Thursday, June 18, 2009


Anger made test shots for an adaptation of the Comte de Lautreamont's Les Chants des Maldoror, but--once again--no funds were forthcoming, and French surrealists, led by Ado Kyrou, allegedly promised bodily mischief if the director proceeded. Lautreamont's "Hymn to the Ocean" sequence was filmed, however, and the so-called war of pins and flies was photographed inside a glass container. Anger journeyed to Egypt in late 1951, where he began the outline for Hymn to the Sun, which reads much like a Paul Bowles scenario of magic and menace. This project, too, was never realized, and he soon settled in Rome. He still had film stock left over from the Pantheon project, and envisioned Eaux d'Artifice (1953; 13 minutes) as a four-part, increasingly-graphic account of the Sixteenth Century Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, whose family built the Tivoli Fountains.

D'Este, the second son of Lucrezia Borgia, was a hedonist whom Anger revered as a sex magician into golden showers: "...the whole garden is actually a private dirty joke. It has ten thousand fountains and everything is pissing on everything else and it's like inexhaustible piss." D'Este is perhaps a kindred spirit of Hellfire Club founder Sir Francis Dashwood, who (legend has it) designed a formal garden on his estate to resemble a nude woman whose double flowerbeds and shrubbery triangle were equipped with hidden fountains--much as Anger's Water Witch (Carmilla Salvatorelli) echoes minor Hellfire member the Chevalier d'Eon: both have been identified as persons of ambiguous sex. The performer was in fact female; she was a circus dwarf recommended to Anger by Federico Fellini. Taking as his model Giovanni Piranesi's etchings, Anger used her small size to suggest a greater scale to the water garden than actually exists, and the effect is stunning. This mysterious masked figure patrols the fountains under heavy gowns and an enormous headdress (which resembles frozen waves), observed by the streaming faces of baroque statues and accompanied by the staccato strings of Antonio Vivaldi's "Winter" section of "The Four Seasons."

Despite the fact that he was able to realize only a portion of the d'Este project, Eaux d'Artifice--whose imaginary French title puns on fireworks ("feux d'artifice")--remains Anger's most sensual picture. Visually, it expands upon such pioneering waterworks as Jorris Ivens' Regen ("Rain," 1929) and Ralph Steiner's H2O (1929); erotically and metaphysically, it expands the intersection of Nature and Supernature. One of Anger's greatest strengths is his manipulation of myth to create sacred space, a pagan zone just on the other side of things, accessible through the four elements. It's as if the camera has captured a time and place that never begins, yet never really ends. The backlit gardens employ natural sunlight to look like no night on earth, while the glowing serpentine water (its drops isolated at different camera speeds) recalls the gemlike hues in the "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" sequence of Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940). By the time Salvatorelli, after playing hide and seek with the viewer, merges with the glittering spray, one is eager to join her in this incandescent darkness.

Fantoma derives its internegative from the original reversal A/B rolls. The restored blue tints of this black-and-white film (photographed through a red filter) enhance its oneiric appeal; especially enchanting is the emerald coloring of Salvatorelli's hand-held "fan of Exorcism," which is alchemically aglow like some enormous winged insect.

Anger says nothing about d'Este's exploits in his commentary, instead praising his actress and pointing out the use of magical coincidence in the film's most memorable sequence. A clog had caused the fountains to overflow on one level; this led to Salvatorelli's stately descent of the flooded steps, which shimmer in the shadows. Silent siren Louise Brooks considered Eaux d'Artifice Anger's "sexiest film," and certainly the spectral, spurting water is like an extended medley of the Dreamer's seminal submission in Fireworks. In 1993, the picture was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress.