Bright Lights Film Journal

An Evening With Kenneth Anger

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of some of Kenneth Anger’s most recent short films – hosted by Mr. Anger himself. The legendary “underground filmmaker” was surprisingly youthful and energetic for a guy born in 1927, looking not much older than he does in the picture at left, taken decades ago. He began the program (in typical Anger fashion, I suspect) by complaining about the quality of the projection at the Disney Concert Hall’s Redcat Theater where the event took place. And he had a point. As he screened footage from a work-in-progress entitled Scarred Faces, Anger noted that the theater’s digital projection was so soft we could not even see the scar on the face of the young man being photographed. This gave Anger an excuse to plug his next DVD release, The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 3 (not yet available) where he assured us the images would be clear and sharp, just the way he likes ’em.

The first and best new film on the program was Mouse Heaven (2005), a montage of toys and other products from the 1930s featuring the iconic Mickey Mouse – not the “humanized” Mickey introduced by Fantasia in 1940, but the Depression era Mickey whom Anger characterizes as a “demon” and an “imp.” The film is a showcase for Anger’s editing skills and use of color, making the toys come alive as it were. (At one point, a puppet Mickey *lip synchs* to a recording from the period.) The irony of showing a film that the Disney company has tried to suppress – for no good reason – at a concert hall named after Disney was not lost on Anger.
The second film on the program, Ich Will (2008), concerns another 20th Century icon, Adolph Hitler, and his Boy Scout-like Hitler Youth. Consisting entirely of footage shot by the Nazis themselves (tinted and otherwise processed by Anger), the film inevitably recalls the work of Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will) whom Anger knew. As in most of Anger’s films, there is no dialogue or story per se – rather, a series of powerful images brilliantly edited to music, in this case, the Ninth Symphony of Anton Bruckner. The film was commissioned by an Austrian film festival who wanted to premiere an original work by Anger. Accepting the commission and given complete freedom to do as he pleased, Anger decided to throw Austria’s history back into its face.

The remaining new films on the program were comparatively lightweight. Elliott’s Suicide (2007) is a home movie-like tribute to the late musician Elliott Smith, a former neighbor of Anger’s in L.A.’s Silver Lake district. Foreplay (2008) is a montage of young soccer players training for a game. I’ll Be Watching You (2007), scored by the Police song of the same name, is a 5-minute short about a security guard watching a surveillance monitor on which he observes two men having sex in an underground parking garage. Except for the hardcore sex, it’s like something one might find on YouTube.

The program concluded with a screening of Anger’s most famous film, Scorpio Rising (1963), his rock-scored ode to biker gangs that has influenced everybody from Roger Corman and Martin Scorsese to R.W. Fassbinder and David Lynch. (Anger used the song “Blue Velvet” on his soundtrack 20 years before Lynch did.) This taboo-busting experimental masterpiece is available on DVD, and if you haven’t seen it already, I recommend that you get hold of a copy tout de suite.