Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 2

The first volume of Kenneth Anger's collected work came out a while back but what I was really looking forward to was Volume 2, solely because of Scorpio Rising. I happens to be one of my top ten films of all time and having it out on DVD gets it out there beyond film classes, where incidentally, I have seen almost all these films before. Here we go with the grades:

Scorpio Rising (1964) [10]
In my mind, Anger's masterpiece. Its style and form have become so influential on later filmmakers and styles. With its frenetic cuts and rock & roll soundtrack, its easy to see its influence on someone like Scorsese as well as being a template for the music video revolution. The film itself is masterfully arranged with Anger starting off with a lot of slow pans of motorcycles with the film gradually becoming more kinetic as the action increases. Anger inter cuts outside footage of a film about Jesus as well as some Nazi and occult imagery to great effect. The inter cutting between the Scorpio character going out and the footage of Jesus is funny and right on in making a correlation. The ideas of ritual and the occult that Anger will later cover more in depth rear up in the motorcycle culture. Anger spends a good amount of the film showing Scorpio and the others preparing to go out, the clothes they wear, the mythology involved with the motorcycle culture. Of course, the film shows the homoerotic aspects of this culture, the idea of leather and chains that has become a stereotype of a gay subculture. I think too much has been made of this aspect; Scorpio Rising get pegged as a "gay film" when it really has little explicitly to do with it. It's more a film about ritual and ultimately sacrifice with the motorcycle race and the deadly end. The real power of Scorpio Rising is that it takes a lot of mundane stuff and arranges it in a way that creates something fresh and exciting. To me, it's a landmark of experimental cinema.

Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965) [5]
Besides the tongue in cheek title, there isn't really anything about this that makes it stand out. It feels too much like Scorpio Rising outtakes, except with cars instead of motorcycles. A lot of the same as Scorpio in terms of form. Lots of pans, Bressonian focus on objects, and that rock and roll soundtrack. At only 3 minutes, it doesn't do much to leave a big impression.

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) [7]
The most experimental of all the works on this collection, it's also probably the most divisive film of the set. What was originally film for a first version of Lucifer Rising, it's a film that focuses heavily on the occult and the black magic of Aleister Crowley. The crux of the footage is Anger performing his "magik" ritual in which a God of light is born from opposites. Don't ask me how it happens; what sells the film for me is the editing and images which is the closest Anger comes to approximating the style of Brakhage. The droning Moog score by Mick Jagger, who also appears briefly, is either going to repulse or intrigue you.

Rabbit's Moon (1979 Version) [6]
This is the first version of Rabbit's Moon I saw and I really don't feel much different about either one. This version is a bit more streamlined in terms of what shots are shown, as there is much more repetition of action in this version. This causes the story Anger wanted to tell, of a Japanese fable that a rabbit lives in the moon, to lose some of it focus but forms trumps story here. The use of the XTC song feels disjointed to what's being shown but it has a certain topical relevance that makes it work.

Lucifer Rising (1981) [4]
The most puzzling film for me, and another film about ritual and black magic. It has similarities to Scorpio in that regard but it much more direct in the occult and symbols. The film is flooded with them from Egyptian symbols to the occult to mystical spaceships. It creates too much of an image overload with no real discernible theme outside of that of ritual. Speaking on a formal note, there's just something that feels off about this film. Anger is a filmmaker of such a certain style and this doesn't feel like an Anger film to me.

Continuing on an experimental binge, I've gotten the By Brakhage anthology through Netflix so a comprehensive Stan Brakhage retrospective will be coming in the next week or two. Even though I've seen a good portion of his work, I wanted to seen everything again to really give a good opinion.

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