September 3, 2008

What dreams: The Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume One

Kenneth Anger has said that his films are like spells. They’re also like dreams. Hence the image next to the disk-tray in this ravishing, long-awaited, meticulously restored DVD release: a teenage Anger, supine on a bed, eyes closed, dreaming hard. It’s a still from the earliest of these films, 1947’s Fireworks – a black-and-white, night-set, precocious fantasy about sailors, bars and bashings. The other four films here are even less realist, more fantastic: the ghostly glamour of old Hollywood in Puce Moment (1949) feeds into the decadent, narcotised, occult pageantry of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). The longest film here at 38 dazzling minutes, Inauguration was psychedelic before there was psychedelia. Partly records of bohemian history, these films are also outside of time, but their influence goes deep: Martin Scorsese, who learnt from Anger’s Scorpio Rising – due to appear in Volume Two – writes a fanboy introduction to the 48-page booklet; films like Scorpio and Rabbit’s Moon (1950), with their use of pop songs as dream commentary, must have also caught the eye of David Lynch. Anger offers sparse but illuminating explanations of technical issues and decodes symbolism. (Originally in the NZ Listener, October 6, 2007.)