The Passion of Kenneth Anger

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Would anyone expect hundreds of hipsters to schlep downtown to stand around in the cold waiting to see the performance of Technicolor Skull? I guess you would if you knew it was the collaboration of 83-year-old experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger and with long-haired young artist, Brian Butler. Anger, wearing a Valentino suit given to him by the couturier himself, stood before a projected montage of wild images drawn from his films and performed on a Theremin. He ran his hands in theatrical gestures, like a sorcerer conjuring spells, over the metal tubes of the synthesizer to come up with eerie, otherworldly sounds. Butler accompanied him on an electric guitar to produce a free-form sound track to the constantly shifting film clips.



Still from Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, 1964, © Kenneth Anger


The event was held during the opening of the Kenneth Anger exhibition, Icons, at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue, which continues through February 27, 2012. Anger designed the red-vinyl lined gallery with projection screens where Scorpio Rising, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and his other films from the Magick Lantern Cycle are being shown. Anger fans, and they are legion, will be familiar with the meld of moving imagery drawn from Old Hollywood glamour, high camp and S+M with references to mythology and the occult. Netflix categorizes them as "mind-bending" and though they were made between 1947 and 1970, they still seem more radical than most of what has come since then, proving that imagination is still more important than technological prowess.



Still from Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954, © Kenneth Anger


Since Kenneth Anger's films are available on DVD, what is the advantage of seeing them at MOCA? The answer is another red walled gallery containing items from Anger's personal archive, a trove of material concentrating on a different Valentino, the silent film star of such sensual appeal that his 1926 death at the age of 29 brought about mass hysteria. The show includes framed newspaper articles, film stills, souvenir items and a photograph of his coffin draped in a floral blanket sent by admirer Benito Mussolini. This archive also includes items referring to film stars ranging from Greta Garbo to Rin Tin Tin.

The archival material is a reminder that for many people Anger is best known as the author of Hollywood Babylon, volumes one and two, gathering the most bizarre, horrifying and hilarious stories about our town, a history largely kept under wraps until his books appeared.

Organized by MOCA curator Bennett Simpson, who correctly describes the films as "legendary yet always contemporary," the Kenneth Anger show is a perfect complement to the Naked Hollywood photographs by Weegee in the adjacent galleries.