Friday, October 31, 2008

Part I: The sands of time are going through the hourglass but it doesn't frighten me

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger is supposed to die tonight from prostate cancer. This was announced last year at the funeral of Curtis Harrington:

"Anger ann­ounced that he and Harr­ing­ton had both been dying of pros­tate cancer (although Harr­ing­ton didn’t die of this) and that he had told Harr­ing­ton that he would out­live him. Anger then in­formed every­one that his own mem­or­ial would be here, in the same place. He turned toward the crowd and said “Oh yes, It’s been con­firmed. I know the date of my death. On Hall­ow­e’en 2008. My mem­or­ial. RIGHT HERE! HALL­OW­E’EN 2008!” Then, as an after­thought, he added, “INVIT­AT­ION ONLY! Sorry.”

If he does die tonight it will certainly be a shame but considering the fact that he is 80+ years old and has to die someday, Halloween night would be perfect! And if it's the very night he predicted, so much the better!

The tragedy of Kenneth Anger's life, and one of the greatest tragedies in cinema, is that he wasn't able to get funding for all the projects he wanted to begin (or, in many cases, complete). The tragedy of his death will be the fact that his life and history haven't been adequately catalogued and recorded. The documentary Anger Me is good as an overview of his life and work, and it's great just to be able to hear Kenneth Anger talk, but my problem with it is that it's too respectable, too tame. It doesn't show us (or at least it severely downplays) the more anecdotal and notorious Kenneth Anger. The Kenneth Anger who, for example, put the "curse of the toad"1 on Bobby Beausoleil just a short time before Beausoleil's van broke down in front of the Manson family's Spahn Ranch... The Anger who said of Jimmy Page: "“He’s a multi-millionaire miser. He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl - the druggie that got him on heroin - they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of King Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.” Anger is filled with some of the most amusing anecdotes, gossip, and tall tales you will ever hear -- a true American treasure. I remember reading that he was working on a biography, perfectly titled Look Back Ken Anger -- I wonder what ever came of it? I wonder if the person who finds it (if it exists) will try to get it published or if they'll toss it in the trash like so many of his lost films? I wonder if Hollywood Babylon III will be published in the United States posthumously. I wonder if Mr. Anger is going to slip out of my ear when I'm sleeping on the night of his demise and turn himself into a colorful couch in the corner of my room.

1 This curse is performed by trapping a toad in a well.

Eaux d'artifice Kenneth Anger

Eaux d'artifice (1953)

Here is an excerpt from an obituary of Curtis Harrington that expresses to me why Kenneth Anger is more than just a great filmmaker.

SCENE. Anger arrives at Harrington's funeral:

"Actor Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson in the 1950s Super­man tele­vis­ion series), who was to be the only speak­er at the serv­ice, de­scribed the Holly­wood mil­ieu that he and Curtis ent­ered in the 1940s. He had barely started when he was int­err­upted by Anger, who shouted juicy ‘corr­ect­ions’ to Larson’s speech. Larson per­sev­ered as Anger con­tin­ued to pro­vide a runn­ing comm­ent­ary in a we-of-the-theatre tone. Larson re­ferred to a mutual friend, ‘Paul’ from Pasa­dena, who ran a ‘coven’ which att­racted many people, includ­ing Harr­ing­ton and him­self. At this, Anger shouted “NO! NO! It was an order of the Ordo Templi Orientis and it was of as high a degree as 33rd degree Mas­onry. I am a 33rd-degree member through Crow­ley.” Previ­ous to this, Larson had already men­tioned Crow­ley and Anger had corr­ected his pro­nun­ciat­ion: “Crow as in Crow. Then Lee.”

Larson men­tioned that ‘Paul’ had supp­os­edly created a hom­un­cu­lus. Anger agreed – “OH HE DID! I saw it. It held my hand. Its little hand, like a ten­tacle, wrapp­ed itself around my finger. There were 33 others in the crib, but not in full-fruit­ion like this one” – sugg­est­ing that deg­rees of Mas­onry and hom­un­culi litter have some­thing in common. A number of act­resses were in­volved in the “coven”, one of whom report­edly saw the hom­un­cu­lus. Anger in­formed the guests that who­ever sees a hom­un­cu­lus is hence­forth re­spons­ible for its life, and this, he sugg­ested, may be why she ult­im­ately became a re­cluse.

Larson re­counted that ‘Paul’ supp­os­edly had a tail. Anger con­curred. “I SAW IT!” he shouted. “I showed it to Kinsey and he said that wasn’t so unus­ual – one man in 50,000 has one.” In the 1950s, the sex­o­lo­gist Alfred Kinsey became int­er­ested in Anger and his films, and in 1955 the two visited the site of Crow­ley’s ‘Abbey of Thel­ema’2 in Cefalu, Sicily."

2 One of the extra features on the Anger Me DVD is Kenneth Anger walking through parts of The Abbey of Thelema talking about some of the paintings he uncovered there during his first visit in the 1950s.

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Further reading:

Here is an interview that gives a good overview of Anger's life.

Excerpt: "In any case, in 1949 I had sent my film, Fireworks, to a festival in Biarritz France and Jean Cocteau was on the jury and he gave it the prize for poetic film. In fact, he wrote me a very nice letter and luckily I knew French because I had studied it in high school. So I decided to go over to France to meet him, that was in the spring of 1950, and I was able to meet not only Cocteau, but Jean Genet and even Colette. At that time there were a lot of legendary people still around. I just missed meeting André Gide because he died when I was on the boat. I also met Henri Langlois, the founder of the Cinematheque Francais, and he had a screening for some of my films, which led to him offering me a job as his assistant."

Anais Nin Kenneth Anger Pleasure Dome

Anaïs Nin, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)

THIS is the interview I quoted from above (re: Jimmy Page). Here is how it begins:

“Don’t disobey me. Do as I say and don’t talk back!” waspishly screamed the author, artist and filmmaker, waving his fist and practically foaming at the mouth. This was not really an interview; this was more like a strange brief encounter with Kenneth Anger. “I can be charming,” he explained staring straight into my eyes, “but I’m not going to be!”

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