Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 J27 1989
Chapter 4 “Underground Film: Leaping form the Grave” presents the stark contrast from Hollywood’s studio produced narrative features to the rise of underground film. Avant-Garde was embodied by two movements consisting of new filmic achievements of the movies themselves and the intertextual dialogue underground movies held with Hollywood. The unique ideology of underground cinema is derived from bohemian subcultures of New York and San Francisco. Hallucinogenic drugs and rock music became the focus of the counterculture for the new generation. The dialogue that arose between Hollywood and the underground was unintentional. Most experimental filmmakers had a desire to create an alternative to Hollywood rather than reform it. However, the intertextuality between independent and Hollywood film was inevitable because they faced similar material sphere production, distribution, and consumption. Therefore, contrasting Hollywood’s stylistic and cultural mode granted a form of identity to the underground.
Kenneth Anger’s work largely falls into this category. The section of the chapter on Kenneth Anger takes a very interesting approach to his films in that they all make an attempt to capture Lucifer; however, Anger followed Aleister Crowley’s interpretation of the demon rather than the devil of Christianity. Anger’s Lucifer was indistinct and arbitrary compared to the distinctive evil of Satan ascribed by western culture. Thus, Anger’s films, most notably Scorpio Rising, reiterate the duality of Hollywood public and personal social lives Anger described in his book Hollywood Babylon. In doing so, Anger reiterates the importance of Hollywood, as Scorpio Rising uses footage of The Wild One and The Road to Jerusalem. The primary ambiguity of Scorpio Rising is sexual presenting both homosexual and female images. In this frame, cultural icons are challenged and subject to reinterpretation. The film even destabilizes images within itself. Scorpio’s character is elevated by comparison to Christ. However, Christ’s image is undermined by connecting it to Hitler. The ambiguity of Anger’s work provides a critique of the received values which dominate popular culture.
Renewal for Hollywood industry could only come through independent film as Hollywood was strictly adhering to its traditional functions and resisting change, even as those function were being replaced by television and popular music. Experimental cinema of the 1960’s provided examples of ways Hollywood could connect with a shifting youth culture. Eventually, the Vietnam War ended the underground movement polarizing culture and creating atmosphere where frivolous detachment could not survive.
Kate Haug’s 1996 interview with Kenneth Anger attempts to clarify the ambiguity of the unpredictable experimentation associated with his work, and to understand his techniques for confusing accepted Hollywood styles. Anger portrays himself as a pragmatist who is relatively normal in comparison to a filmmaker like Jack Smith who Anger considered a nut case. In his responses, Anger removes his own agency in crafting some of the bizarre elements that appear in his films. For example, the images of James Dean and Nazi symbols reflected the interests of the actor Bruce Byron who played Scorpio. Anger did take credit for the emphasis on death and morbidity, as it was his take on the inherent danger of riding motorcycles and motorcycle culture.
In the interview, Anger expressed his desire to represent real life subjects in his films, which led him to relay his skeptical opinions on documentaries. His concepts seemed to align with those of Direct Cinema of the 1960’s including a distrust of voiceover narration, and the awareness that the presence of the camera changes peoples’ actions. Much of Scorpio Rising is composed of candid shots of the bikers behaving as they would normally, although he admits to having encouraged their exhibitionism, Anger contends it is not a documentary because the film expresses his distinct, artistic perspective of the subject.
Anger also logically describes his musical selection as a gentle form of irony citing the scene with Blue Velvet in Scorpio Rising in which a young biker dresses himself with as much narcissism as the female character in the song. However, Anger distinguishes this from mockery or belittling people claiming a good deal, clearly not all, of the homoeroticism in Scorpio Rising was a result of the bikers wanting their girlfriends out of the shots.
Although Anger presents himself as highly rational, he expresses distaste for life being “bland like Disneyland,” and several of his anecdotal digressions reveal his obsession with immersing himself in strange social circles. In this manner, he maintains a coherent approach to his art while receiving inspiration from sources on the fringe of customary society.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.E96 S82 1996
Chapter 4 “Pop, Queer, or Fascist? The Ambiguity of Mass Culture in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising” highly regards Kenneth Anger’s film. The objective of the author is to minimize the influences of Scorpio Rising that many associate with European cinema such as the works of Banuel and Eisenstein, and instead to focus on its involvement with popular American youth culture. The ambiguity of the film’s stance on the pop culture is carefully examined as it simultaneously celebrates the freedom of subversion and condemns the life threatening danger and fascist identification that can arise from egocentric pleasure seeking.
