Kenneth Anger may be best known for his book Hollywood Babylon, a sort of catalogue of celebrity depravity in latter-day Los Angeles. The book deals with such subjects as pederast suicide, Fatty Arbuckle, the car accident decapitation of Jayne Mansfield, and general sex-drug-and-Satan debauchery. Anger himself was a devotee of notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley, and the book is dedicated to “The Scarlet Woman” (loosely interpretable as a female symbol of the Antichrist).
Though Hollywood Babylon has probably exposed more people to Anger, the bulk of his creative output has been in the area of film. His work is comparable with that of fellow early avant-garde film-maker Maya Deren in that both seemingly used film as a means of expressing occult allegory, or conversely, both used allegorical occult themes.
While he had been making films since early childhood, Anger’s first well-known work was done at the age of 17, when he shot the short Fireworks in three days in his parents’ Beverly Hills home while they were away at the funeral of a relative. It has a general form that is echoed in his later work, a sort of dreamlike combination of violence and homoeroticism, and like most of his films, is very nearly self-parody; there is always a sort of playfulness even in some of its darkest moments. Jean Cocteau described Fireworks as coming “from that beautiful night from which emerge all the true works. It touches the quick of the soul and this is very rare."
Kenneth Anger himself has many connections to the Satanic Hollywood Underground, if there is indeed such a thing. There has been, in any case, an association between a number of Hollywood occultists, followers of Charles Manson, the Process Church leader Robert de Grimston, and followers of Crowley’s teachings such as Anger and the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Anger's Inaugaration of The Pleasure Dome was filmed in LaVey’s house. It featured appearances by erotica author Anaïs Nin as well as Marjorie Cameron (widow of the Jet Propulsion Laboratories’ founder and fellow Crowley-follower Jack Parsons). Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil starred as Lucifer in Anger’s film Invocation of My Demon Brother, soundtrack of which was composed on synthesizer by camp Satanist Mick Jagger. After the film was released, news of Beausoleil’s arrest in connection with the Tate/Labianca murders plunged Anger into a deep depression. Later, Beausoleil composed the soundtrack to Lucifer Rising from inside prison. Lucifer Rising is also notable in that it features Marianne Faithfull among others.
1963’s Scorpio Rising was a more-or-less abstract montage of homoerotic footage of bikers, intercutting familiar imagery in the realms of sadism, Satanism, and Nazism. The film’s central figure, “Scorpio,” is compared to Christ, Lucifer, and Adolf Hitler. Scorpio Rising enjoyed some popularity later in the 1960s. Some call it the “first post-modern film.” It is reputed to have been a great influence on the work of Martin Scorsese, and is likely to have influenced David Lynch, at least in that it predated Blue Velvet in its ironic use of the Bobby Vinton tune of the same name.
Kenneth Anger’s commentary on his yet-to-be-made film Lucifer Rising says a lot about his philosophy, and perhaps his motivation as an artist:
Like Scorpio Rising, Lucifer Rising is about several things. I'm an artist working in Light, and that's my whole interest, really. Lucifer is the Light God, not the devil, that's a Christian slander. The devil is always other people's gods. Lucifer has appeared in other of my films; I haven't labeled him as such but there s usually a figure or a moment in those films which is my "Lucifer" moment... I'm showing actual ceremonies in the film; what is performed in front of the camera won't be a re-enactment and the purpose will be to make Lucifer rise. It's the birthday party for the Aquarian Age… Everything I've been saying so far has been leading up to this happening in the world today. His message is that the Key of Joy is Disobedience.
Kenneth Anger Filmography
1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream
By Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle.
(Anger played the changeling)
1937 Ferdinand the Bull
1941 Who Has Been Rockin My Boat
7 minutes, silent.
1941 Tinsel Tree
3 minutes, silent.
1942 Prisoner of Mars
11 minutes, silent.
1943 The Nest
20 minutes, silent.
1944 Escape Episode
35 minutes, silent.
(Remade in 1946 with sound in a 27 minute version.)
1945 Drastic Demise
5 minutes, silent.
14 minutes, sound.
1949 Puce Moment
6 minutes, sound.
(A fragment of the never-completed Puce Women.)
1949 The Love That Whirls
(Filmed in Mexico, destroyed by laboratory)
1950 Rabbit's Moon (La Lune des Lapins)
(Not released until 1972, then in a 16 minute version with a pop soundtrack. In 1979 a shorter 7 minute version with another soundtrack replaced the 1973 version.)
1951 Le Jeune Homme et la Mort
(Study film of the Cocteau ballet, intended to be used by Anger in subsequent filming of ballet in 35mm, color. This second filming never took place.)
1952 Les Chants de Maldoror
(Only rehearsals and tests conducted.)
1953 Eaux d'Artifice
13 minutes, sound.
1954-1978 Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome
1954-56 version: 41 minutes, sound by Harry Partch.
1958 version presented at Brussels, on three screens, also 41 minutes.
Sacred Mushroom Edition (1960-78), on one screen, 41 minutes, with a soundtrack by Lanacek (Clagolithic Mass)
1978 version, on one screen, 38 minutes. Soundtrack by the Electric Light Orchestra.
1955 Thelema Abbey
Sound documentary on the ruins of Aleister Crowley's temple in Cefalu, Sicily.
1960 The Dead
11 minutes, silent.
(By Stan Brakhage, features Anger)
1961 Story of O
Filmed in France.
1963 Scorpio Rising
30 minutes, sound.
1964 Kustom Kar Komrnandos
3 minutes, sound.
(A fragment of a larger, never completed project.)
1966 Lucifer Rising
Central footage of this first version stolen, allegedly by Bobby Beausoleil (though he has denied the charges).
1969 Invocation of My Demon Brother
11 minute, sound.
(Made from the remains of the 1966 Lucifer Rising project.)
1971 Lucifer Rising, Part I
(A 25 minute collection of images from the 1966-80 project; the "Part I" in the title is misleading because this version is not part of the finished film; a more accurate description would be "rushes and some scenes.")
1980 Lucifer Rising
45 minutes, sound.
A short, virtually finished version of the longer film (about 93 minutes) Anger wanted to make, but was unable to complete because of economic factors.