Thursday, August 25, 2005

Kenneth Anger-1947-1965 DVD

At least for me, Kenneth Anger was one of those seventies names that, like those of William Burroughs and Jean Genet, seemed to hover around in the outer realms of the "nasty new youth culture" getting heavy putsch in the pages of CREEM and maybe even ROLLING STONE. Naturally he was rather well known (at least in rock circles) for his associations with the likes of Mick Jagger, future Manson shock trooper Bobby Beausoliel and of course Jimmy Page not forgetting his own tale of Film City decadence HOLLYWOOD BABYLON (which continues to earn the ire of moom pitcher buffs worldwide this far down the line), but what Anger's undoubtedly best known for are the variety of underground flicks that I guess are of such legendary status that Anger is often considered the second best underground filmmaker of the sixties (behind Andy Warhol), but like Hertz I'm sure he's tried harder at least in molding the image of Kenneth Anger just as well as Warhol created his own.

Anyway I just got hold of a DVD-R of dubious legality featuring a few Anger films (taken from video) that I thought you might or might not want to know my opinions on (howzat for my pat catering to a wishy-washy blog clientele?). And although these films don't have as much of an oomph w/regards to my own sensa wonder as they might have had back when I was sneak-reading Parker Tyler's UNDERGROUND FILMS at the library during my young'n wanna know everything about this mad throbbing world's er, seamier side, I can still relate to 'em just as much as I would have back when I was sixteen and it seemed as if everything out there seemed so "gosh-it-all." And NOT because of any special, deeply psychological understanding of what Anger was saying trying to convey with the use of his "magick lantern"'s just that I am mentally retarded at the age of sixteen anyway and these things still seem downright gosharootie and oh-so mysterioso!

FIREWORKS (1947)- This ain't Anger's first film, he'd done a buncha other ones earlier but destroyed them all at the 1967 Pentagon Exorcism in an act of protest (though since he sold prints of his ESCAPE EPISODE starring John Derek back in the late forties maybe that one survives in someone's collection), but FIREWORKS is thee one that catapulted Anger to fame at least in the realms of forties avant garde enthusiasts and Californian psychiatrists. Here Anger (who was either seventeen or twenty, birthdates differ, when FIREWORKS was filmed in his own abode while the folks were away for the weekend) plays a man wandering in a dream world after waking up (perhaps still sleeping a la that DICK VAN DYKE dream-within-a-dream episode, a phenom which even I had encountered on a few occasions!) who meets a men's room fulla sailors out for blood...ANGER'S, amongst other things! FIREWORKS is filled to the brim w/a lotta shocking (read: cool for every teenbo wannabe hipster who likes to see the squares squeal in agony over this stuff!) imagery, my fave being the part where the sailors start ripping into Anger's flesh layer by layer only to come across what looks like a gas meter of some sorts. The whole thing benefits from the primitiveness, with FIREWORKS at one time looking like (and having the feeling of) one of those crank-out quickie forties/fifties girly films SOMETHING WEIRD sells, and on the other hand all of the craft and energy of thirties avant garde shorts such as LOT IN SODOM, a film I'm sure influenced Anger's works to a point. And to really slam the whole sailor message home we get a brief pan shot of a buncha urinals which I'm sure must've agitited a lot more people'n Anger's parents at the time. (And I didn't even mention the scene with this sailor romping around with a lit roman candle sticking outta fly, which reminds of this time when I was in first grade and one of the older kids who happened to be black was walking around in the cafeteria during lunchtime with a king-size Baby Ruth sticking outta his own unzipped crotch yelling "Hey, look at me!!!") Underground films were really milking the whole Freudian imagery scam for ages (just take a gander at ECSTASY sometime with all of the rising guardposts and the key struggling to slip into the lock!) but Anger did a pretty good job at not making these shock scenes look as hackneyed as they could have been in the hands of any other teenager trying to be "hip" making underground films whether it be in the forties, sixties or today for that matter.

PUCE MOMENT (1949)-My fave of the batch. A color fragment of what was to have been an extended project entitled PUCE WOMEN dealing w/the imagery of twenties Hollywood and its soon to be silenced by sound stars, PUCE MOMENT begins with this great shot of various flapper-era dresses complete with spinning tassels and bangles being jostled and lifted up as if they were curtains on and on until a black sequined evening gown is shown out of focus, looking somewhat like an old Pink Floyd album cover. Then we see actress Yvonne Marquis slipping this gown over her head and putting on high-heeled shoes, then at her dresser dabbing perfume before lying on a daybed where she seems to be traveling in it onto her terrace which overlooks the Hollywood Hills (Marquis' character is based on that of silent star Barbara La Marr, whose now long-gone villa was used for the setting). The film closes with Marquis taking her wolfhounds for a walk in typically graceful Hollywood style. A nice evocation of Hollywood Past (and HOLLYWOOD BABYLON) of which Mike Snider brought up maybe obvious SUNSET BOULEVARD comparisons, and since PUCE MOMENT was made around the same time as that Gloria Swanson/William Holden wowzer, I wouldn't doubt him.

What's most amazing about PUCE MOMENT is the soundtrack by one Jonathan Halper (a fellow who I couldn't find anything about on the internet other than his association with this film). Whoever this Halper person is, he's one pretty good unsung hero of the 1967 Los Angeles Folk Rock Movement, up there with such stalwarts as the Byrds at their spaciest and perhaps other luminaries such as Love and the Factory. There are actually two songs used on the soundtrack, the first this pretty fierce psychedelic scorcher complete with backwards guitar and the second a more sedate folk-oriented thingie about a hermit who gets his nourishment from what the birds bring him that sounds like a Byrdsian rough draft, or maybe even a Syd Barrett lost near-masterpiece. Either way I'm stunned!

RABBIT'S MOON (1950)-Shot in Paris after being discovered by Jean Cocteau (who somehow escaped criticism for not only being a one-time supporter of Hitler but being endowed with a privledged lifestyle in Vichy France...perhaps his being gay made him immune to such scrutiny on the left?), RABBIT'S MOON features French and Japanese myth sorta combined together, as the clown Pierrot attempts to grasp the moon falling flat on his butt at every leap. Meanwhile Harlequin appears to taunt Pierrot before we finally figure out that the moon is a metaphor for Columbine whom Pierrot really desires. Kinda arty but neat-o looking as Anger recreates his own past when he appeared as the Changeling Prince in A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S DREAM back in 1935 (the set is a pretty good approx. from what I can gather). Tinted in blue, at times RABBIT'S MOON reminds me of an old silent film, and although the oldies soundtrack (w/electronic music, perhaps outtakes from Jagger's INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER score, interspersed in spots) takes a bit to get used to, I can ooze a tad of enjoyment out of this one perhaps due to its homage to the classic past. However, what I wanna know is, are the animated shots of the moon and the big dipper pouring milk taken from some old HARVEYTOON? I seem to recall something very similar eyeballed during my very young AM cartoon-watching dayze.

EAUX D'ARTIFICE (1953)-Interesting shots of fountains and water gushing as some woman dressed in a 17th century gown plays hide-and-seek with the camera. The least-entertaining film in the batch though with the Vivaldi soundtrack and the black and white imagery I kinda got the same feeling that I do when watching one of those twenties avant garde flickers that GRAPEVINE VIDEO used to sell ten years back.

KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (1965)-Another fragment of an abandoned project, KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS was more or less supposed to be a fun-filled, teenage-oriented (at least judging from the cartoon-y opening title) take on Anger's previous film SCORPIO RISING. What does survive is footage of some typically early/mid-sixties kinda teenaged guy complete with pre-Beatles pompadour named Sandy powder-puffing his chrome-laden hot rod while the Parris Sisters' version of Bobby Darin's "Dream Lover" purrs from the soundtrack. (And although I don't know who these sisters are, the song is so simpy that I didn't even bother trying to find out anything about 'em via my favorite search engine!) Not surprisingly, the arty look of this "segment" reflect what just about every car commercial in the early-eighties extolling the luxuriance and upper-class snob appeal of an Oldsmobile attempted to, which just goes to show you just how much people have been swiping from Anger all these years and making bazillions w/it all as well. Nothing to brag about, though I have the feeling that a complete KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS (at least judging from a surviving script) would have been a good encapsulation of pre-hippie Amerigan Youth fun and games, at least filtered through the lens of Anger.

1 comment:

Christopher Stigliano said...

Regarding the Parris Sisters, I totally forgot about their early-sixties Phil Spectre (no sic) produced career which garnered them one major hit! However, by the time they recorded "Deam Lover" it was all over!