Three approaches the text uses to analyze the films ambiguity are homosexuality, mass culture, and totalitarianism. Though the bikers in the film were not gay, the author contends that Anger clearly presents them as objects of homosexual desire. This is supported by the emergence of the biker aesthetic becoming associated with S&M practices in gay popular culture. The overabundance of masculinity and macho poses blur the line between patriarchical dominance and homosexual fetishism. The concept of overabundance also ties into the rise of mass culture as opposed to high culture. This is accomplished by the juxtaposition of the clips of Marlon Brando and James Dean with films of Jesus which can be interpreted as elevating or diminishing the figures of each. The film also addresses the similarity between totalitarianism and a public subscribing to a uniform iconography through prevalent Nazi imagery and violence; the mimicry the bikers practice is correlated to following fascism.
Unveiling the homoerotic as well as the connection between eroticism and violence which are subdued in conventional youth culture is one of the more overt effects of Scorpio Rising. On the other hand, the more ambiguous elements of the film can only be resolved though subjective interpretation.
Stevenson’s article contends gay cinema is one of the few subgenres of independent film to flourish in America, especially at a time when mainstream Hollywood ideals and style dominate. The relatively recent acceptance of gay film has been achieved after decades of struggle for the right to create, distribute and have use of homoerotic images, and finally with the right to watch these images in the public setting of the movie theatre.
Beginning around 1915, gay images first appeared with the first stag films. Male homosexuality in the films was almost nonexistent, and this can be attributed to the lack of an organized homosexual market to sell the product to. Access to gay sexual imagery after WWII became simpler with more affordable, available movie equipment as well as an increase in gay liberalization as seen in openly circulated gay magazines
The gay cinema of Kenneth Anger and his contemporaries marked the beginning of the American gay underground Avant-Garde movement which was dedicated to the exploration of a deeper psychosexuality. Because homophobia was still widespread throughout society and censorship was rampant, it was difficult for these films to access a larger public, and these films were distributed underground to a small circuit of film clubs and societies. The idea of film as an artistic personal expression struggled to be accepted in a time when film was primarily seen for commercial value.
In the early 60’s, the gay underground merged with the New York centered Underground movement and the provocative film, Scorpio Rising, produced a huge impact. This work of cinematic art was disguised as porn and distributed in the commercial sexploitation market. The trial in which Scorpio was ruled obscene brought the film great publicity, and increased its reputation, and it finally came to be praised by the mainstream press. The success of Scorpio helped to reveal the fact that there was an audience for artistic gay film, and this helped to separate it from commercial sexploitation pornography.
The last of the barriers were broken with the arrival of gay hard-core pornography in 1969. Today, gay film-makers are no longer classified as gay liberation activists, and can be considered as creative artists producing movies, that are not necessarily gay films, for a wider audience.
Call#: PN1993.5.U6 H55 1990 v.8
Chapter 13 of volume 8 “‘What Went Wrong?’ American Avant-Garde Cinema of the 1960’s” begins with a concern about the meaning of authorship and uses the films of Kenneth Anger, all beginning with the phrase “a film by Anger” as a starting point of analysis. The expression “by Anger” envelops two important aspects of Avant-Garde filmmaking of the 1960’s. It represents both the individual vision, as films were often the product of a single author, and the aggressive style inherent in the movies, which confronted expectations of film and addressed relevant social issues. Anger and his work are not mentioned much after the beginning of the chapter. Instead, a broad and thorough analysis of the Avant-Garde movement of the 1960’s is presented in terms of its emergence and the response of filmmakers to the social context of the 1960’s concerning politics, sexuality, and race.
The changes in American cinema were marked by the failure of Hollywood studios. Therefore, there was a strong influence of European cinema particularly the French New Wave. The new American Avant-Garde was also closely associated with the formation of social bonds. Hence the initial geographic isolation of the movement was principally centered in New York City and San Francisco Bay. However, the text does not fix a narrow concrete definition on the complex movement acknowledging the exception of Stan Brakhage working out of Colorado.
The chapter contends intertextuality, addressing issues that were larger than those portrayed explicitly in the film itself, connected the experimental films of the 1960’s together, as well as linking some experimental films to the Hollywood’s genre. Parody and rethinking of Hollywood conventions were a recurrent motif of Avant-garde filmmakers, and helped shape the identity of experimental film as a contrast to the repression that lurked in Hollywood.
