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.

* * *

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!”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Part II: Halloween 2007

Kenneth Anger. I came across this name many times over the years and I always associated it with two things: Scorpio Rising and Hollywood Babylon. For some reason I never figured that his films were going to be very good or interesting, primarily because of some of the stills I had seen from Lucifer Rising: pyramids, occult symbols, lots of color and psychedelic imagery. I had seen similar things in Ira Cohen's 1968 film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, a few minutes of which I had once randomly downloaded, and they seemed to me to exemplify everything I found empty and cliche in "psychedelic philosophy." However, the fact that Anger's name is all over underground film and Scorpio Rising is often mentioned alongside many films I admire was enough to override any unfounded impressions I had of his work and when bits and pieces of Anger's films eventually started to appear on youtube I was curious to see what they were like. Every so often I would click them to see if they were decent enough to watch (they never were). It wasn't until I clicked on the 1979 version of Rabbit's Moon and watched the first minute and a half that my jaw dropped. I quickly turned it off because the quality was so poor, but it had hypnotized me. Months later it was announced that Fantoma planned to release The Kenneth Anger shorts Vol 1 in Jan 2007. I watched the trailer for this and was so blown away that I immediately placed a pre-order; I hadn't been so excited to see a movie in a long time. The short films were even better than I had anticipated and I was eager to share this discovery with friends. When volume 2 was announced for later that year, I immediately placed a pre-order for it, too.

rabbit's moon kenneth anger pierrot
Rabbit's Moon (1953)

Kenneth Anger's works are more incantations than they are films, and when you watch them you can feel a portal open to another world. They're able to summon up and sift the magical qualities out of life and present them to you in the same way a monster presents itself to you under your bed when you're a child. You fear this monster not so much because you think it's going to devour you (this is your conscious fear but it's not something you truly believe because monsters aren't real); you fear it much more deeply on a subconscious level because you know that if you were to really see a monster under your bed you would have to concede that you live in a world where there are no rules and anything is possible. Few realizations would be more terrifying to a species that makes a point to rationalize and understand everything. Anger's films are not frightening in this way, they are liberating in this way. But they are also dangerous.

Halloween: 2007.

I decided to have some friends over for a nice Halloween meal. Black pasta, orange sauce, blood stained plates, etc. After dinner I forced everyone into the basement to summon up a Halloween mood, mindset, and spirit with some Kenneth Anger films. Unfortunately, it worked! Somewhere between Lucifer Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother there emerged from the television - for all to see and bear witness to - a specter of color. It danced through the room like your favorite screen saver, changing color and shape before erupting quickly and shooting squarely into the chest of my dear friend Justin (1981 - 2007). However! Seconds later, as we were frantically burying him, he returned to life and yelled out something in what we now realize was Hindi.

Inside his very soul a creature now torments him, trapped like a funny metaphor. It takes all of Justin's power to keep this creature in check. Originally he had planned to live with it but he later decided that he must go on a long journey to get it exorcised, removed, excommunicated, repelled. He had a dream of a place very far away. He saw himself riding a red motorcycle with a flame on the side. He saw visions of himself in a lungi. And every time he slept he heard the voice of a man who called himself Asharof saying God knows what is in your heart. These visions led him to India where he is currently seeking out Tantric sects devoted to Ganesha/Ganapati. With him he took a copy of Aleister Crowley's Book Four that he will use precisely when the moment is upon him. All of his friends who were there that Halloween night wish him luck in removing the spirit and returning safely. May he one day be strong enough to watch the films of Kenneth Anger! (I know this is hard to believe, but it is all TRUE!)

Kenneth Anger Pleasure DomeKenneth Anger Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The art of cooking

"Contemporary fine dining cuisine has reached the stage where it can be compared with art as a means of expression. However, the notion of creative cuisine as an art form is still in its infancy, and the idea that a diner can engage with a dish in the same way that a viewer can engage with a work of art is still a new one. A dish can satisfy a physiological need or provide pleasure for the senses, but it can also 'say' something that stimulates analysis and reflection and provokes a deeper response. Food comes closest to art when there is a desire to engage the diner in this way.

