Kenneth Anger’s Maldoror

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Kenneth Anger, Topanga Canyon, Composite with Gustave Doré Engraving (1954) by Edmund Teske.

Les Chants de Maldoror, 1951–1952.
16mm; black and white; filmed in Paris and Deauville.

With a hand-held 16mm camera I shot my first series of short haiku. This was my apprenticeship in the marvels that surround us, waiting to be discovered, awake to knowledge and life and whose magical essence is revealed by selection. At 17, | composed my first long poem, a 15 minute suite of images, my black tanka: Fireworks.

I had seen this drama entirely on the screen of my dreams. This vision was uniquely amenable to the instrument that awaited it. With three lights, a black cloth as décor, the greatest economy of means and enormous inner concentration, Fireworks was made in three days.

An example of the direct transfer of a spontaneous inspiration, this film reveals the possibilities of automatic writing on the screen, of a new language that reveals thought; it allows the triumph of the dream.

The wholly intellectual belief of the “icy masters” of cinema in the supremacy of technique recalls, on the literary level, the analytical essays of a Poe or the methods of a Valéry, who said: “I only write to order. Poetry is an assignment.”

At the opposite pole to these creative systems there is the divine inspiration of a Rimbaud or a Lautréamont, prophets of thought. The cinema has explored the northern regions of impersonal stylization; it should now discover the southern regions of personal lyricism; it should have its prophets.

These prophets will restore faith in a “pure cinema” of sensual revelation. They will re-establish the primacy of the image. They will teach us the principles of their faith: that we participate before evaluating. We will give back to the dream its first state of veneration. We will recall primitive mysteries. The future of film is in the hands of the poet and his camera. Hidden away are the followers of a faith in “pure cinema.” even in this unlikely age. They make their modest “fireworks” in secret, showing them from time to time, they pass unnoticed in the glare of the “silver rain” of the commercial cinema. Maybe one of these sparks will liberate the cinema….

Angels exist. Nature provides “the inexhaustible flow of visions of beauty.” It is for the poet, with his personal vision, to “capture” them.

Kenneth Anger—Modesty and the Art of Film, Cahiers du Cinéma no. 5, September 1951

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Little is known about Anger’s activities during the mid-1950s. By 1958 he still had not been able to complete any films in Paris. He held on to his hope of completing Maldoror. His stack of preproduction notes and sketches had grown larger and he had plans to photograph nudes in a graveyard. Several Parisian Surrealists threatened to hand Anger’s head to him if he shot Maldoror. The book’s fluid, dreamlike imagery had been one of the trailblazers of Surrealism, and his detractors felt that a gauche American with a reputation for pop iconography and bold homosexual statement would debase a sacred text.

Bill Landis—Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger, 1995

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I discovered the book when I was quite young. I loved it, put a lot of passion into it. I found people to play the parts. I found settings, gaslit corners, places still had the romantic look of a Second Empire. It was a terrific ambition to make this epic film-poem. I found ways to translate the text’s extraordinary images. I planned to film a mid-nineteenth century story taking place in twentieth century Paris. I filmed “the hymn to the ocean” on the beach at Deauville, with Hightower and members of the Marquis de Cuevas Ballet. They danced in the sea; tables were placed beneath the water line so the dancers could stand on their points. It looked as though they were standing on waves. The people who called themselves “Surrealists” were furious—this group of punks threatened me—they didn’t want a Yank messing round with their sacred text. I just told them to go to hell! I also managed to film the war of the flies and pins. I put bags of pins and dozens of flies into a glass container; revolved the container and filmed in close-up. As the pins dropped the flies zigzagged to escape. In slow motion an impressive image.

Kenneth Anger—Into the Pleasure Dome: The Films of Kenneth Anger, edited by Jayne Pilling & Michael O’Pray, 1989

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The sections of the film that were completed [are] stored in the Cinémathèque Française, but [their] exact whereabouts in the archive is unknown, with no images from the film being currently available for reproduction.

