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.