The Visionary Cinema of Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer was born in Santa Monica, California in 1927, and is an independent director, actor, and writer.

Featured image: Donald Cammel, Dennis Hopper, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kenneth Anger.

Since 1937 he has produced about forty short films, collected in the Magick Lantern Cycle. The themes of his stories range from surrealism to occultism, not excluding experimental, erotic, and psychedelic elements. He is also an important exponent of American homosexual culture. Kenneth Anger has inspired authors such as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters. For those who see his short films, the influences are evident. His most famous works, Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1972) are heavily influenced by the influence of the Sixties’ atmosphere and Aleister Crowley‘s magical occultism.


His interest in the occult has distant roots. During high school, Kenneth Anger was influenced first by fantastic readings such as The Wizard of Oz, then by the Rosicrucian philosophy, and by the writings of Eliphas Levi and James Frazer. His favorite author, however, was the British magician Aleister Crowley, who founded the Thelema religion based on his experiences of 1904 in Egypt, a stay during which he declared that he had been contacted by Aiwass, the mysterious Minister of Hoor-Paar-kraat, or Harpocrates, the Egyptian deity of silence Horus the Son, who had recited the Book of the Law to him. Later, Kenneth converted to the Thelema religion. In the following decade, Anger became aware of his homosexuality at a time when it was still illegal. In the mid-1940s he was also arrested for this crime. During that time he began studying cinema at the University of Southern California and began using drugs, especially cannabis and peyote.

Fireworks, his first movie, was branded as pornography, and Anger was arrested again. In 1950 Kenneth moved to Paris where he reunited with his Hollywood friends, who were also fleeing intolerance. His friendship with the poet, writer, and playwright Jean Cocteau dates back to this period, who contacted him to congratulate him on his work with Fireworks.

In the same year, he shot Rabbit’s Moon. In 1953 he went to Rome, where he wanted to make a film about the sixteenth-century occultist, Cardinal d’Este. He only managed to shoot the first scene in the Villa d’Este in Tivoli where a woman dressed in eighteenth-century clothes wandering around the gardens accompanied by Vivaldi’s music.

Shortly thereafter Kenneth returned to the States following the death of his mother. During this period he entered the circle of Californian artists. Times were changing and California was fast becoming a leading art breeding ground and refuge for experimental and extreme artists who found no place in the rest of the country.

In particular, two of his friends, Renate Druks and Paul Mathison, organized a themed party called “Come As Your Madness”. Anger attended the party by dressing up as the Greek goddess Hecate. This event inspired the creation of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, a 38-minute surreal film influenced by Crowley that earned him numerous awards in the festivals of the European circuit.

In 1955 Kenneth arrived with Alfred Kinsey in Cefalù in Sicily to make a short documentary entitled Thelema Abbey, right in the homonymous abbey that between 1920 and 1923 had been used by Crowley as a religious center of worship and later closed by the fascist authorities. The Telema Abbey was a villa in the Santa Barbara district in Cefalù. The documentary was produced for the British television series Omnibus, after which the episode was lost. Kinsley died the following year and Anger returned to Paris.

The front cover art for Hollywood Babylon

Desperate for money, Anger wrote Hollywood Babylon, a gossip and hearsay book about celebrities, published in the United States only in 1974, although pirated versions have been around for ten years.

The Sixties: Scorpio Rising, Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising

Anger was in some ways a mirror of the culture of his time. The sixties had just begun. Anger let himself be fascinated by the new biker culture. Scorpio Rising was released in 1961. The film mixed Nazi aesthetics extracts from the life of Jesus taken from a series of family films (The Road to Jerusalem) and the exploits of Scorpio, or Richard McAuley, a biker who heads a group of motorcyclists wandering around and indulging in vandalism. Jesus and Scorpio were brought together because of both rebels in their way. The film was accompanied by some musical classics of the time such as Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet“. Declared obscene by the authorities, the film instantly became a cult for the American underground scene.

Kenneth sensed that the right place was San Francisco, the Hippie capital and frequented at the time by a multitude of artists such as Fritz Leiber, Philip Dick, and many others, and more precisely at the Ford Foundation, which gave him 10,000 dollars for the production of an artistic short, Kustom Kar Kommandos.

