Paint It Black | Kenneth Anger & Me

At the end of the 1980s, I was working in a record store. My friend Teddy, who I had met through the university film society, was working around the corner in a bookshop. Both of us dreamed beyond our day-jobs, content to muddle along in them all the same. It was Teddy who came up with the idea of putting out a film fanzine together and he who pretty much got the thing off the ground. I remember him walking into the shop, late one slow afternoon, and asking if I fancied popping round for ‘a cup of tea?’

We called our fanzine The Big Ticket. It ran to four issues between 1989 and 1991. I’ve got very little memory of anything else about it, except that, a couple of years later in London, I left my only original copies on an underground train and caused a bomb alert (this was at the height of the last IRA mainland bombing campaign).

Recently I had cause to ask Teddy if he still had any copies. Incredibly he only had two – issues 3 and 4 – which he (read – Jean, his technologically superior wife) kindly scanned and emailed. (I seem to recall that we couldn’t give away issues 1 and 2, so the fact that they are now collectors items is incredible. Or, more likely, Teddy got sick of carting them between house moves and threw them in the bin.)

Reading back, I am struck again about how little I remember writing any of it. It is clear we had a lot of fun – just look at that crazy RayGun style layout (except this actually pre dates RayGun by, at least, a couple of years). What is more, the writing – or Teddy’s subbing skills – does credit to all concerned: it has stood the test of time. I wrote about Peter Greenaway (recent recipient of a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award), Jane Campion, Jean Luc Godard and Roger Corman. But it was a piece on Kenneth Anger which I most enjoyed revisiting. I post it here as it was originally published, in 1990, with only my (meat-fisted) typos corrected.

Enjoy. And let me know what you think.

Neil

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Kenneth Anger, (oc)cult personality, authority on old Hollywood and purveyor of art-house home movies is still enjoying critical popularity. Neil Mudd looks at the career of a film maker whose sympathies lie with the devil…

There is more than a cultivated air of mystery surrounding diabolist film maker and writer, Kenneth Anger – it would be better described as a stench. He has remained aloof and distinct from the rest of the American film industry, as little a part of the underground scene, as he is of the establishment. And yet, his work remains heavily influential. Among those who pay him lip service are Derek Jarman, David Lynch and Donald Cammell (who, in fact, appeared in Anger’s Lucifer Rising).

Born into a solidly respectable family, ‘Anger’ (his real name is a closely guarded secret) appeared in his first film at the age of four. As a boy, he became obsessed with Tinseltown’s less than wholesome aspects, collecting the anecdotes, mordant gossip and clippings which would later form the basis for Hollywood Babylon, his celebrated, and scabrous, account of the Hollywood community’s more salacious ups and downs.

Encouraged by a wayward grandmother, Anger railed against his parent’s authority and beliefs, devoting himself instead to the teachings of occultist, Aleister Crowley. Much of Anger’s later work attempts to synthesize Crowley‘s theological musings, with his own particular brand of super-humanism. Early pieces are avowedly experimental, sexually charged and ambivalent in tone. Fireworks, filmed over one weekend when Anger was just seventeen, is a Genet/Cocteau inspired fantasy, in which a young man conjures up a gang of sailors from his dreams, resulting in an orgiastic ritual.

Renowned for his fanatical perfectionism, Anger frequently reworks his films, often completely restructuring his original cut, changing its meaning or intention. His films inhabit one another, fragmenting to form separate wholes. His entire oeuvre is cluttered with half-finished, or abandoned projects.

In 1950, Anger began the first of many self-imposed exiles from Hollywood and America. It was in Paris that he wrote Babylon, and where he started to develop a body of film that would eventually lead, in the early 1960s, to one of his best known and most accomplished works, Scorpio Rising. Continuing the homoerotic thematics of his first feature, Anger juxtaposed images of leather-clad bikers, with those of Marlon Brando and Christ. It is a litany; a vivid scrapbook of male sexual power. Kustom Kar Kommando, completed a year later in 1965, was envisaged as a camp riposte to Scorpio Rising, and was part of a larger, discarded project. With the advent of the hippy counter-culture, Anger became increasingly influenced by psychedelia, producing various pieces under the title, Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, which, with their richly textured surface Surrealism, were openly indebted to mind expanding drugs.

The late sixties saw Anger gathering plans for the ambitious Lucifer Rising, an attempt to reclaim the figure of Satan from centuries of religious banishment. For Anger, Lucifer became an enlightened visionary, far removed from the biblical portrayal of him as a harbinger of evil. The film was completed sporadically, involving, at various stages, film theorist Noel Burch, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, the English occultist, Sir Francis Rose and musician and Charles Manson devotee, Bobby Beausoleil. Several versions of the film have appeared since 1970, each artistically imposing, each resurrecting montage as a key schematic device.

For the nineties, Anger is threatening an explosion of activity. Future projects include a film adaptation of Hollywood Babylon, and an unauthorised celluloid biography of Mickey Mouse, doing for Disney’s rodent mascot what he did for the Prince of Darkness. There is little doubt that Kenneth Anger rather enjoys his notoriety, even less that he deserves it. “My films are like an inner spiritual journey”, he says. “They’re spells. That’s my intention. They’re difficult films. I’m a rather difficult person”.

First published in The Big Ticket (1990)

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