How Kenneth Anger Created Camp Cinema with His Short Film, 'Puce Moment'
a piece by Matt McKinzie
"Over a black screen, in garish pink font outlined by vivid turquoise, the words "a film by ANGER" come into view. Not "a film by KENNETH ANGER"… no, he has chosen to omit his first name for a far more ostentatious, and multilayered, mononym.... it is almost as if Anger expects you to know who he is, to blindly and readily accept this sense of self-attributed stardom.... It is this kind of absurdism—this fascination with fame and glamour, the stylistic presentation of an artist's name akin to the presentation of a venerated show-business legend (despite being the farthest thing from one at that point in time), the full and self-reflexive embrace of artifice—that comes to define Puce Moment (1949), Anger's overlooked touchstone of the early avant-garde cinema movement.
... His first major work, Fireworks (1947), landed him in a contentious court case for exhibiting to American movie houses what is essentially a homoerotic wet dream. Puce Moment, which came two years later, emerges as a different kind of dream. As in Fireworks, you won't find handsome sailors or the sparks of Roman candles posing as metaphoric ejaculate. What you will find, however, are more covert allusions to the social and aesthetic realities of Anger's existence and art, the same sort of illuminating material in later Hollywood films like Valley of the Dolls and Rocky Horror Picture Show.... his visual and formative distortions of the film's "plot" make Puce Moment perhaps the earliest cinematic artwork to adopt the camp tradition, and unlike any other (certainly mainstream) motion picture of the 1940s, it is self-aware in its appreciation and understanding of glamour, artifice, exaggeration, and of the power of sexuality and materialism....
"The first indication of Anger's campy distortion is the prologue to his plot. Inexplicably, a series of flapper dresses are danced (by an unseen puppeteer) in front of the screen, before fudging the lens to reveal subsequent dresses on the rack in perpetuity. Anger is vomiting glamour into our face, objectifying objects, sexualizing what cannot, in a vacuum, be sexualized: silk, velvet, cotton, glitter. Our world is tactile and corporeal, and it is overwhelming. But we cannot get enough of it."
an old review by me of a video reissue of Kenneth Anger's films
KENNETH ANGER'S MAGICK LANTERN CYCLE, VOLUMES 1-4
When they get around to unpicking the tangled threads
that connect The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Psychic TV,
somewhere at the web's centre will lurk the tarantula figure
of Kenneth Anger. Aleister Crowley fan, ex-chum of Jimmy
Page, and chronicler of the psycho-sleaze behind Hollywood's
glittering facade, Kenneth Anger is also the maker of a
series of films whose themes uncannily prefigure the abiding
fixations of leftest-field rock. Pass beyond a certain
limit, and you enter a realm where magic and ritual, S&M,
Crowley, Manson, Nazism, bodypiercing, tattooing,
hallucinogenics, mytho-mania, voodoo dance, all interconnect
as facets of the same quest: for the ultimate transgressive,
transcendent, self-annihilating mystic HIGH.
Both "Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome" (1954) and
"Invocation Of My Demon Brother" (1969) are about this search
for supreme bacchanalian release. ("Inauguration" was
inspired by taking acid, "Invocation" by the counter culture
created by acid). Both are a kaleidoscopic montage of images
grotesque and bizarre, with all the key Anger motifs (cocks,
pagan ritual, bikers, Swastikas, cabbalistic symbols) brought
into play. "Inauguration", with its strident Janacek
soundtrack and vampily made-up actresses, is simultaneously
camp and disturbing; "Invocation", with its maddening moog
soundtrack by Mick Jagger, captures the apocalyptic vibe of
the bitter end of the hippy daze, and must surely have
influenced Nic Roeg's "Performance".
"Lucifer Rising" (1970-80) shares much the same pre-
occupations as the other two films, but expresses them in
less histrionic fashion, through images of serene, stately
beauty, set to a beatific soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil (an
acolyte of Manson's). "Lucifer Rising" is a rehabilation of
Lucifer, reclaiming him as the Light god, a Rebel Angel whose
"message is that the key to joy is disobedience". Anger's
biker movie, "Scorpio Rising" (1963), on the other hand, is a
"death mirror held up to American culture". The biker
represents American myths of Lone Ranger individualism and
Born To Run freedom, taken to their psychotic limit.
"Scorpio Rising" is a giddy miasma of death's-heads, Iron
Crosses, cocaine and blasphemy, with Anger salivating over
the well-stuffed crotches and leather-clad torsoes of his
subjects - and all set to the incongruous soundtrack of
Sixties pulp pop!
Of the five shorter films also included in this series,
"Fireworks" (1947) is a blue-tinted homerotic nightmare about
being brutalised by sailors (the final image is of a sailor
with a Roman Candle jutting out of his zip), while "Eaux
D'Artifice" (1953) is a beautiful Midsummer Night's
dreamscape, with a full moon suffusing off the cascading,
gushing and spurting waters of the Tivoli fountain gardens.