As a filmmaker, Kenneth Anger has been described as “one of the most important of the 20th century.”  Along with Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage, he is considered one of the central figures in the development of avant garde film within the United States.  Mainstream filmmakers as prestigious as David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Gus Van Sant acknowledge him as being an immense influence upon their own work, with Van Sant describing Anger as “the original independent filmmaker.” 

He is cited as being among the very first Queer filmmakers to deal with such material on screen, and is held by figures such as Isaac Julien as being essentially the pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 90s.  Withhis 1964 work Scorpio!  Rising, Anger is credited with the informal invention of the music video.  He is also credited a penning one of the very first celebrity gossip exposés in his landmark writing Hollywood Babylon. 

In a seminal 1971 interview with Tony  Rayns  and  John  DuCane,  Anger  stated:  “Every  film  I’ve  ever  made  has  tried  to  impose  upon  the  mind  of  the  watcher  an  alternative  reality.”    That  ideally,  he  would like  to “project his images directly into people s heads.”   In a 1950 essay   Application  d Artifice , which  featured in St Cinema de! Pres, Anger wrote:  

I chose cinema as  the mode of personal expression for its potential and capacity for disruption: it is  the surest means to incite change.”  In  this  aim,  Anger’s  entire  practice  is  informed  and  sustained  by  the  esoteric  teachings  of  occultist  Aleister  Crowley.  For  Crowley, magick – which he spelt with a  k  in order  to differentiate it  from mere  stagecraft –  was  a  serious  endeavour;  a  spiritual  discipline  in  which  the  individual,  through  ceremonial  practice,  engages  in  an  ontological  quest  for   consciousness expansion;  much  like  the  use  of  certain  drugs,  meditational  disciplines, yoga, etc.  Crowley s magick is a complex esoteric philosophy in which  the individual harnesses the myriad aspects or forces of the psyche in an effort to  achieve psychical  liberation ; as Crowley argues: “Man is ignorant of the nature of  his own being,” and  that magick is  the process by which  the psyche undertakes  “the solution of all complexes.

 Aleister Crowley, The Law is for All (Arizona: New Falcon Publications, 1996),p. 32.

Angers films therefore are spells or rituals, of which the viewer is a participant, in a ceremonial effort to expand consciousness.  As any viewer of Anger s films will attest, they are powerful cultural artifacts that deserve veneration, with Anger at the apex of a spiritually inflected cinema of transfiguration – Film as Magick.

About the Author

Matthew Hughes has a PHD, this already makes him way way overqualified to work here with us scrubs at SittingNow. To make things cooler, it's on Kenneth Anger. He's a Teacher, Filmmaker, and occasional musician based in Essex in the UK, and he's one of the head honchos here at the site.

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