Risings and slayings-an experimental film legacy ideal for Halloween.
October 25, 2007
By Christopher Arnott
Great time for a Kenneth Anger retrospectivelate October, when
The undergraduate-run Cinema at Whitney series at Yale's Whitney
Humanities Center (corner of Whitney Avenue and Wall Street, New
Haven) is holding a "Sympathy for the Devil" night Oct. 26.
Strangely, given the evening's umbrella title, Jean-Luc Godard's
Rolling Stones documentary Sympathy for the Devil isn't on the bill.
Instead, the main feature (at 9:15 p.m.) is the Maysle Brother's
Altamont denouement Gimme Shelter. In any case, it's the opening
attractions that rock hardestfour of Kenneth Anger's best-known
short films, a two-hour-plus overview spanning 15 years and several
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, a touchstone of mystical cult
cinema, takes its cues from Coleridge's hallucinatory Kubla Khan and
the Black Arts philsophies of Aleister Crowley. Invocation of My
Demon Brother is another Satanic short, this one scored on Moog
synthesizer by Mick Jagger. (Anger's work typically has no dialogue
or narration. The music scores are often contemporary pop hits strung
together as ironic commentary on the counterculture he's picturing.)
Scorpio Rising is an intimate look at motorcycle culture, from the
polished chrome handlebars to what hangs on bikers' bedroom walls.
The soundtrack for the final element of Friday's Anger foursome,
Lucifer Rising was composed by Bobby Beausoleil after Anger had a
falling-out with Crowley disciple Jimmy Page. Beausoleil was an early
member of the band that became Arthur Lee's Love, but is much better
known as the member of the Manson Family who slaughtered Gary Hinman
in 1969 and scrawled the phrase "political piggies" in blood on a wall.
At Yale, the Anger films will be shown in 16mm, a courtesy one
needn't bestow upon just any old '60s filmmaker but one that's
crucial to understanding this Hollywood-raised enfant terrible's
old-scratchy oeuvre. Working cheaply and scurrilously in the 1950s
and '60s, at the forefront of the underground film movement, Anger
showed the decay and decline of Hollywood using its own
toolsgarishly vibrant colors, disarming pop music, shocking sexual
undertones and the artifice of actual film. Catching them in 16mm on
a big screen is mandatory, but even the most casual Anger-stoked
curiosity seekers will want to seek out the same flicks as released
on DVD by Fantoma. Volume Two, featuring both the Risings to be shown
at Yale, came out last month.
The reason to revisit these handmade epics on disc is Anger's
commentary tracks. It's shocking how matter-of-fact issues of death
and loss have become to him. Scorpio Rising, for instance, ends in a
motorcycle crash, leading the director to comment: "I'm sorry the
fellow was killed, but it wasn't like I tripped him. It was a freak
accident, and he did die. I photographed him when he was dead. On his
arm he had tattooed 'Blessed Blessed Oblivion.' And that was the end
of that particular motorcyclist."
Here's how Anger introduces Donald Cammell when he comes onscreen in
Lucifer Rising, portraying Osiris, Lord of Death. "He was preoccupied
by death. He, of course, is the director of Performance [another
Jagger demimonde movie, co-directed by Nicolas Roeg]. At the end of
that film the main character shoots himself in the head, and Donald
unfortunately chose to copy that and eventually did shoot himself in
the head and committed suicide in that way. But he was fascinated
with death! And what're you gonna do? I mean, he was an intelligent
guy and it was his own business if he wanted to go that route."