Alice L. Hutchinson—Kenneth Anger, 2004

Previously on { feuilleton }
Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972
My Surfing Lucifer by Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally

Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972

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Another resurrected article. Cinema Rising was a short-lived newsprint film magazine that ran for three issues in the UK in 1972. I have a few pages from the rare first issue that was part of a batch of old underground newspapers I was given a few years ago. (The Frendz Hawkwind strip is from the same haul.) Cinema Rising was edited by Simon Hartog and Tony Rayns, the latter being a long-time Kenneth Anger aficionado which would explain both the magazine title and the presence of a photo feature about Anger’s Lucifer Rising. The bulk of this post is a short interview with Donald Cammell that’s of interest for his comments about the gender roles in Performance and his opinion of Jorge Luis Borges whose recurrence as both signifying text and presiding magus in Performance is never really explained.

Cammell’s next film after Performance would have been Ishtar (no relation to the notorious Warren Beatty flop), the themes of which Cammell discusses at the end of the piece. The Cammell biography describes a script concerning a film star and Hollywood producer who want to make a film in Morocco. While there they get involved with a woman who embodies various mystical/mythological feminine attributes; there’s also a sub-plot about the pair kidnapping an American judge. Mick Jagger was down for the role of the film star while William Burroughs was slated to play the judge. Given how wayward Cammell’s later films became it’s difficult to say whether this would have been good or not. Performance could very easily have been terrible but that film also had Nicolas Roeg on board.

After the Cammell piece there are photos from Cinema Rising‘s Kenneth Anger feature which show the director at work on the new version of Lucifer Rising. I’ve not seen any of these stills or the two black actors before—what happened to their parts? Note that some of the captions are misspelled: the photos should be credited to Diarmid Cammell—Donald’s brother—while the Adept (not “Lucifer”) is Haydn Couts.

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DONALD CAMMELL: PERFORMANCE TO ISHTAR, Cinema Rising, no. 1, April 1972

Donald Cammell’s first movie was Performance, made in collaboration with Nicolas Roeg; the most unexpected British movie of recent years, and one of the very few products of the British industry capable of holding its own in an international context. Cammell’s new script is Ishtar, originally written with Mick Jagger in mind for the lead again, but possibly to be made without him; Cammell is currently in America to raise the backing for the film.

In the following extracts from a conversation with John du Cane (recorded last year), Cammell speaks of his background and interests…matters that inform his new script at least as much Performance.

Collaboration

“In the recent past, reverence for the director of a film as sole creator has been vastly exaggerated, through critical efforts. I’m thinking particularly of the Cahiers du Cinema ‘author’ concept—I’ve been living in Paris, and have been quite aware of it for a long time. The kind of theory of creativity that’s arisen there (and in related worlds in New York) is, succinctly, crap. It’s a way of trying to demonstrate the view that cinema is an artform, and that therefore there must be a single creative mind controlling the artefact, through to its ultimate form. It’s a way of justifying movie-making, socially and culturally.

“But leaving aside the reasons for the concept, I think it’s contradicted by the facts. I think that many of the greatest artefacts things that have moved people most throughout history—have been collectively produced. You don’t even have to look for examples: the whole of Egyptian culture, arcane cultures generally. Today in tribal cultures, the vast majority of the products are collectively produced. The hangup is the concept of one ego necessarily controlling the production in order for that ego to be expressed; the notion that the expression of an ego is the final goal of any artwork, that this is what it’s for. I think that an artwork expresses itself, that the creators involved will all see in it their own egos, each one individually satisfied when looking at the final work. My analogy is with contemporary music, where people go into it collectively, and their egos are satisfied collectively and individually. Look at Mick and Keith and their confreres: they see in their work as The Rolling Stones what they each wanted to say. Working in the film medium is ideally suited to interaction of different heads; it’s the ideal medium for all the good functions of collective work.”

