sex, satan, and hollywood: celebrate kenneth anger’s 90th birthday with his most iconic films
Indulge in the film icon’s signature mix of art, fringe culture and, of course, occultism.
Marianne Faithfull in Kenneth Anger's most famous film Lucifer Rising.
Today marks the 90th birthday of occultist filmmaker Kenneth Anger. If you aren't familiar with his unique mix of sex, magic, and old Hollywood, take this opportunity to catch up. As one of the greatest underground experimental filmmakers to emerge in post-war America, Anger's legendary status and cinema mastery is matched by few.
After a long and impressively varied career, he's still best known for his surreal, often violent short films, which contain themes that range from homosexuality to religion and pop culture. Why not celebrate his big day by discovering, or revisiting, some of his most iconic films? Here are our recommendations:
Fireworks was Anger's first film to gain any serious recognition. Around the mid-1940s he began exploring his homosexuality through shorts. Following the paths of other queer filmmakers of the decade, like Willard Maas, Fireworks centers on a young man, played by Anger, associating with various sailors who eventually turn on him with catastrophic and violent results. Upon its release, the filmmaker was arrested on obscenity charges, but subsequently let go when the court was convinced his film was art, not pornography.
Rabbit's Moon, 1950
The first film Anger produced following his move to Paris, Rabbit's Moon builds on the image of a clown who stares up at the moon where a rabbit lives. The director said he took the idea from Japanese mythology. Interestingly the project was abandoned for over 20 years, and only completed and released in 1970. It's a good argument for returning to abandoned plans, as well as an example of the director's ability to wield popular songs and play with their meaning by weaving them into his progressive creations.
Scorpio Rising, 1964
Alongside Lucifer Rising, this exploration of emerging biker culture in the 60s is one of Anger's most famous offerings. The film combines a mish-mash of controversial visuals ranging from Nazi iconography to the life of Jesus Christ, and it's soundtracked by a succession of the decade's bangers. Bobby Vinton's pre-Lynchian "Blue Velvet" and the beautifully innocent "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March provide a great juxtaposition to the violent visuals occurring on screen.
Lucifer Rising, 1972-1981
An artful cocktail of Egyptian gods and British occultist Aleister Crowley's signature brand of satanism, there is little doubt that Lucifer Rising is Anger's magnum opus. Considered his final great movie, over the decades it was in production a generation of cultural stars were attached to the project at one point or another. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page originally came on to produce the soundtrack, Mick Jagger was approached for the part of Lucifer while Dennis Hopper and Alejandro Jodorowsky attended press briefings. The final cast and crew saw Marianne Faithfull in the part of Lilith and Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil arranging the soundtrack. Despite being completed in 1972 and receiving a 1974 release, it wasn't widely distributed till the early 80s. The film was well received and has gone on to become a cultural totem that's never fallen out of style or conversation.
Text Georgia Bretherton
Image via Flickr