Thursday, June 18, 2009


Anger has been credited with several apocryphal projects over the decades. Only thirteen copies (a reference to the original American colonies) of "the Eisenstein of Satanism"'s chained tricolor bicentennial box, Senators in Bondage (1976), were allegedly produced, while a year later wealthy collectors were offered Anger's Fireworks cannibalization, Matelots en Menotte ("Sailors in Handcuffs") in twelve pricey prints. Denunciation of Stan Brakhage (1979), the supposed cinematic result of a long-simmering fallout with his fellow auteur--Brakhage won a Film Culture award that Anger coveted--was scheduled for another dozen copies. According to Robert Haller of Anthology Film Archives, these mysterious items exist only as press releases, though Alice Hutchison's recent Anger-approved monograph still lists them in the director's filmography.

Anger's most visible endeavor in the Eighties was Hollywood Babylon II (1984), a book in which his bitterness got the better of him. Some of the material in this volume, as is the case with the original Babylon, should be approached with extreme skepticism. The "Hollywood Hospital" section, for example, reports with lip-smacking satisfaction that character actor George Zucco, best remembered for such Poverty Row gems as Dead Men Walk (1943) and The Flying Serpent (1946), died raving--"screaming he was being stalked by the Great God Cthulu!," no less--in a madhouse. It's a tantalizing Tale from the Darkside, but there's not a shred of truth in it. Anger's description of James Dean as a "human ashtray" craving cigarette burns at a leather bar is similarly lurid, and was decried by Dean's friend Dennis Hopper. One senses that Anger is lashing out at all and sundry, and the author paid a poetically exorbitant price for this: after sending a copy of the book to the Reagan White House with a note instructing the President's wife "to read page so and so," he promptly found himself being audited by the IRS. Anger admits that this bit of cheekiness "was one of the most stupid things I ever did." Desperate for cash, he sold the rights for Babylon to a television producer for a short-lived syndicated late-night show hosted by Tony Curtis.

Anger's other recent projects include Don't Smoke That Cigarette (2000), a compilation of ancient coffin nails commercials intercut with cancer footage, scored to the accompaniment of Hank Williams' "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette." A commentator at the Internet Movie Database complains that "Anger has simply taken a videotape produced in the 1990s called SMOKE THAT CIGARETTE, added 'Don't' and his name to it, and portrayed it as his own." If true, perhaps this act of cultural appropriation is an hommage to Marcel Duchamp. Ich Will! ("I Want!," 2000), described as "an ironic re-editing of Nazi propaganda films dealing with...the Hitler Youth," was commissioned by, and premiered at, Austria's Donau Festival. Anger Sees RED (2004) is a brief high-definition video in which Anger follows the titular muscled youth through the streets of Hollywood and De Longpre Park. Elliot's Suicide (2004) is a tribute to Anger's late neighbor, former Heatmiser singer Elliot Smith, who terminated a promising solo career by stabbing himself in the heart. The long-delayed Mouse Heaven, also completed the same year with the help of a Rockefeller Foundation Media Arts grant, is a delightful collage of rare Mickey Mouse memorabilia from the legendary Birnkrant collection. Anger prefers the character's original incarnation as a demonic rat, and possibly this piece is his revenge on Walt Disney, of whom he once remarked, "When I meet [him] in hell I'll kick him in the balls" for emasculating poor Mickey. Mouse Heaven was shot on video, includes songs by Ian Whitcomb and the Proclaimers, and marks Anger's first use of CGI. Finally, I'll Be Watching You (2007) and Foreplay (2008) revisit the voyeurism of Anger Sees RED: in the first film, a lovemaking security guard and bodyguard are observed by another man on a surveillance monitor; in the second, the camera erotically scrutinizes a practicing soccer team.

In 1995 Anger himself received the Babylon treatment with the publication of Bill Landis' unauthorized biography. Anger unleashed his lawyers on Landis, the publisher of underground cinema journal Sleazoid Express, comically and ludicrously demanding that the book contain no pictures of him. Landis carefully delineated the many discrepancies in Anger's legend, and for thirteen years seemed to have weathered the spell the director placed upon him--a defiance trumpeted on the Sleazoid website: "The book he couldn't curse away! Feel Ken Anger's agony of being pressed between two covers!" (Landis succumbed at age 48 to heart failure in December 2008.) Alice L. Hutchison's more recent tome (2004), a nominee for the New Zealand Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement, was produced with Anger's full cooperation, and unsurprisingly steers clear of the various inconsistencies of its subject's life and work. It does, however, offer stunning stills from his films, which Anger has exhibited in galleries around the world as part of his "Icons" series. Also invaluable is the reprinting of Anger's 1950 statement on Fireworks, "Application d'Artifice," originally published in Jean Boulet's St. Cinema des Pres, as well as 1951's Cahiers du Cinema essay, "Modesty and the Art of Film." Readers should be aware that Hutchison has been accused by Miriam Dagan of plagiarizing the latter's post-graduate thesis on Anger, as well as a Carel Rowe essay on the director, charges Hutchison vehemently denies.

