Kenneth Anger: The Magician of Cinema

Kenneth Anger is an American underground and experimental filmmaker. The artist has been most well known for being amongst a generation that helped define and liberate the experimental underground movements of the 1960s American avant-garde. Through his conceptual and visionary approach to cinema, Anger has now been regarded as one of film’s most influential figures.

Anger’s first experience in filmmaking occurred when he was just ten years old. The young artist started by making short films, but it was not until many years later that he would produce his signature film Fireworks (1947) where he would finally gain recognition as an established filmmaker. In these early years, Anger had begun developing an interest in the interpretation of dreams and the subconscious mind; he developed a technique portraying these themes in his work, calling it “dream logic”. The dream logic is one behind the interpretation of dreams, exploring how our unconscious mind could be read and understood in reality. In Fireworks, one can see the young artist portraying his own subconscious mind during a dream sequence, projecting through the dreamscape an array of violent, and at times homoerotic, desires. The relationships established in the film would be a signature trait that Anger would carry on developing throughout his career. Not only was the artist one of the first openly gay filmmakers, his films were some of the first alongside Gregory Markopoulos’s Christmas U.S.A (1949) and Jean Genet’s Un Chant D'amour (1950) to explicitly address same-sex desire in cinema.

Anger’s films, like many other queer filmmaker’s works, were repeatedly censored and Anger himself was charged with obscenity several times when the works were screened. It was only later in Anger’s career that his accomplishments as a queer artist filmmaker were recognised, and as his relationships grew within the film community, the young filmmaker finally found himself established within the American experimental underground scene. Like many other experimental filmmakers, including Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos, joining the underground scene was a way to oppose the dominant aesthetic of Hollywood filmmaking. As a response, groups of artists came together and offered an alternative from mainstream cinema, and with this Anger’s experimentation and creativity developed only further.

Anger continued to explore the unconscious throughout his later works and as his artistic imagination and creative inspiration grew, the filmmaker became greatly interested in the occult. Like the surrealists of the 1940s, filmmakers such as Maya Deren were already creating works that were heavily inspired by occultism through the use of symbolism and esoteric frameworks. Anger’s approach, however, was directed more towards the philosophy of Thelema, founded by English occultist Aleister Crowley. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) was Anger’s first film that captivated major elements of the artist’s interest in Thelema itself. The film was a surrealist work of art featuring many mythological figures, personifying pagan gods including Isis, Osiris, and Pan. The continuation of these traits, however, would again be found in his later films, specifically Lucifer Rising (1972), a film which lends itself to the world of mythology and mysticism, the very foundations and signature style that would historically become known as Anger’s very own.

by Eliott Mussi, Artist/Filmmaker