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April 20, 2007

Films of Kenneth Anger, Volume 1

Eaux d'Artifice - 1953

Does anybody know if Roberto Rossellini saw Kenneth Anger's Eaux d'Artifice? There is some imagery that is too similar to be coincidental. Film at the Tivoli fountains, Anger has several shots where the camera moves in on the stone faces, the sculptures in the fountain. In a later moment, Anger's female character runs into a grotto that is also an ancient tomb. The similarity to similar images in Voyage in Italy is too much to dismiss. In him commentary, Anger mentions talking with Federico Fellini prior to shooting Eaux d'Artifice, so it seems possible that if Rossellini had not actually seen Anger's film, it could well have been described to him. What is established is that Rossellini's film came out a year later.

It has been over thirty years since I've seen any of Kenneth Anger's films. I had the opportunity to meet Anger in Telluride in 1975. He screened a collection of his films starting at midnight and treated those who stayed for the entire show to breakfast the next morning. While keeping a respectful distance from them, I watched Anger and Stan Brakhage, two old friends, conversing. I felt like I was a privileged observer of two artistic giants. For Anger and Brakhage, it was a personal moment, while for myself it was witnessing the reunion of the two most revered names in personal filmmaking.


In the past thirty years I've become more aware of Anger's visual humor, as in this shot above. Of the films in Volume 1, the only film I do recall seeing is Fireworks. I liked listening to Anger give a historical context to this film, not only as a cinematic recreation of his dreams, but specifically in reaction to reading about the Zoot Suit riots. While Anger's original intention may have been to shock audiences with scenes of sadomasochism, and document his own homoeroticism, Fireworks turned out to be funnier than the film I remembered.


The commentary is helpful in pointing out the the lady in the cage seen above is Anais Nin, one of the revelers in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Anger not only tells who his players are, but also which mythological characters they portray. Of some personal meaning to me was seeing Anger's friend Curtis Harrington made to look like the sleepwalker from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Harrington is one of the few filmmakers who began making personal films before transitioning into relatively mainstream work. I did a shot by shot analysis of Harrington's short On the Edge for one of my classes.

While others have perceptively written about Kenneth Anger, it's nice to be able to see or re-see the films with Anger himself discussing his work. Even if the subject matter or filmmaking style seems remote for contemporary viewers, Anger's influence exists in the use of rock music as a soundtrack and audio commentary. Even if one finds a film like Rabbit's Moon too precious, Anger has the wit to add classic doo-wop songs to his vision of a sad French clown.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 20, 2007 06:02 PM


Wow, you make me ashamed to have never seen his movies. Over the years I grew so annoyed by the inaccuracies that Hollywood Babylon spawned that I made the quite foolish error of not bothering with his films. He wouldn't be the first brilliant filmmaker with a decidedly off-putting side.

Posted by: Campaspe at April 21, 2007 06:14 PM

I just watched this DVD a week ago. It is my first time to see Kenneth Anger's films, and I immediately fell in love with his works. I like INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME the most. It is very crazy. I also like EAUX D'ARTIFICE very much, but I thought the film seemed like something familiar to me. It was as if I had seen it when I was a child, but I thought that would be impossible. How could EAUX D'ARTIFICE be shown on Thai television 20-25 years ago? But now I found the answer after reading your blog. I saw VOYAGE TO ITALY a few years ago. Though I can't recall that scene in VOYAGE TO ITALY, I think Rossellini's film is the reason why I felt EAUX D'ARTIFICE seemed like something I had seen before.

Posted by: celinejulie at April 22, 2007 11:53 AM

Celinejulie: As you might have seen, similar shots were done by Godard in Contempt, which was done as a tribute to Rossellini.

Campaspe: I'm shocked. I thought Hollywood Babylon was unimpeachable fact. Let me know when you have the opportunity to see Anger for yourself. Make sure the kids are tucked in bed before you see "Fireworks".

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at April 22, 2007 12:13 PM