Thursday, June 18, 2009


Anger next journeyed to Crowley's Thelema Abbey, the Sicilian "monastery" where the magus conducted his sexual rituals. The place was scarcely more than an abandoned shanty (Crowley and his cronies had been deported in the early Twenties), but Anger helped to renovate the house, uncovering erotic frescoes and the temple room's magic circle. His half-hour documentary, Thelema Abbey, was sponsored by Picture Post and broadcast on British television in 1955, but disappeared when the magazine folded. Plans for a 1961 film of Pauline Reage's Story of O were scuttled when Anger discovered that the funds furnished by the lead actress's boyfriend derived from the ransom payment to automobile heir Eric Peugeot's kidnappers, and the actress's father--Charles de Gaulle's Minister of Finance--learned she wasn't off taking harpsichord lessons after all. Legend locates the twenty minutes Anger shot as being literally underground, though apparently this extends no further than the archives of the Cinematheque Francaise, and the book would have to wait fourteen years for Just Jaeckin's softcore adaptation. Anger's primary endeavor during this period was the work for which he is most infamous, Hollywood Babylon (1957; revised U.S. edition 1974).

Anger was down and out in Paris, and approached Cahiers du Cinema with the idea of compiling Hollywood's secret history. The journal suggested that he channel his gossipy, and not always accurate, tales of celebrity misbehavior into a book, which Jean Jacques Pauvert (who had previously defied French censors by publishing the Marquis de Sade) would release. Opening with a Crowley quote, "Every Man and every Woman is a Star," from Magick in Theory and Practice, Anger traces the hellish movements of his heavenly bodies in lurid, Bestial prose. "I have developed a case of enormous, petrified, extremely sour grapes over the subject of Hollywood," Anger once declaimed, and this mocking, overwrought chronicle--Tacitus in Tinseltown--is the destitute director's attack on the land in which he never became a Star. The picture-filled book is essentially a surrogate film, a documentary done for coffee tables. Anger dishes dirt on everyone from "Fatty" Arbuckle to "Monster" Mae West, climaxing in the "Hollywoodammerung" of various performers (replete with disturbing corpse shots of Lewis Stone and cover girl Jayne Mansfield). It's deconstruction by death ray, and it spawned numerous imitations in the fields of music and television. Anger later claimed to have written Babylon "for one reader in a thousand"--in other words, the book was supposedly composed in a secret code that no one has ever been able to decipher, if it even exists (though Anger did offer a thousand dollars to anyone who cracked it). The book's publishing history is as lurid as its sensationalism. Marvin Miller, who had earlier made a mint ripping off Maurice Girodias' Olympia Press, brought out an unauthorized, rewritten edition in the mid-Sixties, and later a softcore film of it. Anger was never compensated, though book and movie were ordered withdrawn by a federal court; bootlegs of both have surfaced periodically. Miller, whose outrageous career encompassed everything from embezzlement to arson, was eventually sentenced to eight years in Wire City, and Hollywood Babylon ultimately received an official American release through Rolling Stone's Straight Arrow imprint.