Anger the Magus

Legendary artist and filmmaker Kenneth Anger met fans and devotees at a rare screening of his work at the ICA in London over the weekend.

A Weekend of Anger saw two programmes of films (1947-1981 and 1995-present) split over two days. Anger introduced the films personally on both nights to a packed audience and reflected on a career in film spanning nearly six decades.  More…

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After a screening of some of Anger’s most recent films, many of which had never been screened in the UK before, there was an opportunity for questions. Of particular note was Airship 2010-12 – a beautiful series of films featuring hand tinted footage of Zeppelins looming over great cities; and Brush of Baphomet, 2009 another look at the paintings and artwork of Aleister Crowley in the vein of his 2002 film The Man We Want To Hang, this time filmed on digital.

Those that were lucky enough to have tickets for the sold-out event were given the opportunity to ask questions which provided a fascinating insight into the mind and working methods of a true living legend. Anger talked about symbolism in his films, his collaborations with actors and musicians and his concern for the future of cinema in the shift away from celluloid film to digital.

Here is a transcript of what was said:

Q: I’ve got a question about Lucifer Rising? I’ve been studying it very closely and I think I know roughly what it is about but there is one shot that’s a great mystery to me and if you want to keep it a mystery I’ll understand but I wanted to ask. There is a scene where Osiris is throwing his figurines into the Nile and for about half a second there is a multi coloured dog that runs past the camera. I wondered if that dog was Anubis? I know this is a very specific question.

KA: Well it was an Egyptian wild dog and it just happened to appear.

(Audience laughs)

Q: Have you kept a costume archive over the years?

KA: Well, yes but I donated it to the British Film Institute so they have my costumes and I think a few of the costumes are in France at the Cinémathèque Française but I am a very poor keeper of my own material as I travel a lot and move a lot and I tend to lose things so I give them to these institutions and maybe some day they will have an exhibit with my costumes. Alright, thank you.

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Q: I’d like to ask you about Donald Cammell that featured in Lucifer Rising and then he did Performance and yeah what did you think of Performance when it came out, did you feel flattered?

KA: Well Donald Cammell was a close friend of mine one of my several friends who choose to commit suicide so according to Aleister Crowley if you wanna make your exit that way fine with Crowley but I don’t approve of suicide personally and I think it should be resisted. Any rate he was a very talented man of course you’ve seen Performance and White of the Eye and I’m sorry to lose him.

Q: I wanted to ask about the Elliott Smith film and how that came about?

KA: In Los Angeles at the time I lived in a district called Silver Lake and my neighbour was Elliott Smith so I saw him quite often and he would often play a little café for 20 people just for fun and perform. He was a very kind wonderful person and he was another friend who I lost through suicide so it’s unfortunate and erm he was obsessed with death and I tried to talk him, say well death is ok but life is ok too you know to commit suicide at 34 is a big waste. He was a very sweet man.

Q: I thought the thing with the security guards was brilliant (I’ll Be Watching You, 2007), it was like, look super modern and was great. What’s the fascination with uniforms?

KA: Well your trying to be a Freudian analyst. It is obviously, well I’m obsessed no, but I use as an artist certain overblown symbols of masculinity like for instance in my private life, my brother was a high ranking officer in the USN, the Navy, and I was expected to go in but I did go in because at that time it was the very end of World War II I had my choice of either joining the Navy or being drafted into the Army and I liked the Navy uniform better. But as fate would have it the only thing I accomplished in the Navy was contracting Scarlet Fever and I ended up of course I had three months of my grandmother looking after me but that was my service to my country the USA.

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Q: I was wondering what informed your choices about what you shoot on like film or digital for what project.

KA: I didn’t quite understand you?

Q: How you make a decision about what to make a film on are you gonna use film or shoot on digital?

