My first introduction to Kenneth Anger came via Jimmy Page‘s aborted soundtrack for Anger’s legendarily beleaguered movie, Lucifer Rising. As a teenage consumer of tawdry Led Zeppelin tell-alls, I was familiar with the back-biting between Page and Anger, with the filmmaker accusing the guitarist of rock-star ambivalence and druggy dilettantism, and Page (likely feigning) surprise and indignation at having been booted from the project. Regardless of who was reporting, the song remained the same: a media flame war between two artistes who happened to share a fascination with one Aleister Crowley. All of the books and articles repeated the same misinformation — Crowley and/or Anger were “Satanists” (not true) and the Lucifer Rising project a B-grade exercise in star-fucking debauchery (partly true).
Thrilling enough to a 15 year-old would-be-rocker, but hardly the stuff art is made of. Right?
I continued to encounter Anger here and there as I made the thrilling transition to adulthood. Maybe one of my industrial-punk pals had a fifth-generation dub of Anger’s work alongside the requisite Skinny Puppy videos, The Decline of Western Civilization Part One and Richard Kern splatter porn. Anger was treasure amongst the trash, yet I never fully appreciated him.
I did, however, finally manage to get my hands on a copy of Page’s unused 20-minute soundtrack to Lucifer Rising. At that point, I was well into experimental music (I was drone before drone was cool), and was pleasantly surprised by the potency of Page’s composition. Of course, it would be years before I was able to see a cut of the film’s intro matched to the soundtrack.
From there, I began researching the Bobby Beausoleil connection, which I won’t bother getting into, as you can read about it all over the internets. Suffice it to say, Beausoleil’s score for Lucifer Rising is the only soundtrack ever recorded in a federal prison. It’s also a great piece of music.
Despite a decade of bumping into Anger’s name in my personal studies, I had yet to make a serious investigation of his films. Sometime after the advent of YouTube, a few enterprising individuals put up portions of his most sensational work, including Invocation of My Demon Brother (synthesizer soundtrack by Mick Jagger), and the aforementioned Lucifer Rising. As far as I could gather from these shoddy copies, Anger’s films were merely dollhouse displays of various Kabbalistic and mythological archetypes. Whoopity-fuck, I thought.
Nevertheless, I ended up purchasing the two-volume DVD collection of Anger’s works — recently released by Fantoma — mostly because I am a collector of Aquarian-age oddities. Still, it took me several months to get around to watching them.
A soon-to-be-published interview with yours truly should make plain my aesthetic orientation, but for now, let me put it thusly: there is a tribe of artists and philosophers to which I am ever more certain I belong. As I had suspected, Anger himself is a member of this tribe (and others; some to which he is the solitary member). That I hadn’t appreciated his stunning, provocative, hilarious, ribald and enigmatic work earlier is a goddamn shame. I’m frankly appalled that you have to go to film school to be exposed to Anger. On the bright side, that’s where a great many filmmakers — including Martin Scorsese and Gus Van Zant — were introduced to his work. Anger’s films have influenced countless acts of cinema, and plainly augured the MTV age. Before John Cassavetes, Anger was the original independent filmmaker. Before John Waters, he was the arch queer director.
Not being able to see quality versions of Kenneth Anger’s films would be like not being able to walk into a bookstore and purchase something by William S. Burroughs. It’s an atrocious wrong that desperately needed righting, and I applaud Fantoma and the UCLA film department for making it happen.
In many ways, I’m glad that my experience of Anger was deferred. Initiation keeps its own timetable.
Here’s Anger’s groundbreaking homo-biker-Nazi-Jesus flick, Scorpio Rising. If you grok its uncouth power, I highly recommend picking up DVD volumes I and II. The restorations are fantastic, as are the insightful liners and essays.
The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. I trailer:
The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. II trailer: