Press "Enter" to skip to content

Review: The Films of Kenneth Anger (1947 – 1980)

The Films of Kenneth Anger (1947 – 1980)

Directed by: Kenneth Anger

Premise: Two-volume collection of short films by underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. The two volumes include: Fireworks, Puce Moment, two versions of Rabbit’s Moon, Eaux d’artiface, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Scorpio Rising, Kustom Kar Komandos, Invocation of My Demon Brother, and Lucifer Rising.

What Works: Kenneth Anger’s films are a representation of film from a unique period in American cinema, before film schools and in a time where there was no independent film scene like there is today. Anger’s filmography shows a man who used the cinema to break many barriers and his pictures deal with sexuality and desire, alternate religious icons, and the emergence of a revolutionary movement within the culture. His films often deal with the process of creation and rebirth whether that is through customized automobiles or the birth of Lucifer, and viewing his films together reveals a filmmaker who anticipated the styles of New Hollywood filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and an artist who was conscious of how cinema could be used simultaneously as an art form and as a political tool. At the same time there is a lot of horror in Anger’s films, much of it linked to sexuality, and his work is not the idealized version of the counter culture that nostalgia has made it, but the definite article, and like the essays of Joan Didion, his films allow both a look into the counter culture and throw some of its ideals back in its face. Anger’s crowning works include Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Scorpio Rising, and Lucifer Rising, which use high concept images and combine them with unique sound and musical choices to produce very powerful films that defy mainstream expectations about how film ought to work or be presented. Anger’s work can be seen as highly influential on filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Craven, and David Lynch and the films are fascinating to view in retrospect of these distinguished directors.

What Doesn’t: Anger’s films are all extremely experimental, some made on the cheap without the polish of contemporary films, and many are a product of the counter cultural movement of the 1960s. This amounts to films that are full of esoteric, erotic, and psychedelic imagery, some of it very dense and much of it will go over the heads of mainstream audience members. Film students, fans of experimental cinema, and those who enjoy underground culture stand to take a lot from these films but everyone should be aware that they are not walking into a Steven Spielberg picture.

DVD extras: Each volume has audio commentaries by Kenneth Anger, a booklet with pictures and essays by Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, David Lynch, and others, and pieces of Anger’s uncompleted film The Man We Want to Hang. For this release, the UCLA Film and Television Archive has done a very impressive job restoring the sound and picture.

Bottom Line: The films of Kenneth Anger are complex pieces of cinematic art that are worth looking at both for their own artistry and their influence on contemporary filmmakers. His work is not for everyone, but for those who can appreciate it, Anger’s films are a worthwhile trip through subversive cinema.

Episode: #161 (October 14, 2007)