KA: Well the decision is being taken away from me. Already we are seeing 35mm and 16mm film, the kind of film that has sprockets along the edge, as a 20th century phenomenon. It is being replaced by something called ‘digital’ and I’ve been forced to use digital in my latest works like Airship even though I prefer film. But film is going out, the powers that be that run these huge factories Kodak and so forth are phasing out film and replacing it with digital and we can’t do anything about it because I can’t manufacture my own film in the bathroom. It’s more than my technical ability. But erm, the sad thing about digital it seems clean and easy to use but it has, scientists have told me, and I have a number of friend who are scientists, it’s got a very low shelf life. If you put it away for 30 years and come back and say let’s see this film from 2013, it won’t be there, it will have disappeared – in other words the tracks become muddled and they sort of melt into each other and there is nothing there. So it’s another example of the human animal trying to cheat time and seize time in a way that has defied the human race since the ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians tried to cheat time by carving in stone and indeed their writing, once we figured out how to read it is still there but how much of the 20th century or the 21st century writing which is largely on film or digital survives in 100 years is problematic. In other words it is like writing on water. So we still have to keep trying. Perhaps the scientists of the future will invent something that’s more permanent but my…the nitrate film of 35mm was a wonderful product it gave you very fleshy contrast in black and white and was great for Technicolor, but when they made these things it was like the fashion of the week. There was no intention to have it last for 50 years. Because it was for this season that they made films and then they put it on a shelf and if it survived it wasn’t really a concern, ideas of reviving old films didn’t exist in early Hollywood. The idea of showing something finally like the first revival of any early film was the silent film by D.W. Griffith which is on the Civil War which is named Innocent was added music and revived in the early 1930s so then it became that they began to figure out that maybe people would like to see more of these old films. Then you have a problem because silent films were shot at 16 frames per second and the sound speed is 24 so if you show silent films on a sound speed projector everything looks jerked up which gives a very unfair vision of what it was like. So these are technical problems that can be worked out one way or the other but not very well.

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Q: Could you talk about your approach to using music and how do you choose which pieces of music to use in a film?

KA: Well it’s just pure instinct, I have to like it. In the case of Ich Will! I felt that Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, he was dying when he wrote it, was perfect for this view of Hitler Youth and erm… so that’s why I chose Bruckner who happened to be Adolf Hitler’s favourite symphonist. There is another magnificent symphonist at work who is banned and that was Mahler because even though Mahler converted from Judaism to Catholicism he was still unheard in Nazi Germany, a whole bunch of artists that ere just erased. Luckily copies of their work survived in other places.

Q: Do you go to the cinema very often and if so what do you like to go see?

KA: I go see them, I live in Hollywood so I have magnificent projections at places like the ArcLight Theater. It is the luxury cinema of Hollywood and I do go to see a lot of films – doesn’t mean that when I see a film by Spielberg that I approve of it but it doesn’t matter if I approve of it or not I want to see the techniques that are used. The one commercial filmmaker that I really admire most was Michael Powell. The director of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus and other masterpieces. And I am now good friends with his widow Thelma Schoonmaker and she is now the editor for Martin Scorsese who is also a friend of mine. I never used my friendship in the commercial film world to try and move into that world because I am an independent artist and I turned down the possibility of working at 20th Century Fox when I went to school right next door at Beverly Hills High School what is now Century City.

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Q: How did your association with Getty come about?

KA: I’m sorry?

Q: Some of your films are to do with Getty?

KA: My good friend John Paul Getty, I’ve known him for years he sponsored Mouse Heaven he was fond of Mickey Mouse too and he sponsored that. I’m all for the idea of art patrons. Because if you look at the past the great painters, all had a patron whether it was the Vatican or a private aristocrat. They needed a patron and they still do. I could never afford even though I’ve earned income from my books and so forth to make films – I need a patron and so Paul Getty has died unfortunately at the age of 70 which I consider not old, a young age to die but I have another patron a woman by the name of Agnès B. Agnès is my current sponsor and I’m grateful for that so any potential sponsors…

(Audience laughs)

Q: How difficult do you think it is to be a rebellious filmmaker how difficult was it for you in the past and do you think it has got easier now – do you think it is possible to rebel against the mainstream as a filmmaker?

KA: Well who’s going to pay for the film? In other words rebelling is fine but someone has to buy the film and give it to you, you can’t steal it and print it and have it shown, nice idea but you really can’t. So erm, I think it’s a very expensive physical medium to work in after all what did Rimbaud need? His mind and a pencil to write his beautiful poems. A poet working with words it’s just his imagination, a pencil and a piece of paper that is all he needs. As you get into more elaborate art forms it becomes more and more difficult, expensive and complicated, but any rate I hope to make several more films I certainly plan to and if I run out of money from one sponsor I’ll find another I hope! So far Agnès B has been very accommodating. She also made my suit, my shirt…

(Audience laugh and applause)

Q: Do you have any plans to write another book?

KA: Well it’s already written. It’s called Hollywood Babylon 3…but unfortunately I have a chapter devoted to Tom Cruise and he belongs to an evil bunch of idiots named Scientology and they have threatened to…well I tell you what they do a friend of mine wrote an article about the Scientologists, he lived in the desert and he opened his mailbox and there was a live rattlesnake in his mailbox. That’s just the sort of trick Scientologist do and so if I write about them they’ll figure out some way to inconvenience me I’m sure but never the less they’re cracking up because their main bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard now has a big sign saying ‘For Lease’. That means they’ve given up selling their poisonous books. So any rate thanks for your attention, you’re a great audience and I hope to come back before too long with a couple of new films, thank you.

(Prolonged audience applause)

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About chrishallrealtime

Visual Artist and Filmmaker
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