Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Kenneth Anger, Carmillo Salvatorelli, Sampson De Brier, Marjorie Cameron, Joan Whitney, Katy Kadell, Renata Loom, Anaïs Nin, Paul Mathison, Curtis Harrington, Peter Loome, Claude Revenant, André Soubeyran, Nadine Valence, Yvonne Marquis, Bill Seltzer, Gordon Gray
Written by: Kenneth Anger
Directed by: Kenneth Anger
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90
Date: 03/18/2013

The Films of Kenneth Anger - Volume One (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Anger Rising

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kenneth Anger's grandmother was a costumer in old-time Hollywood, and her stories helped result in his notorious book "Hollywood Babylon" (1959). That catty tome sometimes overshadows the fact that Anger was also a filmmaker, and a fairly respected one, though his output consists mainly of experimental shorts. His films have a campy quality that keeps him out of the respectable, museum-friendly company of his peers Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas, but they have been no less influential. This DVD collection from Fantoma brings together four completed shorts, plus Puce Moment (1949), which is the only completed segment of a proposed feature film.

Made when Anger was just 19 and shot in his parents' house over a weekend, Fireworks (1947) is his first surviving, completed film. It's a kind of homoerotic fantasy with violent overtones featuring a group of sailors. Anger himself stars as the "victim." It's a fairly typical "experimental film" laden with symbolic meaning, but it's undeniably a landmark in gay cinema.

Puce Moment consists of six minutes from what would have been called Puce Women. (The DVD liner notes come with several storyboards from Anger's original idea.) It's very deliberately a tribute to his grandmother, filled with elegant dresses and a woman (Yvonne Marquis) who acts as a kind of representative "movie star" as well as a ghost of movie stars past.

Rabbit's Moon (1950) shows Anger getting into more fully realized film productions, rather than "home movies." It's a beautiful little film, set in a stylized forest, and using the moon and a rabbit as symbols out of a Japanese myth. However, the actors are members of a French mime troupe, and their performances require a great deal of patience.

My favorite film from the set, Eaux d'artifice (1953), was also selected to join the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. It's set in an around a concrete park full of gushing water fountains; water burbles from lion's heads and from the mouths of cupids, it rises in tall spouts and even flows down stairs. Anger chose a selection from Vivaldi as the musical score. The film relishes the sexual implications of all this, especially with its lone human figure, a woman in full fancy dress (played by little person Carmillo Salvatorelli) moving among the droplets. It's a truly lovely film, blessed with its own life-pulse.

Finally, we have the longest film in the set, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), which runs 38 minutes. Many film scholars consider this to be Anger's masterpiece along with his Scorpio Rising (which will presumably be included in Volume 2). It's a tapestry of swirling colors depicting a party of sorts in which people become enraptured and then trapped by their pleasures and madnesses. It certainly has its impressive moments. It also boasts several prestigious guest stars from Anger's elite circle, including Anaïs Nin.

DVD Details: Fantoma's DVD, typically, is superb, highlighting the extraordinary quality of Anger's lighting and colors (whatever one says about him as an artist, he really knew his filmmaking). It boasts a written introduction from none other than Martin Scorsese, a vote of confidence for newcomers, and a very impressive full-color booklet. Best of all, Anger himself provides commentary tracks for all five films, which I opted to watch rather than listening to the actual film soundtracks. Sometimes Anger casually drops a name like Alfred Kinsey or Federico Fellini, but other times he humbly underplays his own talents. Regardless, he gives newcomers like myself an easy and affable entry into his work. I happen to know that the good folks at Fantoma have been working on this DVD for the best part of a decade, searching for and selecting the best possible elements, and their work has paid off. I look forward to Volume 2.

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD