Film and Television

Kenneth Anger Films at The Little Theatre Cinema, Bath

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Posted on 20th April 2017

Kenneth Anger Films

The Little Theatre Cinema, Bath

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


The Little Theatre shows the rare, interesting and unusual each Tuesday night; this Tuesday it was at the top end of those three descriptives: five films by Kenneth Anger.

Kenneth Anger was the enfant terrible of Hollywood for three decades beginning in the late 40s. He grew up in Los Angeles and seemed born to make films - his own iconoclastic short pieces of art in motion. He began when he was just ten years old, in the late 30s. 

His first film to gain attention — notoriety might be more like it — was Fireworks in 1947 when he was 20 years old. It was the first in this night’s programme. Fireworks, like all of Anger’s films, is silent with musical accompaniment, in this case late 19th c. classical (Respighi). A young man, presented homoerotically, is seduced/seduces a handsome sailor, then is attacked brutally by a group of sailors armed with chains; this is followed by a scene of a man setting off a firework stuck in the fly of his trousers and closes with the young man and another lying in bed, shirtless. It is all as a dream; it is powerful and reciting it as a narrative is a disservice.
This 15-minute black and white film was astonishing for 1947, both for its homosexual content, but also for its unalloyed commitment to film as serious, noncommercial art. There are influences, of course, Jean Cocteau foremost, but Anger influenced many more after him.

Next was Eaux d’Artifice (1953) a 12 minute paean to flowing water, all shot in an elaborate classical statuary and fountain filled garden. Water has never looked so homoerotic.

And then a very brief Kustom Kar Kommando (1965), in which a young man in tight jeans buffs a beautifully painted hot rod while a fantastically dreamy version of Dream Lover, sung by the Paris Sisters, plays. 

Kenneth Anger’s tour de force, for me at least, is Scorpio Rising (1963). The half-hour film follows a young man getting ready to go out, dressing in tight jeans (of course), motorcycle jacket and boots, lovingly - erotically - building his motorcycle and riding off to an all-male biker party. The soundtrack throughout is 50s and early 60s rock and roll songs that comment slyly on the visuals. Most memorable is The Crystals' He’s A Rebel, which plays as the film cuts between the biker stud and scenes from a Biblical film of Jesus with his apostles.

The party turns to orgy with very fleeting scenes of gay sex, Nazi symbolism is introduced as the film turns dark with images of charismatic leadership, church desecration, motorcycles crashing; death. It is a remarkable film, and marks a transition for Kenneth Anger from the intense homoeroticism of his films thus far to the subsequent emergence and preoccupation with his mystical beliefs derived from Aleister Crowley. 

For this latter period, the key film is Lucifer Rising (1972), also a half hour long, the last in Tuesday’s programme. Lucifer Rising explores the Crowlian religion, Thelema, and its conception of a new age dawning. Lucifer (not to be confused with Satan) is the “bringer of light” in a kind of hodgepodge of Egyptian mysticism. It has a suitably psychedelic original soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil (of Charles Manson fame), Marianne Faithful as Lilith and appearances by Chris Jagger, Donald Cammel and Jimmy Page. It is a bigger, more elaborate production, but, for me, does not match the power and coherence of Scorpio Rising. I guess sex is more convincing than religion.

Charley Dunlap


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