– Spring/Summer 2003

courting ANGER

Alice L Hutchison

My films consist of a series of idealisms reflected in the idea of beauty. Now beauty can be a terrible thing, beauty can be twisted and abused.
- Kenneth Anger1

Kenneth Anger invited me on a date soon after our first meeting. And not just any date. I was to pick him up and accompany him as his guest and chaperone to the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards for his lifetime achievement award in experimental film, with cocktails and dinner at the non plus ultra Casa del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica. I was very soon sidetracked from the task at hand. Julianne Moore, bedecked in a treasure-trove of diamonds to rival Liz Taylor, collected a best actress award; Pedro Almodóvar had just flown in from Spain to accept the award for best director for Talk to Her. Daniel Day Lewis won best actor for Gangs of New York, a tie with Jack Nicholson for his role in For Schmidt, while Arthur Penn won a directorial career achievement award. Anger and I had a memorable night out together; one of the highlights of the evening was Jack Nicholson getting up to give him a standing ovation and take his hand.

But the problem is to make the soul into a monster. A Poet makes himself a
visionary through a long, boundless, and systematised disorganisation of all
the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself,
he exhausts within himself all poisons and preserves their quintessence.
Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman
strength, where he becomes among all men the

  1. Kenneth Anger, interview in New York Native, Landis, 1985, p.253

  2. Letter from Rimbaud to Georges Izambard, dated 13 May 1871

  3. Jonas Mekas coined the term 'Baudelairean Cinema' (possibly suggested by Ken Jacob's film Baudelairean Capers) as 'portraying a world of flowers of evil, of lluminations, of torn and tortured flesh; a poetry which is at once beautiful and terrible, good and evil, delicate and dirty' (Movie Journal, New York: Macmillan & Co., 1972, p.85. It was first printed in The Village Voice, 2 May 1963). A rich system of resemblance between the form and content of these films and the technique and themes of the Decadent/Symbolist movement which had been inspired by French poet Charles Baudelaire, their films probed into ephemeral objects of commercial culture, fashions, ads, songs, comic books, stars, movies and pornography from which they extracted new aesthetic structures and tropes. Like Baudelaire, these underground filmmakers made marginal social figures the subject matter of their art, often featuring in 1960s sociological parlance deviant groups (lumping into one bag criminals, bike gangs, transvestites, addicts and homosexuals), which Anger liked to re-appropriate, toy with and conflate. Along with Baudelaire, Mekas places these films in the tradition of such maudits as de Sade, Lautreamont and Rimbaud, and of turn-of-the-century currents such as Aestheticism and Symbolism (Carel Rowe, The Baudelairean Cinema, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983).

  4. Peter Sempel's film on Jonas Mekas, Jonas in the Desert, captures Warhol being interviewed on film as he candidly discussed Anger. Jonas Mekas's defence of the underground, the basis for New York's Anthology Film Archives, was based almost exclusively on its ethos of rebellion rather than on aesthetic considerations.

  5. Kenneth Anger, quoted in Bill Landis, Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, New York: Harper Collins, 1995, p.95

  6. Kenneth Anger, from production notes on Scorpio Rising, 1963.

  7. Dick Hebdige's discussion of bricolage resonates in this context appropriat[ing] another range of commodities by placing them in a symbolic ensemble which served to erase or subvert their original meaning - bricolage vs. homology, in the case of Scorpio Rising. (Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London: Routledge, 1979, p.104) Many of Hebdige's comments are pertinent here, from punk's use of the swastika to Julia Kristeva's La Revolution du Language Poetique (which examines the subversive possibilities within language through a study of French symbolist poetry pointing to poetic language as the place where the social code is destroyed and renewed, to his discussion of Jean Genet's romantic emphasis on deformity, transformation and refusal (D. Hebdige, op. cit., p.138).

  8. He did this without violating the laws of copyright, having bought the rights to all the songs for Scorpio Rising.

  9. Kenneth Anger quoted in Robert Haller, 'Kenneth Anger: A Monograph', Film in the Cities, New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1980, p.6

  10. Bruce Byron, 1991, in B. Landis, op. cit., p.103

  11. Isaac Julien, 'Paradise Omeros', documenta 11: Artists Writings (exh. cat.),

  12. Kassel: Documenta, 2002, p.572