To celebrate the Walker’s 75th anniversary, Crosscuts will feature a series of filmmakers who have visited the art center over the last few decades.
Scenes from a Kenneth Anger film read as hellish nightmares: men assaulted by Navy officers, Lucifer wandering throughout the Egyptian pyramids, grisly motorcycle deaths, and a lit firework as a stand-in phallus. The 87-year-old filmmaker has had a prolific career since the 1940s, creating shorts shot exclusively on 16 and 35mm. Anger visited the Walker twice: in 1980 to premiere Lucifer Rising (which was still a work in progress at the time) and again in 2007 for the screening of restorations of four of his most seminal films, Fireworks, Rabbit’s Moon, Scorpio Rising, and Kustom Kar Kammandos.
Anger’s tattoo—the word “Lucifer” sprawled across his chest—says a lot about him. Despite Lucifer’s Christian association as the fallen angel, Anger reconceptualizes Lucifer in his original context as the bringer of light throughout his films. In fact, Christian imagery is frequently subverted in Anger’s work. In Scorpio Rising, footage from the children’s television show The Living Bible is interspersed with a homoerotic biker orgy and sound tracked by The Surfaris “Wipeout.” Light as metaphor features prominently in Fireworks, a 15 minute film Anger describes as “all I have to say about being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July.” Anger’s films deal heavily in homoeroticism (he was arrested on obscenity charges when Fireworks was released), dreamscapes, violence, and American pop culture. The filmmaker was well acquainted with the likes of Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Anaïs Nin, Alfred Kinsey, and Marianne Faithfull. Despite these more populist associations, Anger remained decidedly in the camp of underground cinema and never filmed a feature length movie.
For as bizarre and fantastical as Anger’s films are, his life is equally kaleidoscopic. He was a believer in the supernatural, magic, and paganism. He was very close with Aleister Crowley, black magician and founder of the Thelema religion. Thelema laid the groundwork for Ron L Hubbard and Scientology. Anger has published two volumes of a series called Hollywood Babylon that documents crime, scandal, and gossip in old Hollywood. He has a third volume completed but it exposes secrets about Tom Cruise and he has no intention of engaging with Scientologists while the actor is still alive. If this sounds fantastical, it is. Anger lived in a world entirely of his own creation.
To read more about Anger’s extraordinary and unsettling life, check out this long form read on Esquire.