Anger Me

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Visitors to LAShTAL.COM will know all about Kenneth Anger, of course. Reportedly equipped with a formidably short temper and confidante of some of the most important counter-culture figures of the last four decades, his presence looms large over both Thelema and the history of experimental film. A prominent and proud member of the OTO, his commitment to Crowley is beyond question: few have “lived the life” of a Thelemite with as much conviction and over so long a period of time as Mr Anger. I had the great honour to be invited as a guest to the first UK screening of the new documentary about Kenneth Anger, Anger Me, at the British Film Institute’s 50th London Film Festival, where this 72-minute documentary featured prominently in the “Experimenta Avant-Garde Weekend”. In the foyer before the screening I was introduced to Mr Anger himself by one of my favourite musicians – it turned out to be that kind of a day! Anger looks remarkably well, far younger than you’d expect given that he’s in his eightieth year, and was dressed in an immaculate, sober suit. The screening was very well attended with a wide cross-section of people in the audience. All ages were represented, as were several individuals prominent in Thelema and the arts. After a very brief and gracious introduction by Anger, who was careful to point out that this was not his movie, but that of the director, Elio Gelmini, the film began. The first thing that hits you is the visual quality of the film: digitally projected at one of the most technically advanced cinema screens in the country the colours are sharp and vivid, the crispness of the images and also the sharpness of the sound is utterly engrossing. Anger Me, co-produced for Segnale Digitale and A Few Steps Production by Elio Gelmini and Carlo Vitali, is described here as a documentary but in truth it’s far more than that: it’s a long-overdue monologue, an opportunity for the oft-maligned Anger to present his life as he remembers it. Filmed against green-screen for several hours on each of three days – as with so much to do with Anger, even the filming duration is imbued with a sense of significance or at least resonance for Thelemites – Anger discusses his life and work in cinema and, more recently, video tape, in extraordinary detail, from his appearance as “the Changeling Prince” in the 1935 edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to 2002’s The Man We Want To Hang. His anecdotes are good-humoured and candid throughout, drawing generous attention to those people that he most admired, chief among which appear to have been Jean Cocteau and Alfred Kinsey. Projected behind Anger throughout – and frequently filling the screen as clips in their own right – are substantial extracts from most of his extant movies. Fireworks and Scorpio Rising are shown at length, of course; more surprising, perhaps, is the inclusion of Puce Moment and The Man We Want To Hang. That Anger has been an innovator and a pioneer is clear almost from the outset. Many of the extracts displayed are from recently restored versions, prepared in advance of their planned release on DVD next year. For example, the footage from Fireworks is of such perfect quality that it’s necessary to remind oneself that this film was released nearly sixty years ago! In its own way, with its combination of mystery, dreamscapes and startling sexual imagery, Fireworks is probably as shocking a film today as it was when first released. Anger has never betrayed the role of film-maker by reducing it to the moronic recording of the explicit mechanics of sexual activity – “in and out, in and out, like a sewing machine”, as he wittily describes it – and as a result, the visual metaphors and euphemisms are still able to surprise, as here when the man in a sailor suit lights a Roman Candle jutting out of his flies. An amusing yet unsettling image concluding a film created by a precocious seventeen-year old. Anger sold a copy of Fireworks to the “humane” Dr Alfred Kinsey – a man who “would have made a good President”. The strangely compelling Puce Moment – early sequences from an intended longer work named Puce Women, apparently – is featured, as is Rabbit’s Moon. The Hollywood Babylon book, Anger’s best-selling “tapestry” of debauchery and tragedy, is described, as is the follow-up volume. No word on the publication of the third volume, though, which, Anger explains, may or may not be published “for legal reasons”. It sounds to me that publication of this sort of book is exactly what the Internet is designed to do! Following a brief account of l’Eaux d’Artfice, Anger provides a fascinating description of the filming of Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, including the “tension” between Anais Nin and Jack Parson’s widow, Marjorie Cameron. Anais didn’t enjoy performing in “second place”, apparently. It was with this movie that Anger began to introduce explicit reference to Crowley and to Thelema in his creative work: Anger discusses Crowley’s manipulation of “forces that can be dangerous”. After a meeting with Jane Wolfe, Anger became enamoured with the philosophy of Thelema, which he describes as being “very good for artists”. Anger then describes his visit to Cefalu and his removal of whitewash from Crowley’s images there. Only still photographs remain of that visit – Elio Gelmino, the director, confirmed to me after the screening that the original footage is now lost and attempts to locate it have failed. Anger Me, though, includes modern footage of Anger wandering around the ruined Abbey, and shows some beautifully vivid film of the surviving wall paintings. Anger’s account of Scorpio Rising illustrates clearly that he is fully aware of his own impact upon MTV, although he notes that the music in his movies is designed to explicate the visuals and not vice versa as with modern pop videos. And so to Invocation Of My Demon Brother, compiled from the film scraps thrown out during the initial filming of Lucifer Rising, as a result of the alleged theft of the bulk of the movie reels by Bobby Beausoleil. Invocation is described by Anger as his “war film” – certainly, surviving Mick Jagger’s impromptu soundtrack recording is a bit of a battle. Anger noted after the event that the music “is likely to drive you batty”. He’s not wrong, of course, but who would decline the opportunity to have Jagger record their soundtrack for your 11 minute underground film? The filming of Lucifer Rising is described, with Anger noting that he has visited Egypt five times as a result of his love of the country. There’s not much he could say that isn’t already known about Lucifer Rising, of course, although I was still a little surprised at how short this section of the documentary is. The last movie to receive a mention is The Man We Want To Hang, with some interesting behind-the-scenes stills. For a man synonymous with Hollywood gossip, there is some evidence either that the interview footage has been edited to remove controversial statements, or perhaps Anger has just “toned down” his usual candour. He speaks briefly about meeting D W Griffith in a cinema, for example, whose “breath smelt of Southern Comfort”. Other versions of this account have left nothing like as much to the imagination… Likewise, Anger speaks very briefly about Jimmy Page’s score for Lucifer Rising, noting only – and rather more politely than we’ve read elsewhere – that Jimmy was unable to complete it because of his commitments with Led Zeppelin. I’m sure I can’t be the only admirer of Anger’s works that would love to see the release of an edition of Lucifer Rising with each of the two soundtracks available as alternative DVD options. Elio Gelmini employs many of Anger’s trademark film-making techniques to enormously impressive effect in Anger Me: jump cuts, the superimposition of multiple dissimilar images to produce a remarkable synergy and so on. The audio soundtrack is absolutely perfect, including a substantial amount of original music together with the pieces extracted from the movies themselves, by Mick Jagger and Bobby Beausoleil, for example. I was fortunate enough after the screening to spend a delightful hour or so over lunch with the two film-makers, charming fellows that have an impressive knowledge of Anger, Crowley and Thelema. Anger was right to trust them with this work. Not only is Anger Me detailed and definitive, it also serves as a real tribute to the genius of one of the great Thelemic cultural icons. Anger Me is awaiting a distributor in the UK and the US – it deserves to be picked up without delay for a proper and effective DVD release. It’s a beautiful documentary, made by committed and intelligent film-makers about a fascinating and, on the evidence of this screening at least, charming individual. Paul Feazey

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