Kenneth Anger was born in Santa Monica, California as Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer and attended the Maurice Kossloff Dancing School with Shirley Temple and Judy Garland. He gained fame and notoriety from the publication of the French version of Hollywood Babylon in Paris in 1959, a tell-all book of the scandals of Hollywood’s rich and famous. A pirated (and incomplete) version was first published in the U.S. in 1965. The official U.S. version was not published until 1974.
He became fascinated with the supernatural and Aleister Crowley, as well as becoming an adherent of Crowley’s religion of Thelema, sometime in his late teens. Many of his films reflect occult themes.
His first cinematic appearance was apparently around age nine, but those early films are now believed to be lost. The first film that he directed to see distribution was Fireworks, filmed in Los Angeles in 1947, which gained the attention of Jean Cocteau, who then invited him to go to Paris. In 1949, Anger directed The Love That Whirls which, according to the 1972 book Experimental Cinema, contained (faked) nudity, and was thus confiscated by the film lab. While most of his films are short subject (ranging from 3.5 minutes to 30 minutes) mood pieces, in 1955 he made a documentary film of the ruins of Crowley’s Thelema Abbey in Cefalù, Sicily, which is now considered a lost film.
He developed a close friendship with Dr. Alfred Kinsey of the Institute for Sex Research. Anger would later recall that Kinsey was his first customer after Kinsey purchased a copy of Fireworks when they first met in 1947. Anger eventually helped Kinsey build his film archive. The Anger Collection includes correspondence between the two men, as well as letters to and from former Institute director John Bancroft. Anger would later speak openly of his participation in Kinsey’s research, including being filmed masturbating.
During the late 1960s he associated with The Rolling Stones, as well as Bobby Beausoleil (before he gained notoriety as an associate of the Charles Manson family). Beausoleil, a musician who had played with Arthur Lee, was cast as Lucifer in Anger’s proposed film, Lucifer Rising. Beausoleil and Anger had a falling out and Beausoleil left, taking most of the completed film with him (Beausoleil is also rumored to have buried the film’s negative in the desert at one of Manson’s former hangouts.) British singer Marianne Faithfull later appeared in Anger’s re-shot version of the film. Some footage from the earlier version of Lucifer Rising (including Beausoleil) ended up in Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother.
Kenneth Anger had a widely publicized spat with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page over the Lucifer Rising soundtrack. Anger claimed Page took three years to deliver the music, and the final product was only 25 minutes of droning and was useless. Anger also accused Page of “having an affair with the White Lady” and being too strung out on drugs to complete the project. Page countered claiming he had fulfilled all his obligations, even going so far as to lend Anger his own film editing equipment to help him finish the project. Page’s music was dumped eventually and replaced in 1979 by music written and recorded by Bobby Beausoleil — the only movie soundtrack in history recorded inside a prison.
For 20 years from the early eighties, Anger released no new material. In the new millennium he has since returned to filmmaking. He also performs as Technicolor Skull with Brian Butler.
In a scene in John Waters’s 2000 movie Cecil B. Demented, the characters are introducing themselves and each one shows the name of an independent director tattooed on his/her arm. One of the characters has Kenneth Anger.
Anger makes an appearance in the 2008 feature documentary by Nik Sheehan about Brion Gysin and the Dreamachine entitled FLicKeR.
In 2009 his work was featured in a retrospective exhibition at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York.
Anger’s lifelong interest in the occult, particularly in the works of Aleister Crowley, brought him into contact with a variety of groups and individuals. He was a lifelong friend of Anton Szandor LaVey, both before and after the founding of the Church of Satan in the 1960s, and lived with LaVey and his family during the 1980s. In more recent years Anger has accepted initiation into Ordo Templi Orientis.
Edited by ClocklessHours on 21 Jan 2010, 23:23
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