession and Desire flows through Kenneth Unger. He was one of the secret legislators of the twentieth century. He took what was in his head and poured it into an underground cinema strong as a drug. He turned both the dangerous and the slick experiment into a soundtrack (and vice versa). He envisioned movie stars as liberating gods who then uprooted their rules (which only made them great gods). Through it all, his talent was so unique that the films he created had a spellbinding, spellbinding quality. You didn’t just watch them, you Believes Including.
Whenever I’m asked to compile a list of the 10 greatest movies ever made, my list always consists of the following: nine narrative features (“Citizen Kane,” “Nashville,” “The Rules of the Game,” etc.) and a two-hour experimental/underground movie. 28 min. It was produced in 1963. That would be “Scorpio Rising,” Anger’s hypnotic masterpiece. Why do I put this movie on the list? The obvious answer is: because I think it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. a period.
But why do I believe that? The sheer impact of “Scorpio Rising”—on movies, on popular culture, on the way we see things—is almost too amazing to measure. Rage, whose seismic pop fever made dreams of what sounded like the cusp of the ’50s and ’60s, created a cape-changing ride for Coney Island bikers with studded black leather, greased chrome machines that they took apart and put back together like toys, plus Cocaine, Jesus and the Nazis, comic strips with hidden messages, orgy parties and black group rituals, torture and desire…and rock and roll. For 28 hypnotic minutes, he raged Baptized His image is in pop music. And when he did, a new form was born – a new world.
Fury, moment by moment lifting songs off the charts, created an explosive counterpoint. As he leads us into the realm of nocturnal Scorpio, a biker who’s built like Tom from Finland, we see men in their studded overalls… singing Bobby Vinton “She was wearing blue velvet…” (Yes, this is where Lynch came up with the idea to use that song.) We see a skull attached to the back of a Scorpion chopper positioned against the opening beat of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” so that Death’s head momentarily becomes “My Boyfriend” (which is both funny and a little scary). The images start slowly and gather strength, starting during the “heat wave,” when Scorpios smell the white powder in such an explosion of images that it feels like a lightning charge explodes in your head.
Then we get to HM “He’s a Rebel”. Rage lays a Phil Spector/Crystals track over old black-and-white film imagery depicting the story of Christ, such that Jesus, leading his followers and raising Lazarus from the dead, is now the song’s “rebel” – but since the song is about a girl’s adoration for the leader of the flock, this imaginary rebellion Christ crossed with a scorpion, which relates to “My Friend,” which is crossed with bootleg fascism imagery, and the fact that somehow these things are at once a joke, as ridiculous as a Warhol silk screen, and something of a hallucination, because the movie says: this It is how our culture of images, how worship and subversion, God and desire and danger and salvation and death, all dress in animal skin, and live within us. What anger directed at “Scorpio Rising” was nothing less than the delightful layer cake of 20th century consciousness. Make his demons dance. He has made his demons for us.
Throughout his life, Anger flaunted his association with Satanism. He was an avowed Satanist and a follower of Aleister Crowley, the prophet of occult magic. And he’s cultivated a number of dark attachments, such as his relationship with Bobby Beausoleil, Manson’s associate who played Lucifer in Anger’s Invitation of My Demon Brother, a 1969 ode to bad vibes that features an ultra-scrape electronic soundtrack by Mick Jagger (at the time he was Anger surrounds itself with those who sympathize with Satan).
However, what I had always thought about Anger was that his Satanism was not, in essence, an espousal of “evil.” It was, rather, a metaphorical, self-imposed mirror of how society chose to view him as a gay man. Born Kenneth Engelmayer (who changed his name to Anger in his late teens) in Santa Monica in 1927, in the world he was raised homosexual and stigmatized, demonized, and criminalized. Anger, a queer-conscious revolt, was saying: I refuse to be less than public about who I am – so if you view me and my sexuality as evil, I will make a public outcry on you. myself A resident of the underworld.
This is part of the exciting black magic of “fireworks”. The movie was shot when Anger was 20 (although he polished his mythology with the lie he made when he was only 17, making himself look more than a wonder), and I’ll call it second The greatest underground movie ever. It’s also, in its way, a music video (although it uses the syncopated trance of Respighi, as rock and roll hadn’t been invented yet), and what it’s about is the unprecedented expression of gay desire.
