One of the inventors of United States underground cinema, Kenneth Anger was one of the guest artists for the 16th International Electronic Art Festival SESC Videobrasil. This edition featured his first retrospective in Brazil, including nine short films made between 1947 and 1972, four of which were shown in restored 35 mm versions.
"I am proud to be a loner. I work alone by choice. Let it be clear that Hollywood never came knocking on my door; therefore, I had to make do with what I had: freedom and independence, guided by my own spirit and brains". Kenneth Anger
At age twenty, Kenneth Anger made the short film Fireworks (featured in the Festival), a poetical and sexual nightmare that garnered attention from Jean Cocteau and the European avant-garde. In the decades that followed, his films, populated by gay fetish, references to the occult, and rock’n’roll, cast seeds on several different directions.
Citing Martin Scorsese and the Rolling Stones as his influences, Anger pioneered the use of edited pop music images, and created the cuts that laid the foundation for music videos. At eighty years of age, he still cultivates a long-standing relationship with scandal: he is the author of the Hollywood Babylon book trilogy, which sheds light on the inner workings of American cinema.
Alongside works by Jean Genet, Luther Price, Derek Jarman, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, James Bidgood and Isaac Julien, Anger’s short films were a part of Rodrigo Novaes’ program Um punhado de prazeres sublimes (A handful of sublime pleasures), dedicated to artists who pushed the boundaries of cinema and were ostracized by the film industry.
- Eaux d'artificeKenneth Anger, 1953
- FireworksKenneth Anger, 1947
- Inauguration of the Pleasure DomeKenneth Anger, 1954
- Invocation of My Demon BrotherKenneth Anger, 1969
- Kustom Kar KommandosKenneth Anger, 1965
- Lucifer RisingKenneth Anger, 1972
- Puce MomentKenneth Anger, 1949
- Rabbit's MoonKenneth Anger, 1950
- Scorpio RisingKenneth Anger, 1964
Interview Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, 2007
Rodrigo Novaes: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the production of Fireworks, how important do you consider this film to be in your career?
Kenneth Anger: Fireworks is important because it lit myway. I don’t call my life work making art films a careerbecause I am an outsider. Outside of commerce.
How did your experiences in Europe after the war influence and/or help your work?
Paris in the form of Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson ofthe Cinémathèque Française took me in for twelve yearsstarting in the spring of 1950. They were instrumentalin making Rabbit’s Moon happen. Langlois invited meto assemble the unfinished Que Viva Mexico footage of Eisenstein for the Antibes Film Festival.
Aleister Crowley plays a big part in your work. What influence did his thinking have on yours?
Aleister Crowley entered my life as a teenager, when followers of his Path lent me his books. Crowley has been with me as a guru ever since.
The structure of your films has a different preoccupation than that of traditional mainstream films. Instead of focusing on a plot within a linear narrative, the characters transcend this dimension intothe realm of dreams, myths, and rituals. What roledo dreams, myths, and rituals play in your own lifeand in effect, in the thinking behind your work?
Since childhood dreams have acted as signposts on my journey through life. I write them down and remember. My films record some of my dreams. Myths and rituals reinforce my art.
Why have you always chosen to work alone, producing, filming, and editing your films?
I am a proud loner. Through choice I work alone. May I point out Hollywood has never come knocking at my door, so I have had to make do with what I’ve got, which is freedom and independence, guided by my spirit and my brain. The idea of a team working together to create commerce can be creative fun but it has never been offered to me.
The symbols contained within your films, the way in which you built the images, their structure, the colours, your editing techniques have all had a lasting influence on mainstream visual culture and yet you only worked with the medium of short films.
Let’s be real. I have never had the financial backing available to make long or feature films. I have made a virtue out of necessity. The film industry has gleefully often lifted my works. They have never offered me a job.
You also wrote the Hollywood Babylon series of books, which expose a lot of Hollywood’s dirty laundry. The books show a personal desire to bring the reality of Tinseltown to light, to show the nitty-gritty behind all of the show business façades. What is your personal relation with Hollywood?
I grew up in Hollywood. Born in Santa Monica and graduated from Beverly Hills High School. My godfather was Edmund Goulding, director of Nightmare Alley. From my teenage years I was friends with maverick film directors in the industry, such as Robert Florey and James Whale. Later with Nicolas Ray, I knew a lot of stories about Hollywood in what is now called the golden age from the best sources starting with my grandmother. My sole motive for writing the Hollywood Babylon books was to earn money, to allow me to remain in Europe. Hollywood has always been a love/hate affair with me. About equal parts of both.
Would you have done anything differently?
I could have played the game a little more diplomatically. It’s fun to have fights with people but then it’s often over. Then I’ve regretted those people crossed out of my life. But then I move on.
How do you see the visual culture of today? What do you think of it?
Visual chaos I call it. An overload of images and noise to cause mental breakdown. I isolate myself from it. For starters, I don’t own a television set or watch television.
Would you like to say anything to those starting in the field of visual arts today?
Don’t do it, unless you are rich or crazy.
You have been quoted as having said : “Lucifer is the patron saint of the visual arts. Colour, form —all these are the work of Lucifer ”. Could you tell us more about Lucifer and the arts?
Lucifer is my patron saint. The original rebel. Each artist has to find his own Lucifer.
ASSOCIAÇÃO CULTURAL VIDEOBRASIL. "16º Festival Internacional de Arte Eletrônica SESC_Videobrasil": de 30 de setembro a 25 de outubro de 2007, p.16-17, Edições SESC SP, São Paulo-SP, 2007, p. 78 a p. 79.