A Magnificent Magus

By the late sixties, Kenneth Anger had become one of the leading figures in Crowley’s satanic practices of Magik, a Magus of the highest order.  As an artist, Anger had ushered in the American Avant-Garde film in the wake of the Second World War.  But Anger’s legacy is entirely dependant on his role in the sixties counter culture movement in both America and Europe.  How is it that a Satanist would gain his greatest powers in the summer of love?

First, one must understand Kenneth Anger the filmmaker.  Anger’s intentions in film were not concerned with narrative or reflective technique.  Kenneth Anger saw filmmaking as the manipulation of light, Lucifer’s source of power, and believed that the product of this manipulation must speak in some regard to the teachings and practices of Aleister Crowley.    Since the beginning of the 1950s, Anger saw the American culture as dying, and believed this to be the fulfillment of one of Crowley’s prophecies, in which one civilization will be doomed to give birth to a new one.  And it is Anger’s teaching of this same prophecy that will gain him attention in the late 1960s.  This alliance with Magik became so much a part of Anger’s films that Anger called a number of his films part of a series, all based on Satanic ritual [Scorpio Rising, Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome, Invocation of My Demon Brother, Lucifer Rising] the Magik Lantern cycle.

All of Anger’s films rely on the Eisenstein theory of montage as proposed in his books Film Form and The Film Sense.  Unlike western narrative films, the structure of sequences is entirely dependant upon color, form, motion and associations beyond time-based constructs.  This technique had hardly been exercised until Anger began his career in the 1940s.  All of Anger’s films use the montage technique exclusively, setting them on par with something more like fine art as Eisenstein originally intended.  The more crucial aspect of Anger’s films within the technical realm lie in the association he makes between images.

In Kenneth Anger’s most influential film, Scorpio Rising [1963], association functions on multiple levels.  One, the color of his forms, red, black, and white, with hues in-between.  For Anger and his fellow occultists, these are the colors of Isis, for the popular audience, they invoke sexuality, and the death associated with it.  The iconography depicting these colors is both representative of the collapsing pop culture [James Dean, Marlon Brando, Comic Books] as they are crucial to illuminating the character of Scorpio, the sadistic Satan worshiping biker.   This is a stripped down analysis grant you, but never the less, it’s clear that Anger is able to stimulate an audience as well as speak to those versed in Crowley’s religion, offering Crowley’s followers a “visual sacrament”.

Remember, Kenneth Anger was fascinated with America’s cultural decay, and linked it to Crowley prophecy.  His interest was once again put to good use in his films.  Returning to Scorpio Rising, in the film Anger uses a soundtrack of contemporary pop songs by The Ronnettes, Bobb B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and assorted others.  To best illustrate Anger’s technique, the use of Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet will do.  The song, like all the others, fits as an ironic narrator to the action in the film.  In this case, Blue Velvet plays while Scorpio adorns his black leather uniform.  In this simple construct, Kenneth Anger is able to entertain, narrate, and then even criticize American Culture.

It was through advanced film techniques like these that Kenneth Anger had risen to prominence internationally in the late 1950s.  But when Scorpio Rising came out, Anger met an entirely new fame.  Like Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures would be, Anger’s Scorpio Rising was confiscated and ban from screening in New York City on grounds of depicting scenes of graphic homo-erotica.  This event catapulted Kenneth Anger to an outlaw status, and attracted many new followers out side of his niche in American “underground” cinema.

Socially, Kenneth Anger had never been mainstream.  He was a homosexual and a student of the teachings of Aleister Crowley.  By the 1960s, he had a home in the American counter culture.  Artists like Jean Genet, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and Dennis Hopper all cited him as a major influence, like wise they were quick to assimilate him into their circles.  Soon, Anger had become a central figure at Warhol’s happenings and a regular at Jonas Mekas’ Film Forum at the Cinema 16.  As artists passed through New York, it had become more than likely that they met Kenneth Anger, and would become intrigued with the man as both a filmmaker and a Magus.

-Robert Curry

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