Kenneth spent most of the money on daily life and handed over an edit of the previous footage. Psychedelic drugs, initially still legal, made their massive appearance on the market and probably influenced by this fertile cultural fabric, Anger projected a special version of “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome”, entitled “Sacred Mushroom Edition” to an audience of people under the influence of LSD.

Anger began to play on his growing fame as a cursed author and defined himself as the most abnormal of underground directors. At this point, Anger could not miss another great controversial personage, namely Anton Lavey, founder of the Church of Satan. The two became good friends. At that time Kenneth would also seem to harbor a certain resentment towards Andy Warhol, who managed to be hugely popular both in the underground and in the mainstream.

In ’66 Kenneth moved to the Russian Embassy, ​​a nineteenth-century mansion in San Francisco. Here he planned his new project Lucifer Rising, a film in search of symbolic lucifer. Kenneth in search of a truly Luciferian actor proposed to each of the candidates to live with him for a certain period. In the end, the choice felt on Bobby Beausoleil. Bobby Beausoleil at that time also formed a musical group, the Magick Powerhouse of Oz, to create the soundtrack for the film.

In 1967 Anger reported that all the material filmed so far had been lost, stolen and blamed Beausoleil for the theft, which instead responded to the accusations in Bill Landis’ unofficial biography, stating that Anger had spent all the money and that he had invented this story to please the producers. Beausoleil ended up joining Charles Manson’s Family and in 1969 he was arrested for the murder of Gary Hinman.

In 1967 Anger published an obituary announcement on an entire page of a newspaper: “In Memoriam. Kenneth Anger. Filmmaker 1947 – 1967”. Shortly thereafter he reappeared claiming to have burned all his previous productions.

In 1968 he went to London where he became friends with J. Paul Getty, the industrialist, founder of the Getty Foundation, and wealthiest man in America who became his patron. He began seeing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Anger decided to create Invocation of My Demon Brother where Beausoleil, Anton LaVey, Mick Jagger, who also composed the soundtrack and Keith Richards, appear among others. The film was released the following year as a film that traces many of the Thelemic themes that Lucifer Rising would face.

The new version of the film thus became a symbolic representation of the arrival of the Age of Horus, as prophesied from the Book of the Law. The famous actress and singer Marianne Faithfull was involved in the project in the role of Lilith. Anger had asked Mick Jagger to play the role of Lucifer, but the singer of the Rolling Stones refused, rather suggesting his brother. Anger reluctantly accepted. The director shot eight minutes of the film, presented it to the British National Film Finance Corporation, and obtained a £ 15,000 grant to complete it.

Thanks to this funding, however, Anger managed to shoot some sequences in Germany and Egypt. During this period Kenneth also became friends with Jimmy Page, the guitarist of Led Zeppelin. At the very invitation of Page, who shared an interest in Crowley with the Californian director, Anger went to Boleskine, on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland where Crowley once lived, to help the musician exorcise the place from a headless ghost.

The episode of the exorcism was later recounted at a press conference by Jimmy Page’s ex-wife to ridicule her husband. In any case, Page wrote the soundtrack of Lucifer Rising, in 1979, however, replaced by Anger with a new version by Bobby Beausoleil, written on the death row. The death penalty was later commuted to life imprisonment. Lucifer Rising, lasting 30 minutes, was only finished in 1981, ten years later. Since 1982, Kenneth’s production has slowly decreased.

Only in 2000, after almost thirty years of artistic inactivity, Kenneth made a new short film “Don’t Smoke That Cigarette” and the following year “That Man We Want To Hang“. In the following years, he shot a handful of other short films (Anger Sees Red, Patriotic Penis, Mouse Heaven, Ich Will !, Uniform Attraction, Technicolor Skull).

On July 30, 2010, Kenneth Anger made a new short film for the Varese fashion house, Missoni. The film was played by numerous members of the Missoni family and is not to be missed.

Sources: Wikipedia, interviewmagazine,

Topic: Kenneth Anger art, Kenneth Anger collection

Last Updated on March 10, 2024 by retrofuturista

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