It’s a psychological drama told in black and white, starring Anger himself, a lanky, handsome figure with mature lips and pleading eyes, as a lonely young man whose only company is a collection of pinup pics. So he decides to go out and find some real action, and he does. What follows is a sadomasochistic fantasy, a transcendent shadow game of sailors, violence, blood, cream and ripped viscera that builds and builds until it explodes in sensual ecstasy. In the end, anger is no longer alone. He has the companion he wants, the one he deserves – a faceless figure wearing a sparkling nimbus.
Filmed at Unger’s parents’ home in Beverly Hills over the weekend, “Fireworks” is a movie that never loses its power to shock, cast a spell, or take you to the subterranean place of desire that connects all human beings. Watching it, you can’t believe how ahead of its time it was. Fury was arrested for obscenity but was released. He’s been making movies since he was 10 (and claims to have played the Prince of Change in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a pretty false assertion, though I think it’s him), and is now going to Europe, Land of the original Bohemians, to continue making films for the imagination of the future.
You can watch Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle, a collection of nine movies that define his identity, in about two and a half hours, and over the years I’ve returned to these movies again and again, watching them almost like an album cut, often late at night. “Kustom Kar Kommandos,” his three-minute film from 1965, is like a coda to “Scorpio Rising,” set to the blazing version of the Paris Sisters’ Dream Lover, a groovy trance in which Rod hunk’s polishing of his car is coded The old luminary has dual seductions that are at once farcical and hallucinatory. Puce Moment, released in 1949, imagines a Hollywood star of the silent era and evokes a haunted, haunted sense of the past.
Then there’s “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” Anger’s version of an epic (38 minutes of dense imagery), made in 1954, in which he spins a web of royal jewels, pagan deities, and people with hair very high, but what it really does is anticipate the psychedelic sixties before a decade. I first saw this movie in 1981, after Anger gave it a new Electric Light Orchestra soundtrack “El Dorado”, which was played in its entirety. He could never stop fiddling with his films, changing the music, and fiddling with the editing. The ELO version of “Opening the Pleasure Dome” has a crazy coolness to it – it was a prequel to that album, and to this day I can’t listen to it without seeing Anger’s photos. But he eventually got the original version back, with its flowing music by Janáček, and it’s much better. It’s the kind of avant-garde movie that feeds your head even as it leaves you scratching it.
This also applies to “Lucifer Rising,” the 1970s movie he’s making that combines the Sphinx and flying saucers. But after making movies for more than 20 years, and always struggling to get them funded, the rage, in his mid-40s, was smoldering—with culture, with his creative muse. All the dimensions of the future that he depicted in his films are now beginning to pass through. And anger, for the first time, is stuck in the past. He spent decades struggling to eat the food of his legend. Because these are not the kinds of movies you make a lot of money on. (And that’s where “Hollywood Babylon 2,” published in 1984, comes in.)
I’ve gone to see Anger in public many times, notably one evening about 15 years ago when he was presenting his work at the Anthological Archives of Film in New York. While I was in awe of being in his presence, my reaction to his introduction, in which he rambled like an old Hollywood diva about things like Louella Parsons in the diapers, was that I couldn’t fully relate the man to his movies. He looked more fragile and more careless.
But those movies, or at least the greatest ones, are timeless. And after a while he resumed making them in the 2000s. They’re hit or miss now, without the spirited oomph of his defining work, but in 2005, at the Museum of Modern Art, I finally got to see a new take on rage that synced to his old heartbeat. It’s called “Mouse Heaven,” and it’s, of all things, a tribute to Mickey Mouse built around a friend of Anger’s massive collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia. Of course Mickey Mouse first appeared in a 1928 cartoon, so the theme took Anger back to the old Hollywood he was still living in. The movie was about Charm From Mickey Mouse – and Unger’s liberation has once again cast a spell. It was enough to remind me that his films, in a wink of intoxicating ecstasy, always showed you the light in the dark. Which is why, no matter how many demons he planted, history will remember Kenneth Unger as an artist alongside the angels, as well as the greatest underground film director who ever lived.