• Kenneth Anger: The Magick Lantern Cycle

    Released by: BFI
    Released on: 5/25/2009
    Retail Price: 24,99
    Director: Kenneth Anger
    Cast: Kenneth Anger, Anais Nin, Marianne Faithful
    Year: 1947 - 1981
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    The Movies:

    Artist, filmmaker, author, occultist and celebrity hob-nobber Kenneth Anger has lead an interesting life. From his work as a child actor through the media attention he garnered when he wrote the ‘tell all’ Hollywood Babylon in 1959 through to his Crowley-inspired films made with the likes of Jimmy Page and Bobby Beausoleil, he’s been a lightning rod of sorts. Responsible for as many unfinished and lost projects as completed ones, Anger, one of the first openly gay filmmakers to come to any prominence, worked with famed sexual researcher Alfred Kinsey, lived in the home of Anton LaVey, and supposedly joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (an secret society of occult practitioners dedicated following Aleister Crowley’s philosophies of Thelema). He’s lead a pretty interesting life and those experiences definitely play a huge part in his films, many of which reflect his fascination with Crowley’s efforts.

    The Magick Lantern Cycle collection from the BFI collects all of Anger’s existing filmed works up until 1981’s Lucifer Rising. Covering almost fifty years of ground, there’s a very talented and outspoken voice at work here. As beautiful as they can be shocking, Anger’s films are simultaneously poetic and blasphemous and as likely to appeal to one’s appreciation for beauty as they are to offend those of a more conservative constitution or religious mind.

    Fireworks (1947):

    Anger himself stars in this film, playing a nameless young man who takes a liking to a navy man. He tries to pick him up and is brutally beaten. Filled with bizarre imagery, overt homosexual themes and some interesting symbolism, this film is the one that brought Anger to Kinsey’s attention and it still packs a pretty strong punch even by modern and supposedly more open minded standards.

    Puce Moment (1949):

    As a series of colorful dresses are drawn over and past the camera lens we eventually see a woman, Yvonne Marquis (Anger’s cousin), emerge from behind the cloth. She observes herself and then heads outside to basically play. Part of a larger, unfinished project this quirky short is pretty simple in and of itself but it’s beautifully shot and the use of color is quite striking.

    Rabbit's Moon (1950/1971):

    One of Anger’s better known works follows a mime named Pierrot who lives alone in the woods where he meets a harlequin who he becomes increasingly obsessed with. He finds a magic lantern and uses it to project symbols. Re-cut various times, this is the longer version of the film presented with its original blue color tinting intact. Shot on 35mm, it very definitely has the feeling of a filmed stage play and the very physical performances of its central performers makes for an interesting contrast against the obviously constructed backdrop.

    Eaux d'Artifice (1953):

    A female midget who we assume is a witch walks through a garden at night and eventually fades into sheets of water. Set to some of Vivaldi’s most recognizable music, this is an interesting experiment that, without much of a story to it, works on an almost completely visual level. It’s a very pretty film, and like most of Anger’s work, also quite striking.

    Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954):

    Set to a rather odd score by Leos Janack, this is essentially Anger’s first crack at filming a Crowley ritual. We witness an occultist named Lord Shiva (effeminate Hollywood eccentric Sampson De Brier who let Anger film in his home and use many of his antiques and clothes in this film) waking up, eating jewelry (a direct reference to Crowley’s idea of a God-eater) and methodically transform from a man into a beast. As he transforms he meets the beautiful female bringer of light (an almost naked Anais Nin with a bird cage over her head to symbolize her untouchable status), a slave (Curtis Harrington), and a Scarlet Woman. More bizarre than it sounds, this is an incredibly colorful film, one that is at times almost entirely hallucinogenic.

    Scorpio Rising (1964):

    Expanding on the blatant homoeroticism he first touched on in Fireworks, here Anger films a gang of Brooklyn based motorcycle enthusiasts as they work meticulously on their bikes with an almost sexual fervor. We witness the ritual of their wardrobe and eventually see them get together at a party which, after some bizarre sexual behavior that the director claims was completely spontaneous on the part of the performers, they head to a church that was about to be demolished. Here the bikers trash the place before we see footage from one of their races held in upstate New York ending with the death of one of the riders. Interspersed between the footage Anger shot are clips from a television showing of The Wild One and clips from a Lutheran Church Sunday school film that Anger said was mistakenly delivered to him while he was editing this project. There’s some interesting footage of the Coney Island amusement area of the 1960s in here, including some nice shots of the bikers at night with the Wonder Wheel and The Cyclone lit up behind them. The 50s pop songs used on the soundtrack provide an interesting and almost innocent contrast to the depravity the camera captures.

    Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965):

    This quick three minute short was intended to be part of a larger project but that when the lead actor died and funding was lost, this was all that remained. It’s essentially a few minutes of a young muscular man working on his car while Dream Lover plays in the background. There’s not much more to it than that but it’s well shot and makes good use of color.

    Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969):

    Another filmed ritual, this bizarre movie makes excellent use of a rather unsettling soundtrack provided by Mick Jagger. Anger plays the lead in this, portraying a priest on stage who gesticulates wildly and who becomes increasingly more intense as the ritual plays out. Cut with precision, the film moves back and forth between the footage of the priest and strange images of Bobby Beausoleil (before he was involved with the Manson Family), Mick Jagger, unnamed naked hippy types and archaic occult related artwork. It eventually results in the manifestation of Satan himself and stands as one of Anger’s most unsettling and truly unusual works.

    Rabbit's Moon (1979 version):

    This is the shorter, recut version of the film with different music.

    Lucifer Rising (1981):

    Lucifer Rising was originally conceptualized by Anger in the sixties as a vehicle for Bobby Beausoleil to star in and to compose the score for, a falling out between the director and the star lead to a delay in production. Of course, when Beausoleil went to jail, that also changed things. Eventually Beausoleil and Anger would work things out and they’re record the score together in prison, though during the years in between Anger actually had Jimmy Page (who has a small cameo in the film alongside Chris Jagger and Anger himself) of Led Zepplin fame compose music for the picture. Anger has stated, however, that Page delivered only twenty-four minutes of music, which was not enough, though he says he does still have the recordings (which remain unreleased).

    Regardless, the film follows Osiris (Donald Cammell) as he plays out a ritual while tracing the origins of Lucifer, portrayed here as the bringer of light, through history. Lilith (Marianne Faithful) is also wandering around ancient Egypt for similar reasons. Thrown in is some remarkable footage of erupting volcanoes and bizarre footage of U.F.O.’s created by Wally Veevers of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. Filled with Egyptian symbolism and psychedelic imagery, this is the most ambitious of the films included in the collection which draws interesting parallels between the very concepts of good and evil and the cycle of life as they apply to mankind.


    The films are all presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Despite their oddball origins (much of the material was shot on 16mm though some films, like Rabbit’s Moon, were shot on 35mm), the films all look quite good here and blow the decent Fantoma standard definition presentations out of the water in terms of detail, clarity and authoring. Only minor print damage is ever noticeable though a welcome and healthy looking coat of grain survives giving this material a nice, film-like presentation. Color reproduction is stunning, especially in Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome and Invocation Of My Demon Brother, while contrast in the black and white Fireworks is dead on. There aren’t any problems with compression artifacts or noticeable edge enhancement and anyone who has seen these films previously will be quite impressed with the noticeable upgrade in quality over the standard definition DVD releases.

    The 2.0 PCM Mono tracks for the films in this set sound fine. There aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion and the music all sounds nice and crisp. There isn’t really any dialogue in any of the films to note but the commentary tracks are clear sounding and quite easy to follow.

    The first disc, aside from menus and film selection options, offers up commentary from Anger for each movie. Anger’s as interesting as his work, and his personality really comes through in these tracks as he talks about where the films were made and about the circumstances affecting each shoot. He talks about how various projects wound up finished or unfinished and he discusses the various locations and players used in this films. He also points out much of the ritualistic aspects of the pictures and how they relate to Crowley’s writings, and talks quite openly about why certain performers were chosen, about drug use, about his how his personal life affected various projects and more. Given that these films are free of dialogue, this is an interesting alternate way to enjoy them and learn about Anger’s unique cinematic aesthetic and unorthodox philosophical and theological beliefs at the same time. The first disc also includes The Man We Want To Hang, a fourteen minute piece that is essentially Anger’s camera showing off a collection of Aleister Crowley’s paintings. A six minute side by side restoration demo video is also included that shows the differences between the materials before and after the BFI finished cleaning them all up.

    The second disc includes Elio Gelminis’ 2006 documentary, Anger Me, a seventy-one minute exploration of the man’s life and work. Starting with his childhood and following his career up to the present day, both as a writer and as a filmmaker, this segment includes loads of archival interview clips, film snippets, and segments involving those who have known and have worked with the man. While this doesn’t really cover any new ground in terms of exploring his life, it’s interesting to hear from Anger and the other participants and to learn of his influence and influences. The visuals here aren’t always the best – the choice to place Anger in front of a blue screen while images from his films play out behind him is rather strange – but the content is good even if it doesn’t really probe into his personal life, instead, it keeps things limited primarily to his professional life. This documentary is presented in standard definition DVD in PAL Region 0 format.

    Included inside the keepcase is a nice full color booklet that includes an essay on film by Anger, a lengthy piece on the history of Anger’s filmmaking by Gary Lachman, credits for each of the films included on the set and some note so on the restoration techniques used for this presentation. Completists will want to hold on to those Fantoma releases, however, a the insert booklets and outtakes from Rabbit’s Moon are not included on this Blu-ray.

    The Final Word:

    An excellent collection of fascinating films receives the worthy deluxe treatment from the BFI. Interesting, experimental and genuinely unique, Anger’s films touch a nerve that few filmmaker’s can hope to reach, and as such they’re bound to alienate a lot of people but those with an interest in mankind’s fascination with ‘magick’ or with an appreciation for the avant garde should consider The Magick Lantern Cycle an essential purchase.