Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Magick Circle - Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger

Hollywood film maker and member of Crowley religion – Thelema – Child actor who knew Shirley Temple. He lived with Bobby Beausoleil in San Francisco in 1966 when looking for someone to become a symbolic Lucifer for his film ‘Lucifer Rising’. Beausoleil went onto to become one of Charles Mansons family.

A child actor in the 1935 movie version of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Kenneth Anger began directing his own camp, arty short films as a teenager. Fireworks, made when he was 17 in 1947, depicts a young hero's pickup of a sailor, then his beating by a group of gobs on shore leave, told in a fast, impressionistic series of arresting images. The hero's chest is ripped open to expose an electric meter behind his viscera; the face of his nude lover on a bed is scratched into a sunburst; erections viewed under a bed sheet or white pants become African carvings and roman candles sputtering. Among its notable viewers, Tennessee Williams praised it, but Merce Cunningham found it repulsive and called the cast "sick boys." Two years later, Anger's Puce Moment was a six-minute evocation of 1920 female movie stars, and Rabbit Moon featured the romantic triangle of Pierrot, Harlequin, and Columbine. He later substituted a Temptations ballad for its original pop soundtrack.

In 1949 he wrote an essay for Cahiers du Cinema, and its first English translation appears in this book. "Modesty and the Art of Film" called for small, personal movies, inspired by the work postwar Japanese directors were doing, instead of Hollywood blockbuster extravaganzas. "The dream of a personal, free cinema can be fulfilled as long as you are modest". In 1952 he completed a film based on Lautremont's Les Chants des Maldoror, and Eaux d'Artifice (1953) that featured an eighteenth century female dwarf wandering among the Baroque fountains at Tivoli. Histoire d' O was filmed in 1954 and completed 1961, and this movie of Pauline Réage's bestselling tale of sadomasochism starred the daughter of DeGaulle's Minister of Finance. The boyfriend of the actress provided money to finance the film, but it was traced to the ransom paid for the kidnapped automobile manufacturing heir Eric Peugeot. Only 20 minutes of the planned 90 minute film was shot before the scandal stopped the production.

Anger's next body of work was influenced by the early twentieth century English occultist, Aleister Crowley. A family inheritance in 1954 allowed Anger to make the 38 minute 16 millimeter color film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome with Anais Nin, costume collector Samson de Brier, and Marjorie Cameron as the Scarlet Woman. After that, The Thelm Abbey was a 1955 documentary for English television on the ruins of Crowley's muralized temple, built in Sicily in the early 1920s. Anger advocated the restoration of its murals, "hyper-psychedelic murals, goblins and devils in fabulous color, scarlet and pumpkin and orange . . . similar in feel to Ensor". Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey appeared onscreen to discuss Crowley's "sex magick". In his spiritual quest Crowley had passed through the hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which included Constance (Mrs. Oscar) Wilde, novelist Bram Stoker and artist Aubrey Beardsley, into the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a sex magic organization founded in Berlin in 1912. Marjorie Cameron, the actress in Anger's Pleasure Dome, married Jack Parsons, co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the leader of the O.T.O. Agape Lodge in Los Angeles in the 1940s. This lodge included L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.

In 1959 Anger published Hollywood Babylon, his gossipy and lurid compendium of tales of film industry decadence, in France. He was filmed in Paris' Père Lachaise cemetary by Stan Brakhage for Brakhage's The Dead. Encouraged by Brakhage to return to the US, Anger then made his most famous work, Scorpio Rising. This 1963 ancestor of Pop music videos intercuts transgressive imagery of supermacho bikers, Nazis, and TV stars with the speed of a Brakhage film, using one or two frame images. It is a work very much of its era, like James Rosenquist's billboard-sized Pop paintings of collaged consumer Americana. The homoerotic preening of an Italian-American New York motorcycle gang is juxtaposed with Nazis, Christ from silent movies, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, over a pop song soundtrack that included Elvis' "Devil in Disguise". The film was seized by Los Angeles police after an American Nazi party member complained. At its trial, poet Allen Ginsberg and critic Susan Sontag testified as to its "redeeming social value". In these days of nearly nude lads cavorting in the posters in the Abercrombie and Fitch store windows in the suburban mall, Anger's movie seems tame and proper.

Soon after Scorpio Rising, a Brakhage/Anger collaboration involving swans and flashing red lights was destroyed by Kodak processing laboratories personnel, who routinely destroyed material they thought dangerous. Anger then proposed to the Ford Foundation a film, Kustom Kar Kommandos, and got a grant. He produced a three-minute loving look at the chrome and Kandy Apple lacquers of fetishitic hot rods. About the same time in Great Britain, J. G. Ballard wrote the novel Crash celebrating the eroticism of chrome and steel automotive surfaces and protuberances. In California, Anger shot Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) using footage of a Rolling Stones concert, produced by Stones' girlpal Anita Pallenberg. Invocation had a soundtrack by Mick Jagger canoodling on a Moog synthesizer and featured many of the crowd hanging around the Robert Fraser Gallery, where Anger first showed Scorpio Rising in London. Yet part of the film involved a ritual in the Haight Ashbury's old Straight Theater on Haight Street, featuring Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan and Bobby Beausoleil. At that time Beausoleil was guitarist for the band Love, but as a member of the Manson family he served prison time for involvement in the murders of actress Sharon Tate and others. This footage was stolen during another ritual at the Straight Theater (which was later converted into a grocery and art-supply store), and has never been located.

Lucifer Rising (1969) had a soundtrack by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, which was later replaced by music by Beausoleil. Marianne Faithfull stars as Lillith, and she is filmed at a Celtic temple in the Black Forest that had been a gathering place of Hitler Youth. This is juxtaposed with footage shot in Egypt, in celebration of the Angel of Light, whose motto is "The key to joy is disobedience". The film intends to present the Love Generation of the 1960s in opposition to the Death Generation of the lingering 1950s depicted in Scorpio Rising. A collaborator on the project was Donald Cammell, co-director with Nicholas Roeg of Performance, which starred Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. Cammell's father had been a dedicated Crowleyite. The film was exhibited with a poster by psychedelic California poster and comic book artist Rick Griffin.

Anger arranged for commercial re-release of his Magick Lantern cycle of films in 2005, his work from Fireworks through Lucifer Rising. After filming a gnostic mass and a project with an Italian TV company who brought him back to the Thelm temple, Anger wrote and directed a documentary on Crowley titled with what the Beaverbrook papers had called him, The Man We Want to Hang. He shot some footage of cricketers on a lawn in a bucolic manner, evoking a Whistler painting for a project funded by Paul Getty and left unfinished when Getty died in 2003. He wrote two sequels to Hollywood Babylon, and a contribution to a compendium of suicides that included Michael Cooper, Anger's friend and the photographer for Peter Blake's cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, whose collage included images of both Anger and Crowley. Another suicide subject of the documentary was Anger's neighbor and friend, the singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, yet the film remains held up from distribution in conflict over the music copyrights, which is also the case of Janie Jent's documentary A True Testimonial of the band MC5. Mouse Heaven shows old Mickey Mouse toys and was funded by a substantial Rockefeller Foundation media grant (as is Craig Baldwin's current project on Jack Parsons). For its soundtrack Anger employed Ian Whitcomb's ragtime orchestra. Evidently still hard at work, the last film the book lists is a seven minute Denunciation of Stan Brakhage, evidently a score-settling with a colleague and contemporary whose editing technique was borrowed by Anger to good effect.

UPDATE: For more about Kenneth Anger please read my book The Sgt Pepper Code 

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