Evolving Anger

Filmmaker Kenneth Anger, an artist who revolutionized film media, visited Pittsburgh last Thursday as part of Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Three Rivers Film Festival. Anger spoke briefly about his films and his work, and screened his recent pieces as well as his older films.

From Anger’s own description, it was clear that his work has evolved in many ways. His career began when he was 17, when he made his first distributed film, 1947’s Fireworks. Filmed entirely in black and white, Fireworks presents a homoerotic fantasy in which the protagonist is beaten by a group of sailors, climaxing in his rescue. The camera angles are consistently interesting, with a strong attention to composition and lighting. Anger allows the viewer to step right into the fantasy, utilizing moments of violence as well as sensuality.

The same is true in another early work of Anger’s, Scorpio Rising (1963), which is an insight into the lives of motorcyclists. Set to pop songs of that era, the film uses imagery incorporating religious symbols, Nazism, and eroticism on many different levels. It adds an element of sensuality to the rough portrayals of motorcyclists, while still toying with the humor in the juxtaposition.

Both Fireworks and Scorpio Rising are indicative of Anger’s style. His films maintain a nice rhythm, while raising questions about what sensuality is and where it truly lies. Combining violence and humor, Anger’s works develop meaning deeper than the surface of the screen.

Anger’s later work deviates almost entirely from his original concepts. Shot in digital format, most of these videos are tributes to objects or artists. For example, Elliot’s Suicide (2004) commemorates the late Elliot Smith, cutting footage of the artist to tracks of his songs. The video is less that experimental, replaying some of the deceased’s finest moments. A more optimistic piece, Anger’s Mouse Heaven (2004) pays homage to Mickey Mouse with footage of toys and other memorabilia synched to popular tunes. The video is whimsical and humorous, but nothing like Anger’s other work.

Anger’s comprehensive presentation showed how his work has changed, from revolutionary works of film, to more experimental work in video.