Wednesday, May 24, 2023

RIP Kenneth Anger


Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds

When they get around to unpicking the tangled threads that connect The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Psychic TV, somewhere at the web's centre will lurk the tarantula figure of Kenneth Anger. Aleister Crowley fan, ex-chum of Jimmy Page, and chronicler of the psycho-sleaze behind Hollywood's glittering facade, Kenneth Anger is also the maker of a series of films whose themes uncannily prefigure the abiding fixations of leftest-field rock. Pass beyond a certain limit, and you enter a realm where magic and ritual, S&M,Crowley, Manson, Nazism, bodypiercing, tattooing,hallucinogenics, mytho-mania, voodoo dance, all interconnect as facets of the same quest: for the ultimate transgressive,transcendent, self-annihilating mystic HIGH.

Both "Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome" (1954) and "Invocation Of My Demon Brother" (1969) are about this search for supreme bacchanalian release. ("Inauguration" was inspired by taking acid, "Invocation" by the counter culture created by acid). Both are a kaleidoscopic montage of images grotesque and bizarre, with all the key Anger motifs (cocks, pagan ritual, bikers, Swastikas, cabbalistic symbols) brought into play. "Inauguration", with its strident Janacek soundtrack and vampily made-up actresses, is simultaneously camp and disturbing; "Invocation", with its maddening moog soundtrack by Mick Jagger, captures the apocalyptic vibe of the bitter end of the hippy daze, and must surely have influenced Nic Roeg's "Performance".

"Lucifer Rising" (1970-80) shares much the same pre-occupations as the other two films, but expresses them in less histrionic fashion, through images of serene, stately beauty, set to a beatific soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil (an acolyte of Manson's). "Lucifer Rising" is a rehabilation of Lucifer, reclaiming him as the Light god, a Rebel Angel whose "message is that the key to joy is disobedience". Anger's biker movie, "Scorpio Rising" (1963), on the other hand, is a "death mirror held up to American culture". The biker represents American myths of Lone Ranger individualism and Born To Run freedom, taken to their psychotic limit. "Scorpio Rising" is a giddy miasma of death's-heads, Iron Crosses, cocaine and blasphemy, with Anger salivating over the well-stuffed crotches and leather-clad torsoes of his subjects - and all set to the incongruous soundtrack of Sixties pulp pop!

Of the five shorter films also included in this series, "Fireworks" (1947) is a blue-tinted homerotic nightmare about being brutalised by sailors (the final image is of a sailor with a Roman Candle jutting out of his zip), while "Eaux D'Artifice" (1953) is a beautiful Midsummer Night's dreamscape, with a full moon suffusing off the cascading, gushing and spurting waters of the Tivoli fountain gardens.

Sheer brilliance.

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