Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. 2 follows on Fantoma's Vol. 1 from last January. Between these two discs it is now possible to see perfect-quality DVDs of Anger's most noted short subjects. This second grouping of films revisits a different version of Rabbit's Moon while offering a first look at the interesting Kustom Kar Kommandos and the more notorious Invocation of My Demon Brother, Lucifer Rising and Scorpio Rising. The films really aren't that shocking, but they aren't family fare either. Although Kenneth Anger's work gives hints of a sensational alternate lifestyle, his films are not the work of a provocateur. The films in Volume 2 show him the master of a number of visual styles.
The power of a film like Fireworks is that its visual poetry seems to crawl directly from the subconscious. Anger's special talent is that his Visuals evoke unique Visions.
The first film up is Scorpio Rising from 1964, a picture every film student has read about but not that many have seen. Anger's spends time with a Brooklyn motorcycle club and records their homoerotic rituals; in his commentary we learn that Anger befriended the club members and seized the opportunity to visualize their lifestyle. With a background of 50s rock 'n' roll songs, including one by Elvis, we see first the preparation of a motorcycle and then one of the cyclists dressing in a room filled with fetishistic mementos of James Dean, Marlon Brando, etc. Chains, black leather, motorcycle caps and Nazi symbols proliferate, all appropriated not for their original meanings but for their ability to provoke reactions. We see some hazing at an alcohol-fueled gathering, and then an apparently staged scene in an abandoned church, with Swastika flags supplied by Anger. The ending scene is at a Walden bike race, where the camera lingers on a club member killed in an accident. With Anger supplying the demonic subtext and his choice of bikers reinforcing the perverse mood, Scorpio Rising distills the basics of the biker subculture in one swoop: Bikers are suicidal anti-authoritarians that revel in their ability to shock outsiders. We can practically hear Roger Corman rushing to his telephone to put together The Wild Angels, which 'borrows' most of Anger's iconography.
Kustom Kar Kommandos is a successful fragment of another larger film Anger wanted to make about youth culture. It's mostly an adoring look at a beloved Hot Rod, the "All Chrome Ruby Blush Dream Buggy' that's every bit as sexually charged as the fabrics in Anger's earlier Puce Moment. Anger covers the Dream Buggy's ugly garage surroundings with a colored backing, and bathes the machine in light. Every chromed surface gleams with five or six highlights. When the owner climbs into the driver's seat, the car resembles a multicolored mechanical womb.
1969's Invocation of My Demon Brother represents a leap upward in ambition. Anger draws together a number of elements from the San Francisco fringe, especially the growing Satanist movement as represented by his interest in Aleister Crowley, noted occult visionary from an earlier era. The eleven-minute movie pulls in a wide range of visuals, including a 'Magick Theater' presentation with Anton Szandor LaVey as 'His Satanic Majesty.' Anger approached future Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil to play Lucifer and Mick Jagger provides the squawking Moog synthesizer soundtrack. Using many graphic superimpositions, Invocation communicates a sense of pagan pageantry and comes off as a strange ancient artwork in need of translation. Kenneth Anger's commentary explains what we're seeing in literal terms, at which point most of the magic (or Magick?) is lost. On the other hand, I can see someone well versed in comparative religious symbolism finding a compelling structure in this rich visual text.
Rabbit's Moon is a shorter (7 minute) version of Anger's earlier masterpiece filmed with French mime artists in a Paris studio, with different music and dedicated to one of Stan Brakhage's children. With different cutaways to the moon and not using the original's repeated actions, this cut doesn't have nearly the same impact, but I've heard several people say they prefer it. Perhaps I just felt that the old "Doo-Wop" songs were more entertaining.
Lucifer Rising was finished in 1981 but apparently languished for years until Anger gave up on waiting for a full score to arrive from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. It instead has a fairly effective soundtrack produced by Bobby Beausoleil from his prison cell, where he was (and still is) serving a life sentence for murdering Gary Hinman. The relatively lavishly produced show was filmed on location in Egypt, England and Germany. Interesting faces play a gallery of ancient gods, with Marianne Faithful as Lilith and Donald Cammell (Performance) as Osiris, all in stunning Anger-designed costumes. Miriam Gabril is an impressive Isis. The 'characters' move through various locales and contexts -- Lilith begins amid the pyramids but ends up in a German eyrie once used to indoctrinate Hitler Youth. The imagery is more polished and Anger's visual sense keeps it all unified, even though a cosmological tour guide is required to decipher Anger's intentions. Again, it all culminates in the appearance of Lucifer, who in the creed followed by Anger is not the Devil but God's fallen angel working his way back to the light. Anger's final image of a flying saucer over the sphinx, was supposedly inspired by the writings of Aleister Crowley
Fantoma's The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. 2 completes the collection of the film artist's most noted works. As before, the crucial element to the set are Anger's commentaries, that reveal his motivations and the practical realities of the way he worked; we find out that all he had to do to film the Brooklyn motorcycle club, a group alien to even his experience, was to ask. Anger is more open about acknowledging contributors than many big-name modern filmmakers, and allows others to embellish his legend.
The 48-page color insert book contains credits that don't appear on the films themselves and a full rundown on the restoration of the films, all of which are now archived on HD. Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin and Bobby Beausoleil provide essay-tributes to Anger in varying levels of adulation. Gay Cinema director Van Sant might as well lay down garlands in Anger's path. He repeats the apparently apocryphal story that Anger played the Changeling Prince in the old Warner film A Midsummer Night's Dream -- once a story like that got around, it took on a life of its own.
An extra on the set is another Kenneth Anger film, a 14-minute 2002 show called The Man We Want to Hang. It celebrates art inspired by Anger's hero Aleister Crowley, the occultist whose Thelemic motto was "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." The 'dangerous ideas' aspect of Kenneth Anger has cemented his reputation; when his films became difficult to see they took on cabalistic qualities. Fantoma's pair of disc sets finally makes Anger accessible, and proves that his works hold up as cinematic works of art.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Films of Kenneth Anger Vol. 2 rates:
Movies: Very Good
Supplements: Insert book, additional Anger film The Man We Want To Hang, restoration demos.
Packaging: Book and plastic and card holder in card sleeve
Reviewed: September 30, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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