The following article was published in N-SPHERE April 2010 issue.


Before John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch or other directors whose names we don’t hear whispered in the private moments of some more or less interesting exponents of the prefabricated/advertised mannequin societies, unleashed upon the more or less fortunate viewer their celluloid treatment, Kenneth Anger played his card with films such as Fireworks, Rabbit Moon or Scorpio Rising.

With only nine (IMDB says 23, but the other 14 either pass unnoticed, either have no relevant details, so I’ll stick to nine) short (to medium) features, Kenneth Anger became a very influential figure in cinema and not only there. Regarding film as a magical weapon he introduced the public to a body of work that was audacious and at the same time visually stunning, yet – especially in that period – hard to dismiss.

The cinema is a very resourceful medium because there are basically no real rules once one displays some talent. Of course, that can perhaps be said about any form of art, but in cinema one sees and one observes. And the image is always a powerful tool, sometimes it is even more powerful when it becomes a moving one. Anger’s films never used traditional narrative, because they didn’t need it, in the same way Carl Theodore Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t a silent film. Silence beclouds and, when used well, might create a level of intimacy between the viewer and the material. When the image takes over, words may become unnecessary. Words are approximations, images aren’t.

So what does Kenneth Anger’s work mean? According to the director himself, his films are ceremonies capable of invoking spiritual forces. I can’t say anything about the part involving spiritual forces, but yes, his films follow a ceremonial setup. They are highly symbolical, their characters either portray gods, forces or demons, or are embodiments of contemporary pop culture icons []. It is nearly impossible not to notice a slight documentary approach… and also there is a great deal of mystical insight – an aspect which holds no interests to me as a reviewer (at least).

However, I think this is hardly the point. We don’t watch films to assimilate complex and readable structures; we have books for that. Movies work as vehicles. At least the ones we like work that way. The universe of Anger’s films marries phallic references with ceremonies, Jesus Christ, Nazis. It is all very dazzling, but also exciting for those with the hearts for this kind of stuff. Inspiring, also.

Some people say that it is harder to create a narrative, than plain images. I believe otherwise: it takes longer – maybe – to create a narrative, sometimes it is way more difficult to come up with the appropriate images. It is also easier to believe the narrative over imagery argument, because we see images. Once seen, we can’t imagine how it was like to conceive them.

There is another aspect: the film as myth. It has been written about it, there were even motion pictures about fictional myth-films (John Carpenter’s The Cigarette Burns is on of the latest) and there is a considerable amount of film-goers who

crave for those myth-films. In many cases, those movies are not to be gladly shown to one’s beloved children, unless of course one solemnly believes that the purpose of one’s whole existence is to bring back to life the long-gone-lost Adams’ Family values. The directors behind those myth-films generally aren’t portrayed as the ones we see from Hollywood. On the contrary, they dismiss it and its conventional techniques, being fascinated by taking power over the viewer. Moreover, they are more likely to stir monstrous controversies rather than walk quietly and smiling on the red carped of fame. Do any of these sound familiar already?

Now, I do not believe in myth-films and I am not assuming that many people believe in them either, but they need a starting point and Kenneth Anger’s works fit very well in the presented profile. Sometimes we do not like films because we consider them to be good or we do not say that a certain movie is a masterpiece because we really believe that to be true. It is only an encouragement, it is a process of creating new references. Where does this lead? I don’t know yet, but I can see it has been started for some time.

However, none of these undermine Kenneth Anger’s importance. He is a bold director and those that are fascinated by cinema and have a soft spot for darker visuals, pop culture and the more unpleasant motion pictures, may really enjoy his works.

This is it for now, but only for now, because I’ll get back on Kenneth Anger (and not only him) in the next episode. Till then, we can all watch the fireworks go down Rocketfalls.

Movie still: Scorpio Rising

review by Shade

Full article here.