Experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who also wrote the novel Hollywood Babylon (which was banned in the U.S. when it was first released in 1965) and was considered to be a pioneer of underground cinema, has passed away at the age of 96. According to The Hollywood Reporter, his death was announced by Sprüeth Magers art gallery, which has presented exhibitions of his work.
Anger made more than thirty dialogue-free short films over a career that spanned from 1941 to 2013, but The Hollywood Reporter estimates that the work he did in those 72 years would take a viewer just 8 hours to watch in its entirety. His shorts have been described as “a kaleidoscope of symbolism, homoeroticism and the occult”. Some of his most popular shorts include the 1963 collage Scorpio Rising, described as “a pastiche of pop songs plastered over homoerotic biker imagery, pulp cartoons, Nazism, and paraphernalia”; the 13-minute 1953 short Eaux d’Artifice, which follows an elegantly dressed woman through the water gardens at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli; 1954’s Pleasure Dome, which featured occultists Samson De Brier and Marjorie Cameron; Lucifer Rising, which had a score that was composed by Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil while he was in prison; Elliott’s Suicide, a tribute to musician Elliott Smith; and Invocation of My Demon Brother, which puts a Mick Jagger score over a Satanic funeral ceremony.
Scorpio Rising and Eaux d’Artifice are both preserved in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry now, but Anger’s films caused quite a stir when they first made their way out into the world.
It all started when Anger’s maternal grandmother, who had been a costumer during the silent era, gifted him with a 16mm camera when he was a teenager. He used that camera to shoot the 1947 short film Fireworks in his parents’ home while they were at an uncle’s funeral. And when he showed Fireworks, which was about a gang rape and featured “exploding phallic Roman candles”, the LAPD vice squad wasn’t too happy with it. His 1949 short The Love That Whirls didn’t even make it to exhibition. The film was sent off to be developed and got destroyed by a lab technician who found its imagery of a naked man climbing a mountain to be obscene. Screenings of his work were shut down, prints were confiscated, and one exhibitor nearly had to pay a fine for showing obscene material.
It’s understandable if most film fans aren’t familiar with Anger’s work directly, but many of us have witnessed the influence he had on the likes of Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters films.
Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon was “a confronting look at alleged scandals from the Golden Age of Cinema through police photos, morgue shots and lots of rumors and fictionalizations.” A sequel followed in 1984, covering the decades of the 1920s through the 1970s.
The Sprüeth Magers art gallery provided the following statement on Anger’s passing: “Kenneth was a trailblazer. His cinematic genius and influence will live on and continue to transform all those who encounter his films, words and vision.“
Our condolences go out to Kenneth Anger’s family, friends, and fans.