Kenneth Anger, gay director who caused scandal with ‘Hollywood Babylon’, dies

He was 96 years old. He was one of the most influential experimental filmmakers, exploring the themes of eroticism and homosexuality in his controversial and cult films decades before gay sex was legalized in America

American director, screenwriter and writer Kenneth Anger, one of the most influential experimental filmmakers and one of the first openly gay in Hollywood, who explored the themes of eroticism and homosexuality in his controversial and cult films decades before gay sex was legalized in America, he died at the age of 96 in Yucca Valley, California, a city that borders Joshua Tree National Park. Her disappearance, which occurred on May 11 in a care center, was confirmed on Wednesday May 24 by Spencer Glesby, spokesman for the Sprüth Magers gallery, which had represented Anger since 2009. Glesby explained to the “New York Times” that the announcement of death was delayed while matters relating to Anger’s inheritance were being settled.

The director directed about thirty short films, including “Scorpio rising” (1963), which earned him unexpected notoriety for an experimental filmmaker and became a cult movie of American underground culture for the lucid and alienating representation of the youthful imaginary, model for subsequent films including “Easy Rider” (1969) by Dennis Hopper: the film parallels the life of some motorcyclists devoted to the cult of the devil by assembling original materials with scenes taken both from “The wild one” (1953) by Laslo Benedek or from an unspecified blockbuster of the silent period on the passion of Christ.

Anger is also the author of a famous tabloid book on the background of the star system, “Hollywood Babylon”, which appeared for the first time in France in 1959 (Italian translation by Sugar in 1960) and followed in 1984 by a second volume published in the United States ( Italian translation by Adelphi in 1986). The book, long banned in America, inspired the film “Babylon” by Damien Chazelle, released last January. Anger’s films, highly provocative towards the viewer, are influenced by surrealism in the style and editing and by mystical-esoteric doctrines in the complex symbology of the narrative structure and are based on deeply personal problems of a moral and sexual nature (such as homosexuality ).

Born in Santa Monica (California) on February 3, 1927, Anger was involved in show business as a child, thanks to his grandmother, a costume designer in Hollywood, and at the age of only five he entered the cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Max Reinhardt. After making seven short films in 16 and 35 mm (almost none of which were screened in public), in 1947 he shot “Fireworks”, which was presented at the first edition of the famous “Art in cinema” festival in San Francisco. “Fireworks”, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s “Le sang d’un poète” (1930), would later become one of the manifesto films of gay cinema, together with Jean Genet’s “Un chant d’amour” (1950). Homosexuality, narcissism, eroticism and violence, combined in a dreamlike atmosphere are the central elements of “Fireworks”.

In the following years Anger made other short films in Europe (especially in France), including “Puce moment” (1949), “Rabbit’s moon” (1950, but other versions are also known, from 1972 and 1979) and “Eaux d’ artifice” (1953), filmed in the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. With “Inauguration of the pleasure dome” (on which he worked in the period 1954-1956) the magical-alchemical elements were strengthened, centered on a form of ‘sexual magic’, deduced from the doctrine of the English occultist Aleister Crowley. In 1958 he created a version of this film – a description of a party in which satanic rites and parody of Hollywood myths were to be projected on three screens. Returning permanently to the United States, in 1963 he finished “Scorpio rising”, followed by “Kustom kar kommandos” (1964) and another film with an esoteric and satanic theme, “Invocation of my demon brother” (1969). His most troubled work remains “Lucifer rising” whose filming, which began in 1966, was interrupted due to the theft of all the material by the protagonist Bobby Beausoleil (also author of the soundtrack); Anger shot the sequences again, but other vicissitudes led him to release the film only in 1980 and in a shorter version than the one originally conceived.

Anger has thinned out his experimental work since the mid-1970s and has since directed a few titles, the latest being 2013’s “Airships.”