Anger Me (Frameline, NR)

dvd_anger-me.jpgAnger has earned his place in the sun, and his sometimes cryptic films benefit from an explanation of how and why they were made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger liked to refer to himself as a magician of cinema. Anyone who has seen an Anger film is likely to concur; bypassing conventional narrative structure, his dreamlike images thwart conscious interpretation and burn directly into your unconscious mind. Because Anger pursued his unique poetic vision outside the commercial mainstream, for years his films were only shown sporadically, at art houses and festivals, and often in poorly preserved prints. The end result is that his work, which influenced everyone from Martin Scorsese to Wes Anderson, is not as well known as it should be today.

Anger Me, a 2006 documentary by Elio Gelmini available on DVD from Frameline (www.frameline.org, 415-703-8650), provides a good introduction to Anger’s life and work, and should encourage a new generation to seek out his films. Anger Me is basically an extended interview with Anger, who appears at the side of the frame before a blue screen showing archival footage and clips from his films. There’s also an introduction by Jonas Mekas (which could have used subtitles, given his thick accent) and occasionally a film clip completely fills the screen, but Anger Me is about 90% Kenneth Anger the talking head.

Not that that’s entirely a bad thing: Anger has earned his place in the sun, and his sometimes cryptic films benefit from an explanation of how and why they were made. Anger’s personal approach to filmmaking is evident from his first preserved film, Fireworks (1947), a startling homoerotic work which tells a dreamlike tale of seduction, violence and redemption. It’s all the more remarkable when you realize, as Anger reveals in Gelmini’s documentary, that he made Fireworks in one weekend using untrained actors (including himself) when he was 17 years old.

Anger continued in that vein, developing an immediately recognizable style characterized by vivid images, rapid cuts, multiple exposures, chromatic alterations, and use of a musical soundtrack rather than spoken dialogue. The philosophy of the British occultist Aleister Crowley (once called "the wickedest man in the world") was a major influence on Anger, and it’s worth watching Anger Me just to hear the filmmaker’s matter-of-fact explanations of how Crowley’s ideas are present in his work.

Whatever interviewer’s questions may have prompted Anger’s narration in Anger Me have been cut out of the film, and there’s no attempt to challenge Anger’s version of events. For instance, he claims to have played the changeling boy in Max Reinhardt’s film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although studio records indicate that someone else performed that role. It doesn’t matter, however; the point, as in an Anger film, is not the literal but the greater truth.

Fans of Anger’s films will want to see Anger Me for the light it sheds on his life and career, and those unfamiliar with his work may be inspired to view some of his films after watching it. Perhaps not coincidentally, 11 Anger films were released in restored versions on DVD by Fantoma in 2007, and the best follow-up to Anger Me would be to check out those disks. | Sarah Boslaugh

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