Unlike art, though, contemporary cuisine has never been studied or analysed thoroughly. Although food historians exist, their principal aim is to document and understand the history of food and its production through the ages, rather than to discuss the key movements and leading exponents of contemporary fine dining cuisine in a way that art historians might study contemporary art and artists. Most cookbooks by contemporary chefs to not attempt to codify a creative system behind their dishes; setting out an analysis of the evolution of El Bulli's food and creative methods attempts to redress this balance.

Ferran is interested in exploring the links between contemporary art and cuisine, and in 2007 elBulli participated in Documenta 12, the contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Ferran was curious about the parallels that could be drawn between the experience of looking at art and the experience of eating a dish, in terms of the way each activity engages the sense, emotions and intellect of the participant. Every day two visitors to the exhibition were randomly selected to be flown to Spain to have dinner at elBulli. In this way, the restaurant became a kind of satellite pavilion of the exhibition.

Although many of elBulli's dishes do not resemble conventional food, there is no suggestion that any dish should be appreciated purely aesthetically as a work of art. The principle aim of a dish is to give pleasure to diners in the conventional ways as well as in more unusual ones. In Orange nitro-sorbet with its balloon, a balloon containing orange-flower essence is slowly deflated, releasing its aroma while the sorbet is eaten and challenging the diner to consider the boundaries of what can be presented as food in a restaurant. elBulli's food is provocative, new and often surprising, but it is situated firmly within the sphere of cooking."

* * *

My 500+ page Phaidon book -- A Day at elBulli -- arrived yesterday. It isn't exactly what I was hoping it would be, but I'll still enjoy it, and it serves as a good way to quell some of the urge I have to purchase one of the expensive (220-350$) elBulli cookbooks. (I view the cookbooks as premiere art books on one of the world's great artists: Ferran Adrià. The fact that they are also fantastic cookbooks is a bonus; I want them mostly for the pictures. Besides, many of the dishes are likely hard (or impossible) to produce without large amounts of money for equipment and chemicals.) So, for only 33$, A Day at elBulli will serve as my fix until I can convince the other parts of my brain -- the parts that insist I eat every week -- to spend 220$ on a single book.

A Day at elBulli is more of a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant filled with many pictures and information on everything you would ever want to know. More "what it's like to work at and experience El Bulli" than "here we present the art, imagination, and creative genius of Ferran Adrià" (though it does contain a good bit of that as well). More heavily focused on the creative process than the creations themselves, each page of A Day at elBulli has the corresponding time written at the top, and as you read through, the book explores what goes on at the restaurant during a typical day from before it opens until after it closes.

(A few days ago I found out that Heston Blumenthal is soon to release The Big Fat Duck cookbook.)

I recommend DECODING FERRAN ADRIÀ very highly to anyone who hasn't seen it:

(watch the full video HERE)

* * *

The activities and creations of culinary alchemists Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal remind me of Des Esseintes from Huysmans' À rebours, sitting alone in his estate dreaming up newer and better worlds. Huysmans' hero concocted perfumes that he used to recall the history of the French language, and he transposed real and fake flowers, even paying a nursery to make him flowers that appeared to be fake. When I first heard about Blumenthal's sound experiments, I immediately wondered if he had been inspired by Des Esseintes "mouth organ." And Des Esseintes' sea bath seems like inspiration for many things -- some of it even sounds like a recipe!

"There, the illusion of the sea is undeniable, imperious, positive. It is achieved by salting the water of the bath; by mixing, according to the Codex formula, sulphate of soda, hydrochlorate of magnesia and lime; by extracting from a box, carefully closed by means of a screw, a ball of thread or a very small piece of cable which had been specially procured from one of those great rope-making establishments whose vast warehouses and basements are heavy with odors of the sea and the port; by inhaling these perfumes held by the ball or the cable end; by consulting an exact photograph of the casino; by eagerly reading the Joanne guide describing the beauties of the seashore where one would wish to be; by being rocked on the waves, made by the eddy of fly boats lapping against the pontoon of baths; by listening to the plaint of the wind under the arches, or to the hollow murmur of the omnibuses passing above on the Port Royal, two steps away.