Continue reading “Donald Cammell and Kenneth Anger, 1972”

My Surfing Lucifer by Kenneth Anger

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One for completists only, My Surfing Lucifer (2009) is one of those recent Kenneth Anger shorts that would receive little attention if we didn’t know the director. Anger’s surfing friend, Bunker Spreckels, is memorialised in a sequence of home movie shots set to the Psychic TV version of Good Vibrations. For me the main point of interest is the use of “Lucifer” in the title, here used not in the context of Anger’s favourite angel but in the sense of a more mundane figure worthy of veneration. Putting a mythic frame around something that in other hands would be quite unremarkable connects this piece, however tenuously, to the more substantial productions of the director’s career.

Anger turned 86 this year, and he’s still keeping busy. His most recent film is another short entitled Airships. He talks a little about that here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome: The Eldorado Edition

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More Cameron, and her finest cinematic moment as she plays two roles—The Scarlet Woman and Kali—in Kenneth Anger’s erotic/psychedelic/thaumaturgic Bacchanal from 1954. Ordinarily there wouldn’t be much reason to draw attention to this, it’s been available on DVD and Blu-ray for several years, and various plunderings are scattered all over YouTube. The version here, however, gives an opportunity to experience the film as it was screened in the 1970s.

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Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, like many of Kenneth Anger’s films, existed in several different forms, with the tinkering and re-editing going on for years after the original footage had been captured. An early edit made in the 1950s was fashioned into a version known as “Sacred Mushroom Edition” which Anger screened to acid heads in the 1960s. I’ve never seen any mention of the soundtrack used for this version, or the other early editions, but in 1978 Anger released a new version with the film soundtracked by most of the Eldorado (1974) album by the Electric Light Orchestra. The note on the Vimeo page says the 1978 edition has only ever been publicly screened once but this isn’t the case. My first viewing of the film was in 1990 when the Magick Lantern Cycle was touring arts cinemas in the UK, and I very well remember sitting in the dark thinking “What the hell…is this the Electric Light Orchestra?” The version that’s seen today is soundtracked with Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass, a choice that seems much more suitable. For some time I’d thought of getting hold of the ELO album and running it with the film to remind myself of that initial viewing but there’s no need now that this version exists. The implication is that what you see here is the actual 1978 edit but the footage seems no different from the DVD version aside from missing a few seconds of credits at the beginning. The ELO album came with a cover photo showing Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, a detail that may explain why the Hollywood-obsessed Anger was drawn to the album in the first place.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally

Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger

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Another recent piece of Angeriana, and another short video sketch, Brush of Baphomet (2009) is a kind of addendum to Anger’s The Man We Want to Hang (2002), being a further look at Aleister Crowley’s paintings. The title refers to one of Crowley’s many occult names. As a painter Crowley’s technical ability was almost nil but that never dissuaded him from trying, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding his work to have a naive malevolence. Anger has had a lifelong interest in Crowley’s paintings, famously journeying in 1955 to the abandoned villa in Cefalù, Sicily, where he cleaned whitewash from the walls to reveal the remains of the murals Crowley had painted there.

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The music in Brush of Baphomet is a surprising choice, an extract from the second part of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon (1967). Anger’s musical selections have never been random ones so you have to wonder why this particular score. Was it because the electronics are reminiscent of the Moog drones Mick Jagger supplied for Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)? Subotnick’s title is borrowed from The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats, a poet for whom Crowley (also a poet) had little affection. In Crowley’s occult novel Moonchild, Yeats appears as “Gates”, a mediocre painter (yes, well…), who ends up being killed in an act of magical revenge. Crowley must have been mortified a few years later when Yeats was awarded a Nobel Prize.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Anger Sees Red
Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon
Lucifer Rising posters
Externsteine panoramas
Missoni by Kenneth Anger
Anger in London
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger by Marie Menken
Edmund Teske
Kenneth Anger on DVD again
Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
Relighting the Magick Lantern
Kenneth Anger on DVD…finally