I recently borrowed part 2 of a collection of films by Kenneth Anger and i repeatedly watched the most famous of his works in film Scorpio Rising. It’s a short film portraying glimpses of a subculture, men who ride, race and customize motorcycles, dress in hyper-masculine levi and leather gear not unlike Marlon Brando in The Wild One (whose image makes a few cameo appearances from the bluish glow of a television screen, as does James Dean’s from a black and white newspaper clipping pasted to a cluttered wall near the mirror of one characters dressing table. Another icon completes a trio with footage from an epic biblical story scattered throughout the film, jesus, also glowing with that eerie hue of a primitive television.) The film is like a montage of dangerous, mysterious and homoerotic imagery and the ritualistic reverence and detail in which these male subjects suit up for a night out to a seemingly underground meeting place where they cavort in slightly sped up footage. It’s a non-stop celebration of precise detailed imagery, uber-masculinity created with the care and fastidiousness of a female dolling up to look her best. Belts and chains and leather wristbands and skull rings and scorpion beltbuckles and tight jeans and leather caps and key chains are all carefully applied, lots of footage of boots walking in the shadows and tiles, cigarettes smoked, powders snorted, a bit of Nazi imagery and fake plastic skulls, comic strips, wind-up toys, siamese cats watching their keeper prepare for a night out. This all plays out to a fantastic mix of early sixties girl group gems like “My Boyfriends Back” and other very familiar oldies. Overall i found it mesmerizing and beautifully shot, full of texture and mood and voyeuristic thrill. I watched repeatedly and viewed it as something completely different from hollywood films of that era. It went different places, achieved a whole new and fresh aesthetic, told a story in a whole new way. It was dark and sexy and scary.
Anger made several films, all of them ignored and rejected by hollywood. In response to this, he retired as a film-maker and wrote the grisly tell-all Hollywood Babylon, exposing the tragic dehumanizing and depraved dark under-belly of the motion picture industry. It was a huge selling book and it was ugly ugly ugly, but true. Anger is still alive and reportedly still quite bitter. He makes occasional appearances and lectures or discussions. his whole body of work in film is available on two DVD’s with extensive notes and a great profile of the artist written by Martin Scorcese, and a few other film makers chime in to. It’s great art and i bet Netflix has it.