Indie Icon: Kenneth Anger
Watching male rapes and Nazis over a late fifties bubble-gum music soundtrack made me wish Kenneth Anger had never gotten a hold of a video camera, but by looking back as his work as a whole it becomes apparent that he was a visionary. He experimented with elements of film and controversial issues that were far before his time, diving into the counter-culture. At first glance my impression was that Anger’s full intent and purpose when making his films was to shock, disgust, and mystify his audience to make them think about the art of cinema. But with some further investigation, I think maybe these troubling shorts may just be true expressions of a bizarre man.
Anger was born in California in 1927 and started making movies as early as the forties. He started out as a child actor and is also known for his books on the underbelly of Hollywood called Hollywood Babylon. His most popular and most freaky films were done in the sixties when hallucinogens such as LSD and mushrooms came on the scene. It seems that psychedelics influenced a great deal of Anger’s work and often played a part in the viewing of his films amongst college students. Psychedelic films such as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome [1954-66], Scorpio Rising , Invocation of My Demon Brother , and Lucifer Rising [1970-81] put Anger on the map with people of the counter-culture and experimentalists all over America.
Anger’s films are experimental to say the least. His films usually consist of montages of images often layered on top of one another with dramatic lighting and a range of styles of music. There is little to no dialogue as his films are very much visually oriented. With themes ranging from Satan and demons to homosexuality and Jesus, his films explore issues abstractly, giving no clear message except that you are supposed to be disturbed. Although, his films do seem to be dedicated to the sense that there is a higher power gauging good and evil in the world.
It is not simply for audience reaction that Anger includes these bizarre elements in his films. He was very closely connected to the Church of Satan and was close friends with Kinsey, the infamous sex researcher. Anger took part in some of Kinsey’s experiments including getting filmed masturbating. It is clear that Anger’s life as well as heavy doses of LSD influenced the films he made a great deal. He showed that not all trips are pleasant experiences.
In Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Anger uses extremely psychedelic, colorful images of demons and hell along with beautiful, happy people. The first cone-head makes an appearance along with a woman with a bird cage around her head all set to an intense opera soundtrack. There was a reoccurring eclipsed moon, that I think was examining the dark and light sides of life that both play a part in our subconscious. Scorpio Rising was a far more disturbing film about a band of gay bikers spliced with Nazis, Jesus, and Satan with a number of popular songs of the time playing throughout. The films get increasingly trippy as the go on, which I found to be the high point of his films. They start out slow and get increasingly more colorful, fast paced and intense as if reaching the peak of a psychedelic experience towards the end.
Although highly disturbing often hard to watch, Kenneth Anger’s films were revolutionary. Through his psychedelic shorts, Anger explored different facets of our world and our mind through a lens that embodies an era. His messages in his films were never clear to me, but then again I may not have consumed quite enough psychoactive chemicals to get the full experience.