Jun 9, 2016

Kenneth Anger: Experimental Homoerotic Filmmaker of the 1950s

Kenneth Anger (1927-) was an experimental filmmaker of the 1950s and 1960s, known for his surreal, chaotic imagery.  There is no spoken dialogue; instead, the actors pantomime.  The background soundtrack consists of either classical music or 1950s pop hits like "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Blue Velvet."

Anger was heavily involved in ceremonial magick of the Aleister Crowley school, and imbued his films with esoteric magickal symbolism as well as beefcake.

His homoeroticism caused celebration and censorship during the 1950s, although it seems rather tame by contemporary standards.

Fireworks (1947) is probably his most overtly homoerotic statement.  A shirtless man (Anger himself) goes cruising, tries to pick up a muscular, flexing sailor (Gordon Grey), but is bashed and killed instead.  He wakes up to discover that it was all a nightmare, but there's a naked man in bed next to him.



Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) is a long, complex, weird piece about a Magician summoning various magickal beings, including the Scarlet Woman, the Great Beast 666, Hecate, Isis, Astarte, Osiris, and Nero, to a psychedelic orgy that mostly involves them taking off masks, leering, and laughing.  They poison and rape the beautiful boy Pan (Paul Mathison).  We get a chest shot.






Scorpio Rising (1963) is probably his most famous film, and quite homoerotic for its time.  A group of men get dressed in motorcycle fetish gear, very slowly, while reading the comics and worshipping James Dean.  There are flashes of chest and bulge, even a few quick penises.  Then, interspliced with images of Christ and his disciples from an old religious film, they desecrate a church.






Lucifer Rising (1972) is about Aleister Crowley's prediction that we have reached a new Aeon, the Age of Horus, with new Egyptian gods taking control. There's a lot of invocation and people leering at each other.  It's of interest primarily because rocker Marianne Faithfull plays Lilith, and Bobby Beausoleil, who would participate in the Manson Family murders of 1969, is shown naked in the bathtub.








I find the juxtaposition of homoeroticism with violence, blasphemy, and the occult disturbing, keying into the myth that to be gay is to be evil.  But most artists working with gay themes during the 1950s and early 1960s made the same connection.

And Kenneth Anger is to be commended as the first openly gay filmmaker, ever, and the first to openly include homoerotic imagery, no matter what the context.