Anger has been credited with penning Atlantis: The Lost Continent, but this work was actually composed by Crowley for part of his Equinox series, while the director contributed an introduction decades later. He also translated Lo Duca's A History of Eroticism into English (1961), although he has falsely been attributed authorship. Deborah Allison, reviewing Hutchison's monograph in the online Film Journal, states that Anger provided forewords for Anton LaVey's last two volumes, The Devil's Notebook (1993) and the posthumous Satan Speaks! (1999), but those introductions are actually credited to Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey and musician Marilyn Manson, respectively. Anger definitely wrote the foreword for David K. Frasier's 2002 compilation, Suicide in the Entertainment Industry, and his essay, "A Vivianne Romance: Ode to a French Screen Legend," composed in suitably Babylon-ian style, appears in Jack Stevenson's 2002 sexploitation survey Fleshpot.

Anger completed Hollywood Babylon III some years ago, but complains that E.P. Dutton rejected the manuscript for being "too rough." Observer journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya, investigating this claim in 2004, notes that Dutton's editors "know nothing of such a manuscript." This third volume is said to contain various explicit sexual and violent images, including an alleged photo (which Anger has been promising to reveal for at least three decades) of Marlon Brando performing fellatio. There's also an expose of Tinseltown's Scientology connection, and Anger believes that fear of Church litigation has hindered publication. The director's autobiography, Look Back Ken Anger, has also been promised. Authors Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince have recently published their own Hollywood Babylon, and Anger's curses are once again flying through the ether.

While the world awaits Anger's new literary efforts, a lovely tribute to the director is available on YouTube. Verdi Cries (for Kenneth Anger) sets Natalie Merchant's song to a montage of Cycle scenes, but is slightly compromised by printed scrawls praising the director, when surely his images should be sufficient. Anger is battling prostate cancer, and expected to die on Samhain 2008, but happily the Magus is still with us. Erstwhile Soft Cell crooner Marc Almond, who himself nearly perished in a motorcycle crash several years ago, has recently covered Scorpio"s "Devil in Disguise" for a planned tribute disc to the director.

The most interesting recent Anger-related work is Zachary Lazar's 2008 novel Sway, which recreates and reimagines the Sixties through the cultural collision of Anger, the Stones, Beausoleil, and Manson. It's an absorbing, vaguely DeLillo-esque exploration of the underside of the hippie dream, from Brian Jones' swimming pool to Altamont and Spahn Ranch. Lazar captures the madness that constituted this decade as accurately as the filmmaker's magick lantern. Anger is the subject of Elio Gelmini's Anger Me (2006), and appears in Nik Sheehan's 2008 documentary about Brion Gysin and his Dreamachine, FLicKeR. He also performs on theremin with guitarist Brian Butler as the "magick ritual of light and sound" duo Technicolor Skull.

If Kenneth Anger has chosen to reign in the underground rather than serve in Hollywood, the cinema has been immeasurably enriched by his rebellion. His career is an extended psychic enchantment, a radiation of astral realms though the display of trapped light. Despite his dark influence on film and music video, one cannot truly imagine this iconoclast being absorbed into the mainstream; rather, he has absorbed the mainstream into his work, deforming and transforming it. Manipulating his Ektachrome and digital demons by the might of his will, Anger reminds us that, as P.D. Ouspensky so memorably put it, "Man has within him everything from a mineral to God." He is the world's most significant pagan filmmaker, and Fantoma's splendid restoration of the Magick Lantern Cycle at long last gives this devil his due.


Allison, Deborah. "Kenneth Anger." The Film Journal, Issue 12.

"Anger Author Accused of Plagiarism." The National Student, May 2006 (editorial).

Anger, Kenneth. Hollywood Babylon. California: Straight Arrow Books, 1975.

Anger, Kenneth. Hollywood Babylon II. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1984.

Baddeley, Gavin. Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock 'n' Roll. London: Plexus, 1999.

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Barton, Blanche. The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey. California: Feral House, 1992.

Bhattacharya, Sanjiv. "Look Back at Anger." The Observer, August 22, 2004.

Bissette, Stephen R. "Harrington Ascending: The Underground Roots." Video Watchdog No. 14, November/December 1992.

Carter, John. Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons. California: Feral House, 1999.

Crowley, Aleister. The Book of the Law. Maine: Weiser Books, 1976

Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice. New Jersey: Castle Books, 1991.

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Hunter, Jack (editor). Moonchild: The Films of Kenneth Anger. London: Creation Books, 2002.

Hutchison, Alice L. Kenneth Anger: A Demonic Visionary. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004.

Lachman, Gary. Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. New York: The Disinformation Company, 2003.

Landis, Bill. Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Devil's Notebook. California: Feral House, 1993.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. Satan Speaks! California: Feral House, 1999.

Lazar, Zachary. Sway. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

McKenna, Terence. The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History. California: HarperOne, 1992.

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Mannix, Daniel. The Hellfire Club. New York: ibooks, 2001.

Onstead, Katrina. "A Life of Anger." Guardian Unlimited, October 27, 2006.

Pendle, George. Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. California: Harcourt, 2005.

Prendergast, Mark.  The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Trance--the Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age.  New York: Bloomsbury, 2000.

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (revised edition). New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Schreck, Nikolas. The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated History of the Devil in Cinema 1896-1999. London: Creation Books, 2001.

Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.