While the chapter examines several distinctive directors and their major works, it conscientiously groups them into social and ideological categories. Thus, it bridges the gap between individual vision and universal resonance. Films of the movement were distinguished by individual authorship and a resentment of racial and sexual oppression, which the Avant-Garde filmmakers collectively combated against.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .H58 1983
Chapter 3 “The Underground” gives a chronological account of the rapid growth of American avant-grade approximately between 1959 and 1970. In the first half of the chapter, the broad range of “underground” films are united by the patronage of Jonas Mekas, film critic for Village Voice and editor of Film Culture. Gradually the new generation of subversive film began to stand on its own, and the chapter shifts from Mekas to the actual filmmakers
One of the main focuses of the chapter is the determination of Mekas to exhibit increasingly scandalous experimental films despite harsh censorship, police raids, and court battles. One story depicts Mekas projecting Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures onto the face of the Belgian minister of justice until the power was cut off because the film was refused a screening. By late 1966, Mekas’s struggles resulted in the stabilization of the Avant-Garde and the underground genre was popularized by wider distribution from Mike Getz.
Aside from the essential exhibitors, the chapter also discusses some of the groundbreaking filmmakers including Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and primarily Andy Warhol. The descriptions weave together the simultaneous exploits of Flaming Creatures, Scorpio Rising, and Warhol’s early films very vividly to capture the chaotic environment of the movement. The portion of the chapter devoted to Scorpio Rising discusses how Anger was inspired to create documentary-style film on the lifestyles of American Bikers upon returning from Europe. It also praises his innovative use of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll hits to punctuate the film. Perhaps the most significant focus was the reaction to the film including the fact that Getz was taken to trial for screening Scorpio Rising, which contains a brief flash of male frontal nudity. The resistance with which underground films were met is the largest unifying factor of the movies presented in the chapter.
Controversy and attempts at censorship are the most constant themes. Police raids of theaters to impound the prints are described repeatedly, and indicate how groundbreaking the underground movement was at the time. The persistence of exhibitors and the brilliance of the filmmakers are credited for the acceptance of the Avant-Garde. This acceptance resulted in a shift in American puritanical values, demonstrated by the rise of hardcore pornography.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U718 J36 2005
Chapter 7 “The Forties: Maya Deren and Her Acolytes, Wizards of the Id” discusses the prevalence of Avant-Garde of the 1940’s. While the importance of Kenneth Anger is often stressed during the 1960’s along with the newcomers Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, this text examines the earlier origin of Anger’s career acknowledging the impact of Maya Deren. Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon rejects imposed realism of Hollywood and reveals spatial illusions created by editing, offering a critique of the inherently false nature of Hollywood. Anger’s work matured through this the formula evidenced in 1947 by his film Fireworks as well as his later works. However, in contrast to Deren’s total rejection, Anger held a complex love-hate relationship with Hollywood.
Anger was very well versed in films of the 1920’s and 1930’s, and grew up with close connections to the studios. His grandmother was a longstanding costume designer who landed him the role of an extra in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was also a dance partner of Shirley Temple. These childhood experiences instilled a fascination with the mythic qualities of Hollywood. He was also influenced by the philosophies of Aliester Crowley who taught disobedience and subversion as the key to joy. Consequently his films contain both the use and criticism of established modes of Hollywood. Anger’s films provide analysis of the star system by emphasizing importance of the main characters, but rather than invent stars, Anger took the approach of documenting what he recognized as fascinating in his subjects. Another aspect Anger sought to expose was the underlying sadomasochistic quality of submitting to a movie. In doing so Anger forms a recognition that his films exist as a counterpoint to Hollywood films and not as an entity on their own. Anger’s fresh approach helped to reshape mainstream media as the importance of popular music in Scorpio Rising almost serves as a precursor to the contemporary music video. Criticism of Hollywood presented in Meshes of the Afternoon was undoubtedly a driving force in Anger’s films, but not without Anger’s simultaneous homage to the industry he found so captivating.
Interestingly there is not mention of Scorpio Rising in this article, but it does offer insight into the sensationalist modes of biker movies of the 1950’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. The interest in motorcycle gangs arose most significantly with the emergence of the infamous Hell’s Angels in the mid-1960’s. These bikers gained notoriety through the media, and it was press stories that aided in the creation of biker movies. These movies often used other genres as templates, especially the western, and this fusion led to confusion.
