(aka 'The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. 1')

 

directed by Kenneth Anger
USA

 

Nothing suffers more on home video than avant-garde film, by its nature inclined to explore the outer limits, innate qualities, and subtlest effects of its medium. Yet nothing is more exciting, from the perspective of the living-room cinematheque (a/k/a the future of cinephilia) than the recent boon in experimental DVDs. Sure, they suffer on the small screen—and Flaubert is better in the original French—but that doesn't prevent translations of Sentimental Education from blowing minds.

The latest blast from the avant-garde cannon, The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume One, arrives this week on DVD in a terrific package from Fantoma. Proto-pop genius, gay maverick, hardcore occultist, master of montage, and, through his pioneering use of unauthorized pop songs and intensity of vision, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, Kenneth Anger is a cornerstone of the American avant-garde and a gift that keeps on giving. This long-overdue DVD crests a wave of fresh critical interest: 2004 saw the publication of an invaluable scholarly monograph on his life and works by Alice L. Hutchison, and 2006 offered a screening of Anger's latest short, Mouse Heaven (2002), in the Whitney Biennial.

Scrupulously restored and transferred in high definition, the DVD is a dream come true for newbies, devotees, students, scholars, artists, stoners, black magicians, fetishists, and Martin Scorsese. "Like many people, I was astonished when I saw Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising for the first time," Scorsese writes in his introduction to the accompanying booklet. "Every cut, every camera movement, every color, and every texture seemed, somehow, inevitable, in the same way that images of the Virgin in Renaissance painting seem inevitable—in other words, pre-existing but dormant, and brought back to life through some kind of evocation."

"Some kind of evocation": in its vague way, an exact definition of Anger's enchanting oeuvre. It's easy enough to place Fireworks (1947), radical as it was for the time; here is cinema's most exquisite fantasy of gay gang rape by hot teenage sailors. On the sparse yet fascinating commentary track, Anger claims his inspiration was the Los Angeles Zoot Suit riots, but the influence of Cocteau is far more evident on the film's brazenly oneiric and onanistic pulse of images. Indeed, on discovering Fireworks at the Festival du Film Maudit, the legendary poet awarded it a prize, encouraging Anger to spend the next decade in France.

Rabbit's Moon (1950), a lunar pantomime rife with autobiographical implications, derives from this period, as does Anger's involvement with the Cinémathéque Française. At the invitation of Henri Langlois, Anger set to work editing the recently discovered original reels of Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico! This deep immersion in the theories and practice of montage would have a direct impact on Anger's future work, starting with the astonishing Eaux d'Artifice (1953).

Shot in the famous water gardens of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli, a marvel of 16th-century engineering and baroque imagination, Eaux d'Artifice deploys two ingenious formal strategies. Circus midget Carmilla Salvatorelli was flamboyantly costumed and sent wandering the gardens, her four-foot frame the only reference point of scale, resulting in a splendidly subtle warping of perspective. The film was shot on black-and-white film through a red filter, then printed on color stock with a blue one, lending the image a ghostly luminescence. Part trance film, part landscape study, part rapturous abstraction, Eaux d'Artifice floats along on sensuous dissolves and builds to one of the most visionary (and moist) climaxes in the Anger oeuvre. Some kind of evocation indeed: It is, somehow, his sexiest film.

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) has the coolest title of any Anger film and many fans, though I've always found it a tad tedious. An orgiastic fantasia of mythic personages, crazy costumes, pancake makeup, hallucinatory superimposition, and lysergic colors, Pleasure Dome posits a model of pagan cine-ritual that would reach fuller expression in later works.

For all his emphasis on magic, myth, symbol, and rite, Anger is as material a filmmaker as Brakhage. Puce Moment (1949) opens with a voluptuous shuffle of evening gowns in close-up, a rainbow shimmy of silk, chiffon, sequins, and beads. Emerging from the dazzle is Yvonne Marquis, styled like a Warholian Elizabeth Taylor, who proceeds to dress, primp, and prepare for the day, finally exiting her Hollywood Hills abode leading a pack of wolfhounds on leash. Afragment of an abandoned feature about Hollywood women of the 1920s, Puce Moment crystallizes Anger's feverish obsession with the dream factory and his genius for wresting master pieces from aborted projects.

Excerpt from Nathan Lee's Review in the Village Voice HERE

Theatrical Release: 1947-1954

DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Fantoma - Region 0 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Fantoma

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:29:51
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.15 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Fantoma

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary by Kenneth Anger

DVD Release Date: January 23rd, 2007
Digipack

Chapters 6

 

Comments:

Fantoma's long-awaited release of the films of Kenneth Anger is nothing less than a monumental event. I was one among countless Anger fans eagerly counting the days (and years) until this release would come out. 2007 finally proves to be Anger's year, with Volumes 1 and 2 being released by Fantoma with only a few months in between.

Being accustomed to old tapes and DVD-Rs of these films, Fantoma's restoration job completely overwhelmed me. The back cover of the DVD says "High Definition transfers from newly restored elements" and the films show it. The image quality of all five films is almost perfect. Considering that Anger shot these films on 16mm, the results are at times unbelievable. It can be said with certainty that this is exactly how Anger wants his films to look. Now there are still obvious differences in video quality in all the five titles, but that is due to the fact that most of them were shot on 16mm.

"Rabbit's Moon" (the only title shot in 35mm) looks pristine. Anger's blue filter of choice is preserved here (as in "Eaux d'artifice") and what we get is excellent contrast, remarkable detail and sharpness in every frame. "Eaux d'artifice", "Fireworks" and "Puce Moment" have more grain and are at times less sharp, but still look better than I have ever seen them before. "Fireworks" is the softest looking of the five films, yet the look resonates with Anger's dream logic. Still, contrast and detail are remarkable. "Puce Moment" sparkles in all its colorful glory and features a nice and celluloid-like amount of grain. "Eaux d'artifice" doesn't suffer from any problems either.

"Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome", the longest film in the set, looks brilliant for most of the time. Here again we get pristine contrast as well as a very sharp and detailed image with Anger's vibrant colors presented stunningly. There are a few instances of artefacts and (very slight) pixellation during some of the superimpositions (as you can see in the last screen grab), but I only detected that upon closer inspection on my computer. Projected these films all look near-perfect to me.

The major extra on this disc is the Kenneth Anger audio commentary that runs through all the films. Anger comments on his ideas, stylistic choices and tells a lot of historical anecdotes about his participants in the films (such as Sampson de Brier and Anaïs Nin in "Inauguration"). Even though there are some gaps in Anger's commentary, he is still able to provide us with fascinating information and insight into his unique body of work.

Inside the digipack one also finds a beautiful, color-illustrated booklet with appreciations of Anger's work.

Fantoma certainly satisfied my high expectations. All the films in this set have been painstakingly restored under Anger's supervision and now look better than you'll ever see them. If you've been waiting for your chance to delve into this great artist's luminous work, don't waste another second and get yourself a copy of this release (as well as Volume 2, which will be reviewed here as well).

 - Stan Czarnecki

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

Fantoma

Region 0 - NTSC




 

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