Kenneth Anger’s career is one of fragments, of esoteric sensation pieces surreptitiously made when not lost, unfinished, or figuratively as well as literally buried. Such is the fate of the self-appointed outlaw-artist, yet Anger’s vision in the end emerges unscathed from the scattershot arc of his filmography—rather than variously aborted projects, the pictures are experienced as shuddering episodes in a continuous trance. The first volume of Fantoma’s Anger collection showcases five samples of cinematic alchemy that could only have come from an impudent poet who entered the Dream Factory as a child star, transversed it as a collector of glamour and Magick, and finally roasted it as the author of some of the most gleeful accounts of Tinseltown seaminess ever written.
Fireworks, from 1947, inaugurates not merely Anger’s own private mythology but also the subversive expression of gay sensuality in American film, a torch carried into the early days of the New Queer Cinema. A veritable dictionary of homoerotic iconography, it is also, literally, a home movie shot while Anger’s parents were away for the weekend, and a transfixing view of the violence and seditious rapture of being “different” in the ‘40s. Hollywood may have been Babylon to Anger, yet, mirroring his vision of cinema as a medium of reveries, it was also a nirvana of blissful incantation: The luxuriant dress-up game of 1949’s marvelous Puce Moment seems to call forth a mythical kingdom during its invocation of silent-era grandeur, while Rabbit’s Moon, an arcane echo of Children of Paradise made in Paris in 1950, goes even further in exalting the possibilities of cinema by equating the luster of a magic lantern with the glow of the moon.
Indeed, Anger has explicitly linked film form (color, movement, rhythm) to the tools of occult intoxication, and his films became increasingly more of an excuse to soak in the voluptuousness of pure style. Eaux d’artifice is a ravishing yet minor 1953 attempt at visualizing Vivaldi’s music, but Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, shot the next year, is a splendiferous Anger bash. Its rhapsodic psychedelia summons forth all sorts of gods and monsters (including kinky novelist Anaïs Nin and cult director Curtis Harrington) for a sustained moment of ecstasy that contains all of the following decade’s sense of orgiastic revolution, along with bits of Scorsese, Lynch, Ken Russell, Parajanov, and Guy Maddin.
Though noticeably cleaned up from previous copies (the disc's samples of the restoration process attest to the vast improvement), the image occasionally has a slightly muted feel that goes against Anger's splurging style. (Fortunately, the colors in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome positively pulsate.) No excuses are needed for the sound, which is consistently punchy-just what Anger's eclectic sound mix (everything from operatic arias to doo wop tunes and languid folk-rock pieces) calls for.
Anger's commentary drops interesting bits (the first midnight screening of Fireworks counted James Whale and Dr. Alfred Kinsey among its guests), but it is overall barren, mostly descriptive along the standard "This is milk poured on me in slow motion" lines. Rabbit's Moon has some curious outtakes and behind-the-scenes images, though the meatiest extra may be the weighty booklet of appreciations that deservedly accompanies this long-overdue volume.
A long-overdue presentation for the valuable fragments of Anger's outlaw poetry.