The media gave the group great publicity by making known to the public the sensational exploits of the outlaw bikers. Mainstream media created the public image of motorcycle clubs when they further depicted the bikers as savage brutes threatening civilized society. News coverage presented very deviant actions of the Angels who enjoyed playing up to their immoral reputation against conservative, middle class society, and a Newsweek article even speculated on their homosexuality. These press stories were transformed into biker movies that heavily relied on media coverage for their story. The release of The Wild Angels in 1966 was met by great success, and this began the trend of a cycle of films on outlaw biker gangs continuing up until the early 1970’s.
These exploitation movies often made use of other genres as narratives and templates, such as themes of war, gangsters or cops. The most commonly used template was the western in which overt parallels were drawn between outlaw biker gangs and outlaws of the Old West. The author attributes the failure of exploitation cinema to exist for an extended time particularly to their fusion of news reports and movie genres. This synthesis of two separate, established forms of media, which have their own distinct and independent structures of semantics and syntax, result in conflict and confusion, and lends to the fact that exploitation films failed to develop their own stable structures.
The outlaw biker film came out of the negative media publicity of biker gangs, especially Hell’s Angels. Exploitation films have failed to make use of the deeper structures of meaning of the genres that they employ, resulting in confusion and leaving biker gangs elusive and contradictory.
(this site times out, but the article can be found by performing a title search on the page the link goes to)
At least as early as the 1960's, Hollywood and independent cinemas have experimented with conventional popular genres concerning generic, heterosexual masculinity, and fused it with alternative, subcultural versions of masculinity. The author focuses on the psychedelic or popular-modernist films of the late 1960's and early 1970's that utilized the narrative and iconographic structures of established genres to explore and challenge traditional male identity and behavior. The subgenre of psychedelic film contains subjective qualities that cause the film experience to be a "head trip" that both transforms and provides an enjoyable mental journey. Characteristics of psychedelic film include protagonists identified with college students and political protest, pacing and editing in the tradition of European art films, the use of anti-realist formal and narrative elements, and tendencies of art cinema and exploitation film.
Modernist elements are employed to upset the generic foundations of the male protagonist, which usually reaffirm the privileged position of male characters and spectators. The psychedelic film shares similarities to American experimental film of the 1960's such as Scorpio Rising in the use of modernist elements to challenge major worldview, perception, and representation. Psychedelic film uses experimental form in the alteration of the classic narrative genre with its ideological biases, especially those concerning gender. The level of confrontation and critique achieved by these films are related to that level achieved by Kenneth Anger's radical gay films. Scorpio Rising transformed the motorcycle genre with implicit homoerotic and violent gestures.
Recent films concerning alternative views of masculinity linked to popular genres have achieved success, but it is only superficially challenging. At the core is the reassurance of stable, heterosexual masculinity. The author notes that the shift from popular modernist cinema to contemporary cinema is evidence of an increase in filmmakers' claims of the significance of privileged male experience.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.E96 S53
Chapter 4 “The Magus” offers a biography of Kenneth Anger from 1947 to 1967. The dates are chosen because they were the ones Anger picked for his false obituary in the Village Voice. They also coincide with a specific phase of Anger’s filmmaking from Fireworks to Kustom Kar Kommandos. The author portrays Anger as an unreliable source for gathering information on his own life because he is renowned for artifice and reinventing himself going as far to suggest that Anger’s book Hollywood-Babylon is a myth and a catalogue of slander.
A better way to understand Anger is through his following of the esoteric beliefs of artist Aleister Crowley, a hedonistic mystic. Anger’s films between 1947-1967 are marked by his use of ironic interaction, but at the end of the period Anger underwent a “magickal” transformation which marked the death of his previous personality and a rebirth of a new persona. Thus his next film Invocation of My Demon Brother results in a significant departure from his earlier work.
Anger’s films during the twenty year period are discussed in terms of their relevance to mysticism and Crowley. The sense of irony in Fireworks reached its apex in Scorpio Rising. The thirteen songs of Scorpio Rising are described as having a magician’s effect on the consciousness. Each of the selections has a comic or dramatic surprise, but they function together to create the vertical effect of death and sacrifice inherent in motorcycle culture.
In contrast to the carefully constructed messages of his work from 1747-1967 the impression left by Invocation of My Demon Brother is that Anger did not know what the film was until it was completed. Rather than attempting to impose visual narrative, the film was driven by an element of discovery.