Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Kenneth Anger, Experimental Filmmaker and ‘Hollywood Babylon’ Author, Dies at 96

By Ethan Shanfeld

Experimental filmmaker, artist and author Kenneth Anger has died. He was 96.

His gallery, operated by Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers, confirmed the news on their website, writing, "Kenneth was a trailblazer. His cinematic genius and influence will live on and continue to transform all those who encounter his films, words and vision."

Born in 1927 in Santa Monica, Calif., Anger produced over 30 short films from 1937 to 2013, having made his first movie at 10 years old. Known as "one of America's first openly gay filmmakers," he gained a reputation for exploring themes of erotica and homosexuality decades before gay sex was legalized in America. Anger received recognition for his homoerotic 1947 film "Fireworks," which landed him in court on obscenity charges. Filmed in his childhood home in Beverly Hills while his parents were away for the weekend, "Fireworks" is known as the first gay narrative film produced in the U.S.

Afterward, Anger moved to France and immersed himself in the avant-garde film scene, which inspired Anger's own works "Eaux d'Artifice" and "Rabbit's Moon." After moving back to the states in 1953, he produced the 38-minute "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome" and the 29-minute "Scorpio Rising," starring Bruce Byron.

In 1959, Anger published the gossip book "Hollywood Babylon," which detailed alleged scandals of Hollywood stars from Marilyn Monroe to Judy Garland to Charlie Chaplin. The book has been widely discredited and was banned in the U.S. shortly after its publication. He released a sequel to the book in 1984 after announcing his retirement from filmmaking, a result of his inability to produce a sequel to his 1972 film "Lucifer Rising." (He would return to the medium at the turn of the century, directing over a dozen short films from 2000 to 2013.)

Karina Longworth's 2019 season of her "You Must Remember This Podcast" was devoted to examining the stories told in "Hollywood Babylon" and researching other sources to get more accurate accounts.

Anger said in a 2010 interview with The Guardian that he had finished writing a third installment to "Hollywood Babylon," but was holding off on publishing it due to fear of repercussions. "The main reason I didn't bring it out was that I had a whole section on Tom Cruise and the Scientologists," he said. "I'm not a friend of the Scientologists."

An outspoken Satanist, Anger was a controversial figure who became close friends with other countercultural figures at the, including the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, and Marianne Faithfull, who starred in "Lucifer Rising."

Anger captured his life's work in a surrealist anthology film titled "Magick Lantern Cycle, which stitches together nine of his short films including "Fireworks" and "Invocation of My Demon Brother."

In the statement announcing his death, Sprüth and Magers wrote, "Anger considered cinematographic projection a psychosocial ritual capable of unleashing physical and emotional energies. The artist saw film as nothing less than a spiritual medium, a conveyer of spectacular alchemy that transforms the viewer."