The Fire is Gone: Kenneth Anger (1927-2023) | Tributes

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Anger, aware that his career as an artist wasn’t going to get off to the start he hoped, left for Paris, where he spent much of his time hanging with Cocteau and working for Henri Langlois at La Cinémathèque française (Langlois gifted Anger with reels from Eisenstein’s “¡Que Viva Mexico!” bringing the young man’s love of cinema full circle). His parents cut off his allowance in 1950, hoping to force him back to the States, but the ploy didn’t work. He remained in Europe until his mother’s death in 1953, making and abandoning projects in France and Italy. 

His gorgeous 20-minute short “Rabbit’s Moon” was meant to be longer, but he snuck onto a soundstage at Films du Pantheon Studio and was caught before he could finish working. A proposed project about a famous occultist, cardinal D’este, was winnowed down to the 12-minute “Eaux D’Artifice.” Much of Anger’s work during this period would not be completed and shown until much later. 

Back in the States, he befriended one of his acolytes, experimental pioneer Stan Brakhage; they attempted to collaborate, but the negatives were confiscated when neither paid the development fees. He made the half-hour “The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” in 1954, starring his friends, including Marjorie Cameron, the widow of rocket engineer Jack Parsons. Parsons, like Anger, was a convert to Aleister Crowley’s Thelemite religion and an important figure of American occultism. The film was a gorgeous, dreamy drift through costumed gods, faces, and images of animals and grams as Crowleyian occult symbols assail his characters. When Anger died on the 24th of May 2023, the critic Adam Piron lamented that Anger was “one of the few to understand cinema as ceremony.” “Inauguration,” like the best of Anger, seems like an induction into his arch-belief system and its pagan worship rather than merely a collection of stunningly strange pictures of demigods drinking deeply and wandering through purgatory.

In 1955, feeling despondent after the death of his friend Thomas Kinsey, the sex researcher, Anger returned to Paris for a spell of isolation. Out of money and with no movie on the horizon, he reached out to Cahiers du Cinema, the French film criticism magazine, and offered to write them stories he had heard about Hollywood history. The more he wrote, the more his editors thought a better outlet for these tall tales was a book, and so was born Hollywood Babylon, published in 1959 in France and a few years later in the States. Film historian Kevin Brownlow represented the point of view of people who had done hard research on the first few decades of Hollywood history when he said that Anger’s research must have consisted of “telepathy.” Maybe nothing in Anger’s book happened the way he said it did, but, like his movies, it’s a window into a satanic alternate reality and much more fun to believe than the truth. As Michael Sicinski put it when Anger died: “Everything he did was about the “dream factory” as suppression of our darkest urges. Sometimes this manifested as petty vindictiveness, but more often it was luminescent queer poetry.”


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