Thursday, June 18, 2009


Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954; color, 38 minutes) shifts Anger's energies into magical overdrive. Photographed in the spirit of Art Nouveau, the film had its genesis in a "Come As Your Madness" masquerade ball thrown by Renate Loome (Lilith) and Paul Mathison (who played Pan and designed the picture's striking titles.) In attendance were eroticist Anais Nin (Astarte), her head encased in a birdcage filled with "the ticker tape of the unconscious." Anger appeared as Hecate, while Curtis Harrington arrived as Cesare the Somnambulist from Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). (Harrington later surfaced from the underground to create such memorable features as 1961's mermaid mood song Night Tide). Samson De Brier (formerly Arthur Jasmine), who had appeared in Alla Nazimova's 1923 production of Oscar Wilde's Salome, came as an Eastern potentate, while Kathryn Kaddell attended as Cleopatra, evolving into Isis for Pleasure Dome. Looming over all of them was Marjorie Cameron, whom Anger had befriended. "She is surrounded by an evil aura," Nin wrote at the time, "which fascinates Paul, Curtis, and Kenneth." Cameron was the flame-haired widow of Jack Parsons, a Crowley disciple who worked as a rocket scientist at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Parsons was much taken with Crowley's pivotal poem/scripture The Book of the Law, which prophesied the death of Christianity and the ascension of Horus, Crowley's "Crowned and Conquering Child." Eager to speed the New Aeon along, Parsons executed the Babalon Working with scribe and pulp novelist/Dianetics guru L. Ron Hubbard. Parsons' masturbatory magic, he believed, attracted the elemental Cameron to him (a good thing, too, as Hubbard had seduced Parsons' girlfriend in the interim) and they attempted to conceive a moonchild. Parsons later blew himself up in a chemical experiment, though more conspiracy-minded souls insist he was engaged in some diabolical act.

The film was photographed at De Brier's house, which Anger had previously requisitioned for Puce Moment. Anger comments on the audio track that De Brier "had his own universe in his home, which was unique in Hollywood." This total environment with its incredible orange doors and gold-leaf ceilings was worthy of J.K. Huysman's Des Esseintes, and ideal for Anger's phantasmagoric vision. Betty Vaughn, De Brier's houseguest, was intended to take over the role of Hecate, but she dropped out of the picture after a row with the director, leaving Anger to return as the crossroads goddess. Personality flare-ups between Nin and Cameron resulted in the prominence of the latter. "This is a card game and the stake is ego," De Brier cannily noted in his diary.

Harrington pointed out "that nobody in the cast knew how they were going to be used in the finished film," but the result is spectacular, funny, and disturbing. Pleasure Dome references Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn," and assembles characters from various mythologies for a Eucharistic orgy--Bacchus being torn by the Bacchantes. De Brier shines in multiple roles as Lord Shiva, the Great Beast 666, Osiris, Cagliostro, and Nero, while Cameron doubles as the Scarlet Woman and Lady Kali. Loome's son Peter, appearing as Ganymede, recalls Shakespeare's Changeling Prince. The mythopoeic mix starts slowly, building and building until--as Shiva spikes Pan's yage--it erupts in a chromophonic frenzy of crosscuts and superimpositions. It is here that Anger's careful study of Eisenstein's theory of montage metamorphosizes into a butterfly of dark and paranoid beauty. Especially effective is the sampling of Henry Otto's Dante's Inferno (1924) as the inflamed women swarm lustily over Pan, their personalities dissolving in ecstatic affirmation. Anger's sense of space is simultaneously vast and claustrophobic, reinforcing the director's notion that the Pleasure Dome being inaugurated is an escape-proof prison--the downside, it would seem, of any total environment.

Anger tinkered considerably with this film through the years. Microtonal composer Harry Partch provided him with tapes of his work, but threatened to sue over its inclusion in the picture. In 1958, the director, emulating the climax of Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927), prepared a three-act-and-screen print for the Brussels World's Fair. Landis recounts the event with relish: the German projectionists were not scrupulous enough for Anger's satisfaction, "and [he] charged into their booth, screaming inflammatory epithets....[Anger] dragged his head against the stucco wall of the booth until his blood seeped down it." This impassioned protest, not surprisingly, marked the end of the Brussels version, but Anger exhumed Pleasure Dome eight years later as the psychedelic experience par excellence. Supplemented with Leos Janacek's intense Glagolitic Mass, this version was screened, along with his earlier films, in New York for the Spring Equinox. Anger designed a playbill for this occasion, urging audiences to "follow me into the flower called nowhere." This slightly shorter edition has become Anger's standard cut, and incorporates several shots from Puce Moment.

Anger's commentary, alas, addresses none of Pleasure Dome's backstage melodrama, sticking instead to analyses of his jewel-like colors and the film's vivid artificiality. He does reveal that De Brier "was rumored to be the bastard son of the King of Romania, and I think he liked people to believe that"--a thought expressed, incidentally, with no discernible irony. Anger resurrects his grandmother, who for this go-round was "an interior decorator in Hollywood." He also identifies the various cabalistic symbols that appear like flashes from the Overmind, before blandly concluding that the film's "ultimate feeling is one of spirituality."

Fantoma has transferred the internegative of Pleasure Dome's 1993 restoration (which adds even more superimpositions), and the film is alive with color, though not without brief frame jitter. In the late Seventies, Anger replaced Janacek's dead-language track with Electric Light Orchestra songs, though this version has not been included, perhaps due to problems over the music rights. Anger never obtained permission to use the various tunes that invigorate his work, a negligence that--after Phil Spector's lawyers objected--sent Scorpio Rising into a legal limbo from which it has only recently returned.

Fantoma's first Anger volume is slipcased with the aforementioned booklet, which contains an introduction by Martin Scorcese. Also included are still-packed notes for each film, behind-the-scenes shots from Rabbit's Moon and Pleasure Dome, extracts from Volume V of Nin's long-running diary, as well as De Brier's Film Culture article on Pleasure Dome's production, and several brooding shots of the youthful Anger. Restoration before-and-afters are provided for each film. A lovely surprise is forty-three of the director's color sketches for Puce Women. All films appear in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.