The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself."

It would be interesting to write a much longer entry on this topic; there seems to be an unacknowledged influence. And I suppose it is worth noting that Des Esseintes uses science and artifice to overthrow nature while Adria uses it, in theory, to enhance nature. So Blumenthal seems the truer heir.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The top 1%

Warren Buffett just overtook Bill Gates as the richest man in America - his net worth is 58 billion dollars.

While net worth doesn't exactly equate to income in any real sense, it's kinda fun to look at it this way:

Americans complain about their sports stars making millions of dollars. Tiger Woods is the highest paid sports figure ever, and he makes about 80 million a year. He'd have to play golf for 725 years and never spend a penny of what he made in order to reach 58 billion.

Of course us regular folks, with a household income of $100,000 per year, have to work 800 years to earn what Tiger Woods earns in 365 days. Which means if we hope to save up Warren Buffet's net worth it takes us 580,000 years (also assuming we don't spend a penny). So how old is the Earth anyway?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

QuoteS II

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money." --Alexis de Tocqueville

"The mind decides in one way or another, despite itself, and prefers being mistaken to believing in nothing." --Rousseau, The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar

"The theory of advertising maintains, in effect, that the consumer is a nonrational, suggestible creature under the hypnotic influence of the advertising copywriter. The more a person absorbs information that agrees with what they already believe, contrary evidence holds less and less value. This is why a person can be persuaded, through years of advertising stimuli, into a hypnotic belief system that is contrary to the real world." --Gregory Mitchell, Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory

"If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. If you make them really think, they’ll hate you." --Don Marquis

"Young people everywhere have been allowed to choose between love and a garbage disposal unit. Everywhere they have chosen the garbage disposal unit." -- Guy Debord

"You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families *they* start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to heirarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it. [...] As Smith observed: "The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." -- Bob Black, The Abolition of Work

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
In the first essay, "Economy," Thoreau comments that most men are slaves to their work and enslaved to those for whom they work. He concludes: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation..."

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." --Norman Cousins

"A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of total revolution." --May 1968 Graffiti

"The intellectuals, as always, were the first to acclaim the builder of their own scaffold." --Walter Benjamin, Survey of French Literature

"It's a diplomatic job now, being the director. The producer makes the picture and the star makes the picture, and in the end you have a very fun industrial product. But it's not deeper. It's an amusing thing. It's like a cigarette, you smoke it, and then you forget it and you have another cigarette. And then you die of cancer. If you see only that kind picture, you end up with spiritual cancer, because they don't help you. But you have a lot of fun." --Alejandro Jodorowsky, Interview

"Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be." --Kurt Vonnegut

There was a discussion going on in the comments section of a youtube video and someone posted this to explain the differing opinions: "actually the reason for their different views is that lorenzo's higher level of awareness is fueled by a more evolved consciousness that is able to 'feel' into the moment in a mystically intuitive kind of way and so he comes away with more knowledge of what has transpired. this type of 'feel' is not an emotion but an ability."

"Very little is surprising today because we are not prepared to be surprised." --Amyl Nitrite, Jubilee (I'm 90% certain this is the source. The notebook I wrote it down in doesn't say, so I am forced to use my memory tank.)

"Language isn't a vehicle for communication but an escape from it. The same goes for culture. Common experiences, like knowing the same movies or the same songs, become less a basis for meaningful relationships than a means for avoiding important things." --Reverse Shot, Kicking and Screaming review (The actual quote says: "In Kicking and Screaming, language..." but I like the thought of applying it more generally.)

"Actually, art too is, or should be, an addiction - which is only to say, a permanent discipline of the mind and the emotions according to given mode. As for danger, every artist who attempts something very big or very original subjects himself to considerable risk. Practical failure in his project (self-judged or other judged) may have serious consequences." --Underground Film

"Everyone must decide for himself whether it is better to have a brief but more intensely felt existence or to live a long and ordinary life." --Rainer Werner Fassbinder